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Change, stability focus of school board races

By Greg Gelpi

District 2

Incumbent Nedra Ware, the chairwoman of the Clayton County Board of Education, endured a term that included calls for her resignation, a controversial firing of Superintendent Dan Colwell and a yearlong probation of the school system.

The Clayton County Chamber of Commerce called for her resignation in June 2003, and now two political opponents are calling for her seat on the school board.

Atlanta Police Department Detective Roosevelt Bailey, 39, and community activist and consultant Lois Baines Hunter, 49, are seeking Ware's seat.

"People want to be absolutely sure when they cast their vote it's in the best interest of their child," Bailey said.

The detective works in the crimes against children division of the police department and said he would work as hard on the board to protect children as he does in his full-time job.

"(Children) are our best and only resource," Bailey said. "We want to take the attention off of the Clayton County school board."

Concerns over accreditation created a "ripple" effect throughout the community, he said. He wants to rebuild two-way communication between the school board and the community.

"You have to listen to those people who do these things on a daily basis," Bailey said. "I think communication has to be opened up."

School safety and teacher salary must be addressed, Bailey said.

"We have to make sure that the salaries and conditions are at least at national standards," Bailey said.

Test scores can be raised through more education, instead of more test preparation, he said.

"(Teachers) say their duties have gone from educating to test taking," Bailey said.

"Collateral" duties should be shaved from teachers' responsibilities, giving them more time to focus on the education of children, he said. With proper education, the test scores will follow.

Hunter's approach involves getting down into the "trenches" to resolve education problems.

Recognizing a gang problem in the community, she said she sat down with the leaders of a local gang and asked them directly how the school system can address their needs and keep them in school.

Structure and discipline must be used to keep children out of trouble and on task, Hunter said. The single parent raised two children, and both graduated from college.

"Without discipline, it's impossible to give instruction," she said. "All education starts in the home. It cannot just be a school board (responsibility)."

Hunter wants to initiate a mentoring program to pull in support and cooperation from adults, seniors, local businesses and nonprofit organizations, she said. To strengthen communication, she would have an open door policy for school board members to meet with the public.

She also would like to oversee the implementation of a technical and magnate school program.

"I have always been a community activist and an activist in the community," Hunter said. "Whether I win the race or not, I will always be a voice in the community."

She ran for the Georgia House of Representatives and Clayton County Board of Commissioners.

District 2 has 12,143 active voters of the 93,965 in the county. About 79 percent of the active voters are black.

Ware couldn't be reached for comment.

District 3

Two political newcomers, Yolanda Everett and Michelle L. Jackson, are vying for the District 3 school board seat. Current board member Linda Crummy decided not to run again.

Jackson, 49, has studied the issues and said she intends to use proven methods to increase test scores and increase student achievement.

"You have to go get the data and come back and educate people," Jackson said.

With 30 years of research to back her up, she said that large high schools need to be subdivided into groups of 300 to 400 students with teachers that follow them through all four years of high school.

She said there are proven ways to lower the dropout rate and reduce school violence, and the school system must employ those proven ways.

Working as a guard in the Fulton County Juvenile Detention Center, Jackson said the problem is that society gives up on many children.

"These kids are some of the most intelligent kids I've ever met," she said of the juvenile offenders. "They could do anything. They just needed someone to guide them."

To address test scores, Jackson said good schools need good leaders and that test scores reflect teacher quality.

She is supporting a performance-based teacher pay initiative similar to those in the business world, she said.

Jackson is unemployed and 13 years of active duty in the U.S. Army and more than eight years in the Army Reserves. She is also a past president of the North Clayton High School Parent Teacher Association.

District 3 has 11,267 active voters. About 81 percent of the district is black. There are 93,965 active voters in the county of which about 62 percent is black.

Everett, a teacher, couldn't be reached for comment after several attempts, but she stated her concerns for a News Daily questionnaire.

"I'm determined that the children's accreditation should never be imperiled again," Everett stated. "We must get our children out of the trailers and back into the school buildings where they belong. We must address the unparalleled growth."

She also supports magnet schools for Clayton County high school students.

The primary election is July 20. All of the candidates for District 2 and District 3 are Democrats.