By Curt Yeomans
Clayton County Board of Education members should be leaders who can work together, and put the interests of the children above their personal agendas, according to candidates seeking the board's District 3 seat.
The candidates are concerned about the school system's accreditation crisis, which was largely caused by the actions of the sitting board.
When the candidates were asked what the board needs to fix itself, the terms "leadership," "transparency," "camaraderie," and "integrity" were the replies. The lack of those qualities is why the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools (SACS) is threatening to take away the school system's accreditation, the office-seekers said.
There are five people vying for the District 3 school board seat: Blondie Perry-Christian, Charles Davis, Jessie Goree, Tammie Hardy and Marty Holder, Sr.
"Just because you are part of a governing body does not mean you are above the law," said Holder, 52, who manufactures paint for Sherwin-Williams Company. "The school board involves more than yourself, and the current board lost sight of that fact. That's why myself, and some of my colleagues, are running in District Three."
Goree, 53, a recently retired school improvement specialist for Clayton schools, said the board has lacked strong leadership for some time, and she puts the blame on former Chairperson Ericka Davis. "The board members acted like children," she said.
Hardy, 35, a financial analyst for Unified Consultants Group, said the board's leadership problem is the result of members letting their personal feelings influence their decisions. "They took their focus off the children, who should be their main priority," Hardy said.
"The SACS report outlined nine things which needed improvement," said Perry-Christian, 59, a retired city of Atlanta human resources employee. "Among them was the assessment that the board is dysfunctional. If the board is not functioning as it should be, then nothing else will function properly."
Davis, 59, a retired Atlanta Public Schools maintenance employee, said the new board members will have to learn the public portions of board meetings are no place for arguments. He also said board members need to learn the difference between their duties, and those of the superintendent.
"We don't need micromanagement going on," Davis said. "We don't need to run the human resources department. We don't need to tell the curriculum department what do to. We hire the superintendent to run those departments. Those people answer to him."
Davis said he believes SACS will not revoke the district's accreditation. He said the major issue which still needs to be resolved is the board, and "once we clean up the board, we will be fine."
Each of the candidates gave reasons why he or she would be the best person for the position.
Perry-Christian cited her seven years on the Clayton County Mental Health Board, and another six years on the Atlanta Technical College Advisory Board as one of her benefits. She said it gives her plenty of experience at how a governing board should operate.
"When I saw the dilemma we're now facing -- with my wealth of experience -- I felt it was incumbent on me to step forward and offer to represent this district," Perry-Christian said.
Davis said his past experience as a maintenance supervisor for Atlanta Public Schools gives him the qualities needed to be the best representative for the district . "I have 28 years of supervisory experience from my time in Atlanta," he said. "I dealt with accreditation on many occasions, since you have to continuously go through that process .. As a maintenance supervisor, I also dealt with budgets."
Goree cited her familiarity with the kinds of students who attend Clayton County schools. When she was a school improvement specialist in the county's Even Start Family Literacy program, she dealt with children as young as 3, whose parents do not speak English. She dealt with Criterion-Reference Competency Test (CRCT) scores, attendance and language acquisition as part of her duties. "We have a very diverse population in our district," Goree said.
Hardy said her experience working with children and finances makes her the best candidate. As a financial analyst, she said she has experience working with budgets and large contracts. She also has some experience working with children as the assistant youth choir director at her church, and she is active in the Parent Teacher Association (PTA).
"I have a passion for education," Hardy said. "I have leadership skills and I will act in a professional manner if I'm elected."
Holder was the only candidate who did not cite some form of experience. He said he is the best candidate, because he understands what other Clayton County residents are experiencing as a result of the accreditation issue. "I do business in Clayton County, I own property in the county, I pay taxes here," he said. "This situation involves me just as much as it involves the school system."
Beyond the issue of board leadership, the candidates said several other issues need to be addressed. Perry-Christian and Holder brought up safety in schools.
"Kids need to feel safe, and shouldn't have to worry about what their classmates have in their bookbags," said Perry-Christian.
Holder said the key to resolving the security issue is to increase parental involvement in the schools. "We have situations in the schools where we have angry students going to school and acting out in class," he said. "Teacher's don't feel safe. They shouldn't have to feel like they have to keep putting out fires. If more parents were volunteering in the schools, kids wouldn't be so inclined to act out."
Davis said the issue of communication is an area which needs some work. "We need to get more positive news about what the children are doing," he said. Davis also said the school board needs to improve its relationships with teachers associations, although he said he has "never been a member of a union."
Goree has wanted to run for this seat since the current District 3 representative, Yolanda Everett, was elected in 2004. She officially retired in June. "I feel like we need someone who represents the best interests of the district," Goree said.
Hardy said she wanted to run more than a year ago. "I'm unhappy with the current situation in our school system, more recently because of the accreditation situation, but I've been unhappy for awhile about low standardized test scores and the negative perception this county gets," said Hardy. She has a daughter who starts ninth-grade at North Clayton High School in the fall.
Curriculum is an issue which was brought up by several of the candidates. Like Hardy, three of the other candidates also had issues with the way the curriculum lined up with what was included on standardized tests. Perry-Christian, Goree and Hardy shared the view that those in charge of planning the curriculum need to do a better job at making sure it is aligned with what is offered on the standardized tests.
"We need to look at the curriculum and revise and revamp it," Perry-Christian said. "Do whatever else we need to do to make sure the students are being taught what is on the tests."
Goree said there are other curriculum-related problems. She said the district put too much effort into direct instruction programs, like the KAPLAN program, which were designed to boost reading skills.
"It's a great reading technique -- for about one-third of the student population, but it became the driving force in the county, and our teachers did not buy into it," she said.
Goree also said the school system needs to put more support staff in the schools, instead of housing them in the Central Administration Complex in Jonesboro.
Holder said the blame for the academic struggles don't necessarily fall on teachers or students. He said the school system needs to put more money in the schools, and less into administrative salaries and programs. "Our kids aren't dumb, they just don't have all of the tools they need to excel," Holder said.