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Candidates concerned about probation

By Greg Gelpi

District 5

The last race for the District 5 Clayton County Board of Education seat wound up in court where it was ruled Norreese "Coach" Haynes didn't live in the district.

Although he received more votes, Barbara Wells won the election.

Since that election, the demographics of the district have shifted becoming a predominantly black district, and the school board has emerged from a year of controversy.

Both are seeking the seat in addition to Jermaine Dawson and Wendell "Rod" Johnson.

Wells is seeking her third term on the board and wouldn't say much about the previous election or the racial makeup of the district.

"It was decided in the courts, but he didn't live in the district," Wells, a retired BellSouth testing technician, said.

The incumbent is making certain to distinguish herself from other members of the school board. Members of the board meddled in the daily operations of the school system in violation of board policy and fired Superintendent Dan Colwell, bringing about a yearlong probation by the system's accrediting agency, the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools.

"I hope that anyone who followed the events of the past year knows how hard I fought to follow policy and conduct a national search (for a superintendent)."

The Clayton County NAACP and SACS called for the national search.

Wells said she decided to run for school board because community residents wanted a parent and non-educator on the board and they asked her to run.

"I still have people who think they need a parent on the school board," Wells said. "I want to see Clayton County back in the prominence from when my son was in school."

Parent participation plus student discipline equals student achievement, she said. A uniform discipline code across the school system is necessary.

"I can only run on my record," Wells said.

Haynes said that Wells "must go."

"I hope to be in the runoff if there is one," Haynes said. "I hope to win it straight out."

Haynes works for education advocate John Trotter and his organization, the Metro Association of Classroom Educators. Trotter has been a vocal opponent of Superintendent Barbara Pulliam and even filed an ethics complaint against her, which was later dismissed.

When asked if he would attempt to fire Pulliam, Haynes replied that he would get rid of anyone who failed to put the children first.

A child's education begins in the home, and the school system must begin by educating the parents, he said.

Modeling the parent university of the Fulton County school system, Haynes would bring education home.

"You educate the parent so they can educate the children," he said. "The way to higher test scores is getting the parents involved and getting involved in the home. There's no Miracle Gro."

More vocational classes and departments should be placed in the school system, he said. Not everyone can "compete" in traditional classes and must be given an opportunity to study trades such as carpentry, hairstyling and electricity.

"I want to target these areas," Haynes said. "Kids who feel they can't compete turn to the streets."

Haynes also ran for the Georgia General Assembly in 2002, but was defeated by Gail Buckner. He won four straight championships as the coach of the Riverdale Middle School basketball team. He also worked as a paraprofessional at Riverdale Middle.

Dawson, who said he is the only teacher in the race, hopes to use proven methods to increase test scores.

Dawson, 29, implemented gender-based learning in Campbell Middle School in the Cobb County system, raising test scores by 20 percent, he said. The teaching strategy could be implemented countywide next year.

"I am the only candidate that knows this by experience," said Dawson, who will be an assistant principal at Campbell next year.

Losing teachers is of concern to Dawson as well.

"We're losing them at an alarming rate," he said. "They are leaving because they are disgruntled with the pay scale."

He also wants to address funding issues and supply teachers with the materials they need, rather than making them purchase their own supplies.

Dawson's other concerns are being more proactive with discipline and making the curriculum more strenuous.

"I have the theory and I also have the practice," he said. "I cannot operate on a person's body if I'm not a certified doctor."

Dawson has worked at two schools in Clayton County, worked with former President Jimmy Carter and been featured on NBC network news with Tom Brokaw for giving back to children. He is also the founder and senior pastor of Fountain of Faith Christian Center in Riverdale.

All of the candidates in the primary are Democrats. There are no Republicans.

Johnson, 38, of, Jonesboro, is a pastor and teacher.

He said his top priority is "to develop board policies that promote educational excellence in Clayton County Public Schools.

"I will accomplish this task by working diligently with the superintendent and school board members to draft policies that promote the highest educational standards for our children."

District 6

With Bob Livingston's decision not to seek reelection, the District 6 school board seat is up for grabs.

The race pits a political newcomer in Clayton County, Janice Scott, against a Clayton County veteran, Eddie White. The race also features the only Republican candidate running for school board.

"I'm new to Clayton County, but I have experience in education," Scott, 48, said. "I've always had a passion for children."

Scott works in the Atlanta public school system as an eighth grade language arts teacher at Kennedy Middle School and taught a year in the Clayton school system. She is in her 15th year of teaching.

Although SACS lifted the school system's probation, Scott said accreditation should continue to be on the mind of the board.

"I plan to design a safeguard for accreditation," she said. "I think everyone needs to know policies and procedures."

SACS cited the school board's failure to follow its own policies and procedures when placing the system on probation.

Discipline, qualified teachers and test scores are other issues of concern for Scott.

"(Students) have lots of energy, and we need to learn to motivate them," she said, adding that discipline and student achievement will take community involvement. "It takes a whole gang to make a difference."

Scott also supports a mix of remediation and enrichment programs and after school programs to boost test scores.

Concerted efforts must be made to recruit and retain highly qualified teachers as well, Scott said. She proposes following the lead of other school systems by offering teacher retreats and teacher signing bonuses.

With 43 years of experience in the Clayton County school system, White has worked in the system as a teacher, assistant principal, principal and assistant superintendent for staff development, student services and personnel.

"If elected to Clayton County Board of Education, one of my priorities would be to ensure that the members of the (board) serve the citizens of Clayton County in a professional manner and model the behavior we desire of the boys and girls under our watch," he said.

White said that his mediation skills and experience make him a qualified candidate for the board.

"I am one of nine, but I will be one," he said of the nine-member board that has been deeply divided during the past year.

White, who referred to himself as the "however guy," said he has a plan to begin collaboration between students, parents and the school system.

"I will not make any promises I cannot fulfill," he said.

White said that he will raise test scores through a "test czar," who would be responsible for evaluating test scores and raising them.

Working with existing system policies, he hopes to strengthen discipline by enforcing discipline and bullying policies. He would also work with the Clayton County Juvenile Court System to collaborate on strategies to resolve common problems.

Joel Di'Angelo Dixon, 26, is unopposed as the only Republican in the primary race.

Dixon, assistant marketing manager for Dixie Homecrafters/Gutter Guard, Inc., is a graduate of Mt. Zion High School and Stanford University. His youth is an advantage that he brings to the table, he said. Not too far removed from the school system, he brings a fresh perspective.

"I want to carry the torch of excellence in education for a new generation," Dixon said. "I'm a fruit, a product of this school system. To care is not just a feeling. To care is to act. Everyone knows that with the fruit is the seed for a new generation."

Board members must know their role and stick to their role, he said. Not sticking to their defined roles and responsibilities led to the system's probation.

Division split the board, and a "large part of division" comes from one side not feeling heard, Dixon said. As a board member, he would use "active listening" to resolve issues and avoid division.

"There must be a commitment to action," Dixon said. "There must be a commitment to execution."

District 7

The District 7 school board seat was filled by the appointment of Carol Kellam, 49, in a controversial move that preceded the firing of Colwell.

Kellam defended her campaign literature's request for District 7 to "reelect" her. She said that it was a mistake made by the printers and that she wasn't going to spend the money to correct it.

Devadas Lynton, 43, though, went on the offensive and said the inference that Kellam had been elected before is just one of many inaccuracies in her campaign literature. He called the inaccuracies "truly misleading" and "disgraceful," including a claim that she is eliminating "wasteful bureaucratic spending."

David Ashe, who is also running, wants to restore professionalism to the position.

Lynton, who has worked for the Georgia Department of Juvenile Justice for 13 years, said he is sticking to a positive campaign and is drawing on "broad" support from several ethnic groups. Those groups must be addressed so that school test scores can be improved.

He said one of his top issues in the campaign is student discipline and that student discipline fuels student achievement.

Part of that approach to discipline would include putting "teeth" into the school system's bullying policy.

Lynton said he would have the resources to connect the business community with the school community. He added that his experience with grant writing will assist the school system in tapping other funding sources.

There is no reason why the school system isn't partnering with local businesses and industries, he said.

Lynton also wants evaluations of personnel so that board members can make informed decisions about promotions and additional ethics policies for board members.

The issues raised by SACS weren't new issues, Kellam said. The problems existed before she was appointed.

"The issues they pointed out were going on for years and years," she said.

The SACS probation was "unfortunate," but was good for the system, since it brought the community and the school board together to resolve those issues, Kellam said.

"Everything good came out of it," she said. "It made everybody come together."

Kellam said she intends to continue working on the school system's curriculum, budget, finance and legislative issues.

Kellam wants to develop a program to transition students from middle school to high school to make the move easier on the students.

Teachers in Clayton County are qualified teachers, but they must be certified to teach in their subject area, she said.

"So far, my campaign is going pretty well," she said.

Ashe said it's important to hold the school board accountable for its actions.

"The board is going to have to have at least the perception of professionalism," Ashe, 58, said. "I feel that I have the leadership skills that would satisfy the accreditation standards and the public."

The county is losing residents because of the action of the board.

"My only experience in politics is that I'm a Democratic voter," Ashe said. "The big issue in the election for me is to stop the bleeding. We're losing teachers as we speak."

Students and highly qualified teachers are fleeing the county, he said. One reason is the low standardized test scores.

"As you know, the test scores are some of the lowest in the area," Ashe said. "We've got to turn that around quickly."

He suggests a mentoring program for students, a staff member responsible for test scores, teaching the test and recruiting "gung ho" teachers.

Ashe is a retired state employee, who worked for the Department of Human Resources for 30 years and oversaw an $18 million budget as the head of the Clayton Community Service Board for 17 years.

There are only Democrats in the District 7 race.