Two new Wilkes Board of Education members were sworn in and the two being replaced said their goodbyes at Monday night’s board meeting, held virtually on a Zoom platform due to the coronavirus pandemic.

Wilkes School Superintendent Mark Byrd also recognized Darren Shumate and Leslie Barnes, leaving the board after eight years and four years respectively. They didn’t seek reelection this year.

“I could not have asked for better board members during that time. Wilkes County should be proud of how these two individuals have served our students and staff. They’ve been very dedicated and supportive of all of our schools,” said Byrd.

He said both have been instrumental in Wilkes having a reputation for a strong working relationship between the superintendent and school board.

Byrd swore in Hardin Kennedy and Joan Caudill as new board members Monday night. He said this will also be done in a more public way at the August meeting, referencing the fact that Monday night’s meeting was held virtually. He said incumbent Kirk Walker, reelected to the board when Kennedy and Caudill were elected in early March, will also be sworn in then.

Shumate said hiring Byrd as superintendent while he was on the board was one of the proudest moments of his life and likely is what he is most proud of during his time in office. He said he has known Byrd for over 30 years and they rode the school bus and played ball together. “He’s a man of integrity.”

Shumate said he is proud of the board, friendships developed and the board’s direction.

He said he is best friends with Rudy Holbrook, board chairman, and Kennedy, and has become good friends with Barnes. Shumate congratulated Caudill and said he looks forward to seeing good things from her. He said he’s known board member Kirk Walker a long time and that board member Sharron Huffman was his teacher at North Wilkes High.

Barnes said things she is especially proud of steps taken to enhance safety while she was on the board. She mentioned the addition of security cameras and school resource officers in middle schools and high schools. She said elementary school front entrances were made more secure.

Barnes said she is proud of how teachers, staff and central office personnel pulled together for students during the COVID-19 period, as well as the technology in the Wilkes schools. “A lot of schools in the state don’t have the technology we have and haven’t been able to do what we have done.”

She mentioned teachers collaborating in virtual Zoom meetings and calling her daughter, a high school senior this year, to see how she and her family are doing.

Barnes said she didn’t seek reelection because she wants to return to education and can’t do that in Wilkes while being on the school board. She formerly was a teacher in the Wilkes schools.

“It’s been an honor and a privilege to serve on this board. I have made some wonderful friendships and they have become an extended family for me. I know that we’re leaving the school system in good hands.” She thanked her husband and daughter for their support “and God for giving me this honor in my life,” she said.

Caudill said she’s excited about being on the school board and has a lot to learn, so she’ll likely ask a lot of questions.

Kennedy said, “This is a wonderful board and we live in a wonderful county. We’re second to none…. I’ve always said our folks here are just as good as those in Silicone Valley, Calif., if you give them an opportunity.”

He said he looks forward to working with the board and promoting a positive relationship with everyone to help the students.

Kennedy finished on top in the school board race in early March with 8,853 votes (25.42%). Walker, the only incumbent seeking election then, received 8,315 votes (23.88%). Caudill won the third seat with 7,174 votes (20.60%). Kennedy was first elected to the Wilkes school board in 2012 and defeated when he sought re-election in 2014.

Also during the meeting, Byrd said he wanted to thank teachers, principals and staff for making 2019-20 a great school year “despite challenges none of us had ever seen.”

Addressing the class of 2020, Byrd said, “Congratulations and we look forward to celebrating your accomplishments sometime in the near future. COVID-19 can’t take away from you what you’ve earned over the past 13 years.”

Speaking to underclassmen, he said, “We’re all looking forward to the day you guys return to our buildings.”

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