April 30, 2010

Shop Smart at the Farmers' Market

Our local Farmers' Market season starts bright and early at 9 a.m. tomorrow morning at Depot Park. You'll likely see tons of strawberries, asparagus, onions, and more. But, if you're like most, navigating the Farmers' Market can be slightly overwhelming. Here's all you need to know to get the most out of your morning:

1. Get there early. The best produce will go to those who start their shopping early -- and the later you arrive, the less diversity of produce you'll find. However, if you decide to sleep in, know that late-birds often get the best deals as farmers are more likely to reduce their prices as closing time nears.

2. Bring a big bag and small bills. The farmers will likely have plastic bags for you to use, but you'll be better served by bringing your own reusable bag that allows you to stow away your finds and keep your hands free. You don't need an official reusable grocery bag -- any tote or backpack will suffice. While you're at it, hit the ATM before you arrive and break up those $20s. This will make your transactions faster, especially in the early hours when making change is harder.

3. Plan seasonally. There's something to be said for spontaneity, but you're more likely to find the Farmers' Market useful if you have an idea what to expect. Learn what items are usually available in the spring in our area, and then plan your meals around those items. That way, you know what and how much of an item you'll need before you arrive -- and lessen the chances of buying either too much or not enough.

4. Ask questions. You wouldn't be the first one to happen upon a food you've never seen or tasted before -- as I did when I ran across sunchokes. Rather than skip over that item or buy it with no idea how to use it, ask the farmers for their advice on storage and cooking methods. If they grow it, you can guarantee they eat it. But farmers aren't the only ones who can offer suggestions. Ask other shoppers for their tried-and-true recipes and ideas.

5. Prepare in advance. You may hit the Farmers' Market and then head right back home. Or you may work your Farmers' Market trip into your Saturday morning errands. If that's the case, make sure you have a cooler and a couple ice packs so your fresh produce stays that way as it sits in the back of your car.

What's really awesome is that whether you come prepared or just stroll up with a $5 bill in your pocket, our Farmers' Market is worth the visit. And after you've stocked up on local produce, head over to the Pottery Festival for some local pottery!

April 29, 2010

Here Comes The Pottery

If it's the first weekend of May, then you know what's happening in Sanford: pottery!

As in the past few years, the Sanford Pottery Festival will be held at the civic center this Saturday (9 a.m. to 5 p.m.) and Sunday (10 a.m. to 4 p.m.). And this year you can sample chocolate (!!!) along with wine made right here in North Carolina as you browse the many potter exhibits and hopefully purchase hand-made items that will become instant classics.

The cost is $5 per person (children 14 and under admitted free) and the wine tasting is $10 per adult. Parking will be free (at Lee Senior or CCCC). And here's a $10-off coupon.

Now on to the really good stuff. While I love seeing all the beautiful pieces made by fellow North Carolinians, here's what I'm most looking forward to:

-- Buying an ugly jug. Ugly face jugs are a Southern tradition and literally have a face only a mother could love. I've wanted one for years, and always see amazing ones at the Pottery Festival. This will be the year I finally bite the bullet and bring one home.

-- Watching the kids fire their pots. Pottery is a traditional, hands-on art form that can seem intimidating to those who've never tried it (and it takes training, skill, and talent to create most of the pieces we'll see this weekend) -- but allowing children to fire their own Raku is a giant step toward making pottery both accessible and modern. And, yes, I am one of the "kids" who'll be doing it.

I hope you'll get out and enjoy the Festival this year. Let us know what you love most!

April 23, 2010

What does a REALTOR® do?

(This guest post is written by Donnie Worley, a local REALTOR®.)

This question has come up a lot as we get closer to the April 30th deadline to take advantage of the $8,000 First-Time Homebuyers and $6,500 Long-Time Resident Tax Credit. Many people do not really understand what a REALTOR® does.

A REALTOR® can be loosely compared to a teacher. Teachers are licensed by the state. Their credentials are reviewed to make sure they are qualified to teach certain classes. They are required to take additional courses to stay current. Teachers choose their job because they want to educate, help and protect students.

North Carolina REALTORS® are licensed and regulated by the state government. The North Carolina Real Estate Commission (http://www.ncrec.state.nc.us/about/About_Us.html) sets yearly update training; monitors continuing education; and reviews transactions and complaints to ensure the public is not harmed (like covering up facts that you need to know, discrimination, etc.).

REALTORS® are constantly researching, training and retraining to stay on top of changes. If your goal is to refinance, remodel, reduce your insurance, or anything else relating to your home there are specific things that need to be done. Make sure to ask questions so that we can help you avoid headaches and problems. This help is free!

So now you ask, if all of that help is provided for free how do REALTORS® make money? When you are buying or selling your home you “hire” a REALTOR® to educate, provide guidance and make sure everything goes as smooth as possible. I give you advice and straight talk education to allow you to make informed decisions. You are the boss, you own the property and I follow your instructions.

We get paid on commission. That means that we only get paid when the home is bought or sold. The commission is set up front and is normally either a flat fee or a percentage of the sales price.

So what does a REALTOR® do? We help you make good decisions and accomplish your goals so you save time, money, and headaches.

(Donnie Worley is a licensed REALTOR® with RE/MAX Real Estate Service. He is a husband and father living in Sanford, NC. If you have any questions or comments send them to donnieworley@ymail.com or call/text 919-478-4967.)

Take an artful stroll

Downtown Sanford is packing in the fun tonight! Along with the weekly Screen on the Green event, the Temple Theatre is giving everyone an education in art and wine.

Beginning at 5:30 p.m., the Theatre is hosting an Art Walk & Wine Tasting through downtown Sanford. You can stroll along downtown shops while tasting wine, nibbling on light refreshments, and viewing work from local artists. You can also spend some time inside the Theatre, where the Temple Teens will perform. Or, stay outside and listen to the Rocky River Ramblers.

The venues include Added Accents, ArtStudio, DWA Photography, Shops of Steele Street, Floral Designs by Eddie, and Garden of Eden. Participating artists include Beverly Brookshire, Lisa Mathis, Doug Rowe, Barbara Berman, and many more. See the full list here.

The art hop/stroll is $25 per person in advance or $30 per person when you arrive. Your engraved Temple Theatre wine glass will serve as the ticket (and all profits go toward the Theatre). Purchase tickets at the box office or from participating merchants.

April 22, 2010

Earth Day discount!

It's Earth day, but you don't have to be an environmentalist or even believe there's a reason to be eco-friendly to participate in this national day designed to make us more aware of the planet that hosts us.

Local gift and accessory shop Added Accents is knocking 22 percent off your ENTIRE purchase today if you bring in your Added Accents shopping bag. (Get it? 22 percent on the 22nd?)

Don't have a bag? They'll hand you one and take 22 percent off the purchase of a single item. To sweeten the deal (as if you needed another excuse to shop), from the 22nd forward, every single time you bring in your Added Accents shopping bag, you'll receive a 22-percent discount on one item. Awesome, right?

With Mother's day right around the corner, today is the day to head over to Added Accents (at 124 S. Steele Street) and get your green shopping on. Tell them we sent you!

April 21, 2010

Roving Reviews: The Steele Pig

Today, Kim Pritt, one of Sanford's bloggers and a highly-involved community leader (Communities in Schools and Carolina Animal Rescue & Adoption), is sharing her thoughts on the newest restaurant to open its doors in downtown. Read on to find out whether The Steele Pig is living up to the hype:

Have you heard? There is a new restaurant in town -- well, sort of. For years, those in Sanford wanting a fine-dining experience have turned to Bella Bistro and Chad Blackwelder, its master chef. However, times are hard and fewer diners are able to foot the bill that comes with an upscale night out. 

Enter what may turn out to be Blackwelder's genius: Turning Bella Bistro into The Steele Pig. A new name and a more casual menu may seem risky, but since Blackwelder overhauled the restaurant, the place has been packed and the reviews have been glowing.

You can add my experience into the "glowing" column. I called in advance to make reservations, and was quickly led to my table. The staff assured me that while some things have changed, the core service and quality remain the same. A quick scan of the menu showed Blackwelder has kept what worked: Established Bella favorites (like shrimp and grits and tomato bisque) sat alongside a bevy of new items (like smoked meats and a variety of sandwiches).

My server was helpful, friendly, and knowledgeable about the new menu. The food hit the table in no time -- and it was delicious. I ordered the five-hour smoked Carolina ribs and hand-cut herb garlic fries with balsamic ketchup. The ribs were tender, juicy, and beautifully seasoned and the fries were excellent with or without the ketchup. Dessert was either a slice sinful chocolate layer cake and pecan pie. How could I go wrong?

Final price tag: My meal was ample and filling, delighted my taste buds, and didn't shock my wallet when the less-than-$20 bill came. This is the perfect "new" dinner spot for delicious, affordable food -- and a great way to support our local economy.

The Steele Pig, located at 133 S. Steele Street, is open Tuesday through Sunday from 5 p.m. to 9 p.m. (dinner only). Call (919) 777-9963 to make a reservation (and tell them we sent you!). You can also connect with the restaurant on Facebook.

Want to be a roving reviewer? Get in touch with us today!

April 20, 2010

Downtown Sanford 5K & Kids Fest

It's only Tuesday, but we're already dreaming of the weekend. And it's gonna be a good one. On Sunday morning, Downtown Sanford is holding a "stroller-friendly" 5K run/walk followed by Kids Fest and the 3rd Annual Downtown Sanford Criterium. That makes it official -- there's a little something for everyone.

Fine print: Packet pick up for the 5K will begin at 6:30 a.m. at the registration table on the corner of Carthage and Steele streets. The walk/race will begin at 8:15 a.m. (Pre-register for the event by clicking here.) For more details on the Criterium -- which starts at 10 a.m. -- contact Dr. Parker McConville.

5K goodies: $100 will go to the fastest male and female aged 18 or older and $50 will go to the fastest male and female under age 12.

Kids Fest fun: The party will happen in front of the Temple Theatre on Carthage Street and will include a bicycle obstacle course, bouncy houses, and other fun stuff for kids. Make sure you bring along your kids' wheels -- there'll be a 9-and-under race at 1:30 p.m. for riders of all types (bikes, trikes, scooters, wagons, etc).

Go ahead and start stretching (both your legs and your patience) for what's guaranteed to be a full (but fun) day!

April 16, 2010

Top Five: Wedding Secrets

Wedding season is upon us. People everywhere are talking about their big days or reminiscing about last year, or three years ago, or 15 years ago. But I bet there are a few things they aren't telling you -- namely, where to find the most romantic, least well-known, and most affordable wedding spots in our area.

Here are our top five choices for gorgeous locations, along with a little inspiration board to help rev up your creativity:

#1. Romantic Roundup. Want to tap into your country side? Check out Circle M City, where you can tie the knot in true cowboy style. Don your boots and swap pocket squares for bandannas as you wow your guests' tastebuds with hickory smoked meats, lemonade in mason jars, and s'mores.

#2. Funky Fourth. The House in the Horseshoe is known for its Revolutionary War roots, but not for hosting a hip, modern wedding. Play up this rich history with a flirty take on a Fourth of July wedding. Mix elegant details like this Jenny Peckham dress with fun accessories like watermelon cocktails and sparkler favors.

#3. Art in Motion. Downtown Sanford is more than just shops and restaurants. It's also home to one of the best-kept secrets in town: an art gallery full of original works from local artists. Pair a wine, cheese, and fruit buffet with fresh flowers and classic lines for a chic yet simple wedding at artstudio that your guests talk about for years.

#4. Nature's Blessing. Say "I do" from Raven Rock's overlook, from which you can see for miles down the Cape Fear river. Schedule the ceremony for sunrise or sunset to make the most of this quiet spot. Make the moment complete with an intimate group of your closest family and friends, a bouquet of flowering herbs and a rosemary boutonniere, and then send everyone off with delicious truffles to savor.

#5. The Secret Garden (honorable mention). Leave the world behind as you pledge your love in the gardens at The Old Buggy Inn in Carthage (approx. 16 miles from Sanford). This is the perfect place for gorgeous tea-length dresses, simple decorations, and bright pops of color.

Do you know of a "secret" wedding location that we left out? Let us -- and everyone else -- know in the comments!

April 15, 2010

Get your vote on!

Pundits -- both locally and in the national news -- have been talking about the 2010 election for at least two years now and the time has finally come to put your vote where your mouth is.

Early voting for Lee County starts today and runs through Saturday, May 1. Voting hours are from 8 am to 5 pm Monday through Friday and from 8 am to 1 pm on that last Saturday. Any NC residents who didn't register by April 9 can register and vote at the same time.

The NC primary will be held May 4 from 6:30 am to 7:30 pm at your regular polling place. (Find your polling place here.)

Remember: You'll need to provide identification, whether it's your NC driver's license; a utility bill; a government-issued document like a passport, fishing license, vehicle registration, birth certificate, or military ID; a student photo ID with an identifying document from the school; a paycheck or W2; or a bank or credit card statement. All documents must show your current address.

Where: One-stop early voting will take place at the McSwain Agricultural Center on Tramway Road (across from SanLee Middle) and at the Board of Elections office on Steele Street (just up from the PTO and Salvation Army thrift stores).

Resources: If you aren't sure whether you're registered or just want to check on your registration, you can click here to look up and double-check your information.

Now go vote!

April 14, 2010

Movies in the park

If you're like us, you are constantly on the lookout for activities you can do with the whole family. This Friday is the first night of a series that allows you to do just that.

Downtown Sanford is kicking off the second-annual Screen on the Green movie series beginning at 8 pm in Depot Park. The movies are completely free and open to everyone in the community. Here's the lineup:

April 16 - Monsters vs Aliens
April 23 - The Cat from Outer Space
April 30 - Planet 51
May 7 - Space Jam
May 14 - Wall-E
May 21 - ET

Make the evening a true Sanford experience by grabbing some burgers and shakes from Yarborough's or pack a picnic-style meal to eat while you watch.

For more information, download this poster.

April 13, 2010

Meet the Candidate: Mark Akinosho

In the upcoming election, Lee County residents will have the opportunity to fill three contested seats. Seven candidates are currently vying for those seats -- two incumbents and four challengers.

In this seven-part series, we've asked the candidates specific questions about the too-often-overlooked segment of our population: elementary schools. Have a follow-up question? Leave it in the comments and we'll get it answered!
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Candidate: Mark Akinosho, contender

Question: Many parents were upset earlier this year when the district chose to use Saturday make-up days rather than the ones built into the calendar. What is your stance on adhering to the calendar? How would you correct or improve upon LCS’ calendar policy?

The school calendar is developed by Board of Education and Committee beforehand, and as good as their intentions was it is also subject to natural and environmental phenomenon, which can alter everything even the make-up days.  I was not so happy with Saturday school myself, but one of the rules I learned as a parent is flexibility when it comes to our children.  I will encourage our parents, that we should all have understanding and trust the Superintendent, to follow the calendar and make judgment calls whenever it is necessary.

Question: Many parents of elementary-age students are choosing alternative education options, such as the local Montessori school and homeschooling. Would you encourage a partnership (curriculum sharing, workshops, etc) between the public schools and these families? Would you support a public Montessori option?

I believe in having a wide range of choices concerning our children’s education.  This will enrich our community.  Families have to make the best decisions for their children in all circumstances.  I will support Montessori schools if the state approves one and I will encourage partnership between the public schools system.

Question: In an era when there are more communication options than ever before, many parents still complain about feeling cut off from their children’s teachers and school administrators. How would you resolve communication gaps? Would you encourage better and more reliable use of technology (email, websites, etc) as part of the solution?

I will encourage teachers and administrators to make available to parents all the websites, Alert Now, e-mail, podcast, phone numbers, etc.  I will urge parents to be more involved in their children’s education.

Question: Programs like STEM have been highly effective in the upper grades. What innovations would you spearhead or support for use in the lower grades?

I would support all programs that will improve and challenge our student to succeed in the 21st century and also advocate teaching of foreign languages at lower grades.

Question: Many candidates all across the country are turning to social media to connect with voters and constituents. Are you currently using any social media (such as Twitter, Facebook, or blogging) and if so, would you provide the link to your site(s) so that we can share those with our readers?

I believe in the use of social media to connect to friends and families, but currently I am not using any social networking tools for the campaign.

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Come back tomorrow to see how other candidates responded to these questions. You can view previous candidate's responses here:

April 12, 2010

Meet the Candidate: Ellen Mangum

In the upcoming election, Lee County residents will have the opportunity to fill three contested seats. Seven candidates are currently vying for those seats -- two incumbents and four challengers.

In this seven-part series, we've asked the candidates specific questions about the too-often-overlooked segment of our population: elementary schools. Have a follow-up question? Leave it in the comments and we'll get it answered!
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Candidate: Ellen Mangum, incumbent

Question: Many parents were upset earlier this year when the district chose to use Saturday make-up days rather than the ones built into the calendar. What is your stance on adhering to the calendar? How would you correct or improve upon LCS’ calendar policy?

By state law an educational district has to follow to their policies. Current policies do allow for Saturday school and for a superintendent's decision to declare changes in a calendar when necessary. An improvement would be to make sure that on the calendar sheet an insertion of language speaking to the possibility of Saturday school would be wise. This was an unusual year. We've never had such late snow. State statute does not allow for school attendance beyond June 10th. It was a time when there were few alternatives, and any choice made would have been unpopular to some segment of the population.

Question: Many parents of elementary-age students are choosing alternative education options, such as the local Montessori school and homeschooling. Would you encourage a partnership (curriculum sharing, workshops, etc) between the public schools and these families? Would you support a public Montessori option?

I am not sure what is meant by a partnership. Of course this could be explored. One of the most important tasks in this exploration would be who would be the individuals involved and where would the funding come from during these difficult financial times.

Some of our middle schools have a transitional program before school, and some of our high schools have a ninth grade academy. Both situations offer a time where students can start to become acclimated to the Lee County School system. Also there are programs when current students are brought over to the school they will attend next year. Perhaps new groups of students could get together to ask for a day of visitation. I can not imagine that the administration at the schools would not be eager to acclimate them to their new schools.

Supporting a public Montessori option again would be dependent upon funding available and the amount of interest in the community.

Question: In an era when there are more communication options than ever before, many parents still complain about feeling cut off from their children’s teachers and school administrators. How would you resolve communication gaps? Would you encourage better and more reliable use of technology (email, websites, etc) as part of the solution?

I've heard enough negative comments about this lately that I feel that this is definitely an area that needs to be explored. One of the complicating factors seems to me to be that we have so many options. If you just went back 5 years, the only safe options were the newspaper and a sheet of paper from the school. Now we have a telephone chain, newspaper, e-mail, blogs, web pages, regular mail etc. Sometimes it is difficult to discern the best way or ways to get information to the population. Technology resources need to be used for communications but they do have some limitations for people who still do not have computers in their homes.

Question: Programs like STEM have been highly effective in the upper grades. What innovations would you spearhead or support for use in the lower grades?

Their is always room for inovation at any level. In the last several years our elementary schools have used a program called RTI. Using Blackberrys this program helps educators to measure skill assessment of their students. We do have a pilot one-to-one laptop pilot at one of the elementary schools. As far as new programs if funding were available, I would first like to replace assistants, and the K-2 AIG program, then I would love to see a foreign language program in our elementary schools. One new possiblity that I am currently excited about is alternative educational school for our K-5 populations. This program would provided much needed assitance to children who are challenged with behavioral issues.

Question: Many candidates all across the country are turning to social media to connect with voters and constituents. Are you currently using any social media (such as Twitter, Facebook, or blogging) and if so, would you provide the link to your site(s) so that we can share those with our readers?

By responding to this e-mail, I am entering into this world. I do not currently have other social media involved in my campaign at this time.
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Come back tomorrow to see how other candidates responded to these questions. You can view previous candidate's responses here:

April 11, 2010

Meet the Candidate: Kimberly Lilley

In the upcoming election, Lee County residents will have the opportunity to fill three contested seats. Seven candidates are currently vying for those seats -- two incumbents and four challengers.

In this seven-part series, we've asked the candidates specific questions about the too-often-overlooked segment of our population: elementary schools. Have a follow-up question? Leave it in the comments and we'll get it answered!
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Candidate: Kimberly Lilley, contender

Question: Many parents were upset earlier this year when the district chose to use Saturday make-up days rather than the ones built into the calendar. What is your stance on adhering to the calendar? How would you correct or improve upon LCS’ calendar policy?

Per the guidelines for inclement weather as stated on the LCSS website: “8 days should be designated as make-up days for inclement weather.” (Link)

I believe parents have a right to be upset regarding the Saturday make-up days. We should have used one of the 8 days built into the calendar. I believe adhering to the calendar is important for the school system, for parents to plan family time and activities for their children, and for teacher preparation. I am not sure of the protocol used for determining if Saturday was the best use of everyone’s time but it would appear that the parents, students, and teachers were not considered.

The link below provides the full board policy for the calendar year. (Link)

“The superintendent has the authority to designate Saturday as a make-up day in lieu of, or in addition to the use of designated make-up days. Saturday school can only occur during a week where there are 4 days of school for students. When possible, the make-up day will be the Saturday of the same week in which the day was missed.”

As we can see from the above statement, the only time a Saturday make-up day can be used is in the same week the students miss a day for inclement weather. Therefore, Superintendent Moss and others chose to use these days because they have authority to do so.

Improvement for the policy: If we are going to use a Saturday as a make-up day, this should be stressed at the beginning of the year when the calendars are published, re-emphasized as weather changes occur to remind parents that this is a possibility and, above all, make the decision early or the same day the school is closed.

Furthermore, I would not have chosen to use Saturday for the make-up day but would have utilized the built-in days to be considerate of family activities and teachers the opportunity to have appropriate time for their own families.

As a side note, it appears that the Saturday make-up day was added since this current administration's tenure.

Question: Many parents of elementary-age students are choosing alternative education options, such as the local Montessori school and homeschooling. Would you encourage a partnership (curriculum sharing, workshops, etc) between the public schools and these families? Would you support a public Montessori option?

I am a firm believer that public school training is not for everyone. My personal reference comes from my own family. My younger brother has chosen to homeschool his children, my children have been in private school education in their elementary years and public option after second grade, and my oldest brother has chosen the public option. I believe it is every parent’s right to make choices that benefit each child because every child is different.

I am in support of a partnership of curriculum sharing, workshops, etc between the public school system and homeschool. Every person who lives in Lee County is a taxpayer. Therefore, sharing what is available should enhance the availability of knowledge and make a cohesive community to become stronger.

The information I have gathered regarding Montessori schools indicates that individualized learning programs are established for each child and this program works based upon the child’s desire to complete tasks at a pace appropriate for their maturity of age, etc. I need additional information on statistics to determine if I can support a public Montessori option. At present, I do not have an answer for this question.

Question: In an era when there are more communication options than ever before, many parents still complain about feeling cut off from their children’s teachers and school administrators. How would you resolve communication gaps? Would you encourage better and more reliable use of technology (email, websites, etc) as part of the solution?

If we are going to compete globally with other schools, we must be prepared in the technology arena. Therefore, I am an advocate of teacher web pages, posting weekly homework schedule and daily routine online for parents to review and assist their students at home who may have failed to write assignments in their agendas.

How many phone calls do we receive in a week about events happening at the schools? I believe email communication is an acceptable form of communication. I believe the phone call communication should be used for emergency type information.

Many times, we receive information from progress reports that is halfway through a grading period often is too late to identify and correct issues. The biggest asset about web access is the availability 24/7. The down side would be additional administrative tasks assigned to teachers. If the homework schedule, etc, is kept in a Word document; cutting and pasting information would be most effective for webpage updates.

Question: Programs like STEM have been highly effective in the upper grades. What innovations would you spearhead or support for use in the lower grades?

First, before I could spearhead or support [programs] for lower grades, I must be voted on the board. With that being said, I would like to see a parent ad-hoc committee at each school (approximately 5 members or so that represent all ethnicity within Lee County) and one representative from each school reporting to a combined ad-hoc committee to work alongside the board of education to assist with information for board decisions, when necessary.

Question: Many candidates all across the country are turning to social media to connect with voters and constituents. Are you currently using any social media (such as Twitter, Facebook, or blogging) and if so, would you provide the link to your site(s) so that we can share those with our readers?

I am using Facebook page – Vote Kimberly Lilley for Lee County BOE, a webpage www.lilley4boe.com, and email (klilley4boe@windstream.net).
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Come back tomorrow to see how other candidates responded to these questions!
Shannon Gurwitch's responses.
Dana Wicker Atkins' responses.
John Bonardi Jr.'s responses.

April 9, 2010

Meet the Candidate: John Bonardi Jr.

In the upcoming election, Lee County residents will have the opportunity to fill three contested seats. Seven candidates are currently vying for those seats -- two incumbents and four challengers.

In this seven-part series, we've asked the candidates specific questions about the too-often-overlooked segment of our population: elementary schools. Have a follow-up question? Leave it in the comments and we'll get it answered!

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Candidate: John Bonardi Jr., contender

Question: Many parents were upset earlier this year when the district chose to use Saturday make-up days rather than the ones built into the calendar. What is your stance on adhering to the calendar? How would you correct or improve upon LCS’ calendar policy?

The school calendar is developed by a committee made up of parents and staff members and then is presented to the Board for approval, once adopted only the Board can change the calendar. The calendar was approved with Saturdays as a possible make-up day. Although opinions vary as to which of the make-up days should have been used, the Superintendent did follow the calendar.

Question: Many parents of elementary-age students are choosing alternative education options, such as the local Montessori school and homeschooling. Would you encourage a partnership (curriculum sharing, workshops, etc) between the public schools and these families? Would you support a public Montessori option?

I believe the more choices parents have the better. I would encourage a dialogue between all stake holders in educating the children of Lee County. In regards to a public Montessori option, local Boards of Education do not have that authority. Only the State could approve of such an option.

Question: In an era when there are more communication options than ever before, many parents still complain about feeling cut off from their children’s teachers and school administrators. How would you resolve communication gaps? Would you encourage better and more reliable use of technology (email, websites, etc) as part of the solution?

I support the current use of Alert Now, emails, podcasts, and the “Ask the Superintendent” link on the district web site. I would encourage teacher web pages and expanded use of those mentioned above. I would also encourage parents to be involved with PTO’s.

Question: Programs like STEM have been highly effective in the upper grades. What innovations would you spearhead or support for use in the lower grades?

I would support any program that I felt would help build the strong foundation needed in the early years to ensure future success for our students.

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Come back tomorrow to see how other candidates responded to these questions!
Shannon Gurwitch's responses.
Dana Wicker Atkins' responses.

April 8, 2010

Meet the Candidate: Dana Wicker Atkins

In the upcoming election, Lee County residents will have the opportunity to fill three contested seats. Seven candidates are currently vying for those seats -- two incumbents and four challengers.

In this seven-part series, we've asked the candidates specific questions about the too-often-overlooked segment of our population: elementary schools. Have a follow-up question? Leave it in the comments and we'll get it answered!

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Candidate: Dana Wicker Atkins, contender

Question: Many parents were upset earlier this year when the district chose to use Saturday make-up days rather than the ones built into the calendar. What is your stance on adhering to the calendar? How would you correct or improve upon LCS’ calendar policy?

As a parent of an elementary student, I completely understand the frustration of parents to send their children to school on Saturday. I believe there are 2 sides to this argument: (1) I think that the Saturday option was a good option, after hearing the debate on having to possibly take a day or two away from Easter break. (2) I think that by looking into all of the days that the children leave school at noon, we could possibly make up the days.

If we take the 2 hours and 30 minutes that we lose on a day when they dismiss early and divide that into a 4 hour day (the Saturday make ups were 4 hours) we come up with 1.6 days needed to stay full-time. Now, I understand that this is not how it is calculated towards attendance, but it seems to me that we are seeing a lot of 12:00 dismissals at the elementary level. To me, that is a wasted day, to lose 2.5 hours of attendance.

Question: Many parents of elementary-age students are choosing alternative education options, such as the local Montessori school and homeschooling. Would you encourage a partnership (curriculum sharing, workshops, etc) between the public schools and these families? Would you support a public Montessori option?

My daughter actually attended the Montessori School of Sanford for Kindergarten and we loved it! I would definitely encourage a partnership of any kind, for any type of educational resources. Whether it be an optional art class/workshop for the middle schools, since the art program is no longer in existence at West Lee, or tutoring for small groups, I think that any resources that can be shared and funded across a group would be a great idea.

And yes, I would support a public Montessori option. Personally, I would love to have that option. Although the charter slot was not filled by our Montessori School this year, I do hope that we will apply next year.

Question: In an era when there are more communication options than ever before, many parents still complain about feeling cut off from their children’s teachers and school administrators. How would you resolve communication gaps? Would you encourage better and more reliable use of technology (email, websites, etc) as part of the solution?

I think that the use of email for communication is definitely something lacking for me. While at Montessori, the lead teacher would send a weekly update about the class and would ask for help in volunteer situations. Public school is so much harder because there are so many more children to cover, so I think using an email based system of communication would help.

Since some of the parents do not have email access, we should still maintain our current standards of sending information home through the student, but I do think that most people communicate better through email.

I would also like the school system to use their website to showcase more "Behind the Scenes" snippets from the classrooms. While I believe it is good that Dr. Moss posts podcasts, I think that parents would love to see small movies or photographs of what their children are doing in the classroom. It would definitely make me feel more connected.

Question: Programs like STEM have been highly effective in the upper grades. What innovations would you spearhead or support for use in the lower grades?

I think we definitely need to bring back the AIG program that was removed from K-3 entirely last year. The way the program has been restructured for 4-5 grade levels is not beneficial to the children nor the teachers.

I also think we could use the STEM lab as a jumping board for developing unique experiences in the elementary programs. We could set up more hands-on learning experiences (again this is another Montessori based idea) where the kids can learn measurement through cooking, plant a garden and learn about our ecosystem.

There are so many opportunities to teach in real world environments, which is why I think Montessori and Home Schooling both are so popular with parents. Their children do more than just memorize.

Question: Many candidates all across the country are turning to social media to connect with voters and constituents. Are you currently using any social media (such as Twitter, Facebook, or blogging) and if so, would you provide the link to your site(s) so that we can share those with our readers?

I do have a Facebook site, which is "Dana Wicker Atkins for Education" and a blog which is located at
www.danawickeratkins.blogspot.com
.

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Come back tomorrow to see how other candidates responded to these questions! Click here to see Shannon Gurwitch's responses.

April 7, 2010

Meet the Candidate: Shannon Gurwitch

In the upcoming election, Lee County residents will have the opportunity to fill three contested seats. Seven candidates are currently vying for those seats -- three incumbents and four challengers.

In this seven-part series, we've asked the candidates specific questions about the too-often-overlooked segment of our population: elementary schools. Have a follow-up question? Leave it in the comments and we'll get it answered!

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Candidate: Shannon Gurwitch, contender

Question: Many parents were upset earlier this year when the district chose to use Saturday make-up days rather than the ones built into the calendar. What is your stance on adhering to the calendar? How would you correct or improve upon LCS’ calendar policy?

I believe that the decision to use Saturday make-up days rather than those already built into the calendar demonstrated a serious lack of consideration for all those impacted by the last-minute change. The school district's calendar is created by a committee that consists of parents and school staff, and provides parents, teachers, and students with the ability to schedule and plan non-school-related activities.

I believe that the best way to improve upon the calendar policy is to take the concerns of parents, students, and teachers into consideration when developing the calendar, and to prohibit last-minute changes to the calendar once it has been created and approved.

Question: Many parents of elementary-age students are choosing alternative education options, such as the local Montessori school and homeschooling. Would you encourage a partnership (curriculum sharing, workshops, etc) between the public schools and these families? Would you support a public Montessori option?

I believe that a partnership such as the one described above would be mutually beneficial to all parties involved. I would particularly encourage such a partnership between homeschool parents and the public school system not only in an effort to ease the transition that many of these children make from homeschools to a more conventional school setting, but also to provide them with educational and/or extracurricular opportunities that may not be available to them in the homeschool setting.

My son Ethan attended the Montessori School of Sanford and had a wonderful experience. I think, for many, Montessori is misunderstood; people seem to perceive Montessori schools to be lacking in structure and expectations, but that is not the case. Montessori is more student centered and recognizes the individuality of students. Montessori schools have a much smaller student-to-teacher ratio, which allows for greater interaction between students and teachers.

While Montessori is not for every student and every family, I would definitely support the creation of a Montessori Charter school that would provide Lee County families with another educational option for their children.

Question: In an era when there are more communication options than ever before, many parents still complain about feeling cut off from their children’s teachers and school administrators. How would you resolve communication gaps? Would you encourage better and more reliable use of technology (email, websites, etc) as part of the solution?

As the mother of four children, I know how difficult it can be to maintain regular contact with our children's teachers. Notes sent home in backpacks often fail to reach the hands of parents for one reason or another. I do believe that using e-mail and other web-based communications and networking applications would allow for better communication.

I would also permit teachers to use applications such as Facebook, which they are presently prohibited from using to communicate with students, with some restrictions. For example, a teacher might create a Facebook username that was strictly for communicating with students and the only permissible "friends" on that account would be the students and their parents.

Through this medium, parents could post questions and comments that would then be viewable by other parents who share the same concerns. Likewise, students could post homework questions that could be answered by a fellow student or by the teacher.

Question: Programs like STEM have been highly effective in the upper grades. What innovations would you spearhead or support for use in the lower grades?

I believe that the school system should consider the feasibility of creating a language program at the elementary level. Studies indicate that children exposed to foreign language at an earlier age tend to more quickly learn an additional language. Furthermore, research shows that children who are raised bilingual appear to have a "cognitive edge" over their monolingual counterparts.

Question: Many candidates all across the country are turning to social media to connect with voters and constituents. Are you currently using any social media (such as Twitter, Facebook, or blogging) and if so, would you provide the link to your site(s) so that we can share those with our readers?

In addition to my e-mail, sgurwitch@yahoo.com, readers may contact me via Facebook and they can also catch up with me on my blog. I also welcome readers to contact me on my home phone at (919) 774-5439.

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Come back tomorrow to see how other candidates responded to these questions!

April 6, 2010

Reaping the rewards

Unless you're living under a rock, you know our town is covered in a yellowy dust. Your shoes (flip flops, sandals) are covered in it. Your eyes are puffy and your nose is runny. You want to open your windows to enjoy the beautiful weather, but then you see it caked on the sill. It's pollen and it's showing no mercy.
Blame the birds and the bees:
But you know what the reward is for all this yuck, right? Dogwoods, magnolias, crepe myrtle, azaleas and more.
My personal favorite is wisteria and I see it climbing beautifully through pines and maples on the side of the road. There it is dripping from a light pole and there basking in dappled sunlight in someone's front yard.
My first spotting of wisteria for the year always lifts my heart and gives me permission to shed the layers and funk of winter. It's a signal that Spring is (finally) here... just as thoroughly and completely as that layer of pollen.

What's your favorite local sign of Spring? Is it a flower, an event, a fruit? Spill it in the comments!

April 5, 2010

Eat Out to Benefit Kids in Lee County

On April 7 (that's Wednesday) Viva Villa will be donating 10% of their proceeds from lunch and dinner to the Lee County Partnership for Children. The money will support the Imagination Library literacy project, which provides free books to preschool age children in our area.

Viva Villa is located in the Lowe's Foods shopping center on Spring Lane in West Sanford. I've eaten there several times with my family and we've always had excellent service and good food. If you haven't tried them out yet, Wednesday will be a great day to do so.

As for me, it's my wedding anniversary and between the client meetings my husband has scheduled, lack of a babysitter, and our tight budget, Viva Villa will be a great substitute for the romantic dinner we hoped for this year. Hope to see you there!

April 3, 2010

Candidate Round Up

You know who your candidates are, but do you have a clear idea of what they stand for? Find answers at these free public events:

Candidate Forum hosted by C.E.A.D.
When: Thursday, April 8
What: Audience members can ask questions directly to the candidates for Board of Education, County Commissioner, and House of Representatives.
Special: Candidates will meet and greet the public starting at 6 p.m. (Light refreshments served.)
Place & Time: Old Lee County Courthouse, 7 p.m.-9 p.m.

Board of Education Forum hosted by The Sanford Herald
When: Monday, April 12
What: All seven candidates for the three contested Board of Education seats will discuss the issues and answer questions.
Special: Event will begin with a reception at 6 p.m.
Place & Time: Civic Center, 7 p.m.

And stay tuned for our Meet the Candidate series, which runs April 7 - April 14.

Know Your Candidates

We're full swing into an election year that's predicted to either prove the Obama administration's doing something right or show the administration that the tides are changing ... and it all comes down to local elections.

Early, one-stop voting for Lee County starts April 15 and the primaries are May 4. That gives you plenty of time to learn who wants to represent us at the local, state, and federal levels. To get you started, here's a list of some of the candidates:


U.S. Senate (6-year term): (back to top)
Choose one:

Richard Burr (R), incumbent; website, blog, twitter

Michael Beitler (L); website
Eddie Burks (R); website, blog, twitter
Cal Cunningham (D); website, blog, twitter
Brad Jones (R); online, bio
Ken Lewis (D); website, blog, twitter
Rolando (Larry) Linney (R); online
Elaine Marshall (D); website, twitter
Marcus W. Williams (D); website, twitter
Ann Worthy (D); website

U.S. House District 2 (2-year term): (back to top)
Choose one:
Bob Etheridge (D), incumbent; website,
Frank Deatrich (R); website, twitter
Todd Gailas (R); website, twitter
Renee Ellmers (R); website, blog, twitter
Tom Rose (L); online

State Senate District 18 (2-year term): (back to top)
Choose one:
Bob Atwater (D), incumbent; online
Roger Gerber (R); website

State House District 51 (2-year term): (back to top)
Choose one:
Jimmy Love (D), incumbent; website
Mike Stone (R); online

Lee County Commissioner (4-year term): (back to top)
District 2 (choose one):
Amy Dalrymple (D); online
Charles (Charlie) Parks (R)

District 3 (choose one):
Linda Shook (R); online
Mike Womble (D)

District 4 (choose one):
Tamara (Tammy) Brogan (R); blog
James K. Womack Jr. (R)
Kenneth C. Cole (D)

Lee County Board of Education (4-year term): (back to top)
Choose three:
John Thomas Bonardi Jr.
Linda A. Smith, incumbent
Ellen Mangum, incumbent
Kimberly Lilley; online
Mark Akinosho
Dana Wicker Atkins; online
Shannon M. Gurwitch; blog

Resource: For a comprehensive spreadsheet of all candidates for local elections, go to the Board of Elections page of the County website and click on "2010 Primary Candidates."

April 2, 2010

Tie Dyed Easter Eggs

Tell me I'm not the only mom out there who hasn't dyed the Easter eggs yet! Time has gotten away from me and we just haven't done it. It's tops on my to-do list tomorrow, so I was trying to find an interesting way to go about it this year. After running through a few websites that just offered the traditional method, I stumbled across this one. My husband rarely wears ties but he has at least 25 hanging in his closet. Most are hopelessly out of style and I wouldn't let him leave the house wearing them, but they will make beautiful Easter eggs!

If you try this and manage to get some photos, make sure you share them on our Facebook page!

It's Gettin' Hot in Here

Remember how in March and February, we were all crying into our soup bowls and hot chocolate mugs about how frigid it was and it's a snowpocalypse! and snowmageddon!? We begged for warm, hot days with nothing but blue skies and a bright yellow sun.

Well, folks. We got out wish. It was 90 degrees outside today. In April. Shouldn't this type of heat wave strike in Mid-May? Are we really going to skip straight from We may die in this blizzard! to Dude it's hot as all get out!?

Here are the facts: The sun will be beating down on us this beautiful Easter weekend. As we hide and hunt eggs, plow through chocolate bunnies, or just bask in the glory of a gorgeous Spring day, we're going to sweat our tuckuses off.

You know where this is headed right? Three little letters: S. P. F.

Just wear your sunscreen. Pretty please? You don't have to slather on baby block or the cream equivalent of a heavy blanket. Studies show that SPF 15 will provide you plenty of protection. Reapply after a few hours if you'll be out all day. That's all you have to do and it means you won't get burned or expose yourself to cancer-causing rays.

You should also follow this sun-safety guidelines:
  • Stay out of the sun during 11 a.m.-3 p.m., aka the hottest hours of the day.
  • Use a broad spectrum sunscreen that protects against both UV-A and UV-B rays.
  • Use a higher SPF on babies and children than on yourself (go ahead with the 50 here).
  • You'll get the same protection from budget brands as high-dollar ones.
  • Sunscreen loses effectiveness after 2 years, so don't rely on your old bottles to do the trick.

Now go put on some light clothing and your sunglasses (because who needs crow's feet?) and enjoy the weekend we begged for a few weeks back.

April 1, 2010

It's National Census Day!

Did you know that? Neither did I. The last time there was a census, I was living with my parents temporarily and I have no idea whether I was counted. This time, I'm married with a family of my own and it's my responsibility to make sure we're all included.

It's important that the Census Bureau receives an accurate count for several reasons. From the Census Bureau website:
When you fill out the census form, you’re making a statement about what resources your community needs going forward.

Accurate data reflecting changes in your community are crucial in apportioning seats in the U.S. House of Representatives and deciding how more than $400 billion per year is allocated for projects like new hospitals and schools.

That's more than $4 trillion over a 10-year period for things like new roads and schools, and services like job training centers.

Let's make sure Lee County is counted. If you haven't already returned your census form (the short form only takes about 10 minutes to fill out) make sure you do so as soon as possible. And now, if you'll excuse me, I need to go find mine in that stack of unread mail and make sure my family gets counted.