By Daniel Silliman
Making promises to voters, taxpayers, home owners, students and "children yet unborn," 27 candidates sought election to seven vacant seats on the county's board of education.
At the forum, sponsored by Delta Sigma Sorority Inc., and the Clayton County Wide Homeowners Association, the candidates were asked to introduce themselves, answer two questions, and make final statements. Held on Monday, 120 people attended.
Many of the candidates said that, while the school board is currently in a crisis, and while the system faces the loss of accreditation, they believe the school system has the potential to be one of the best in the area, the state, and the country. Making that point, Letarcher Prayor had the first applause line of the night.
"We have a wonderful school system," said Prayor, a candidate for District 2. "When we're done, we'll have the best -- I want to say in the world -- but we'll have the best school system in metro Atlanta."
The two incumbents running for re-election, Lois Baines-Hunter, District 2, and David Ashe, District 7, did not attend the forum. They were at a board of education budget work session being held at the same time.
Most of the 27 candidates said the accreditation crisis prompted them to seek office. Robert Green, a District 5 candidate, said he put his name in the hat because he didn't know "if some of the same people on the school board would try to run again."
Milton Mack, a District 4 candidate, and Ed Rigdon, a District 8 candidate, said they were running because they have experience with accreditation boards.
All 27 cited their experiences, passion and concern for the county's children. And all of them promised to make the school system better.
Andre Glover, a retail manager and bank manager, who said he's lived in the country for eight years, said, "What we have now [on the board of education] is a personality conflict, which has nothing to do with educating our kids." His message will be to "stay focused, get on right track and hold the board accountable."
Lindsey McDaniel, III, said he has management experience from his time at Delta Airlines, Home Depot and AT&T, and would bring "leadership ability" to the school board, and would be a "team player." McDaniel also said the students, like his daughter who is a junior Mundy's Mill High School, "have no idea what accreditation means."
Letarcher Prayor, who works in human resources management, said she was persuaded to get in the race when her son, a 17-year-old senior at Riverdale High School, was worried he couldn't get into college because of the accreditation crisis. "I just want to do what we need to do to help us get over this hump," Prayor said.
Della Ashley said she believes in the school system and doesn't want to see it known for "disagreements and differences." She said she is the mother of a student, and "was wondering who would have the time and would take it seriously. I do have the time and I take it seriously."
Jessie Goree, who works for the school system and is the parent of a North Clayton High School junior, said she would rely on staff members and attorneys, unlike current board members. "Not only do I want to put the children first," Goree said, "but I also want to make informed decisions."
Blondie Perry-Christian, said, "I believe I can be one of the best members of the school board in this great county of Clayton." She said she had worked for the City of Atlanta and had mediation experience and would do "whatever it takes to give our children a quality education."
Charles Davis, citing extensive management experience, said he understands management, what it takes to be a good board member, and he "understands what a board does and how it functions."
Tammie Hardy, a financial analyst and the mother of a ninth-grader, said the board's problems should be taken care of quietly. "What we have now," she said, "is we have aired our dirty laundry for everybody to see."
Milton Mack, said he works for a school district "south of Macon" and took a school through the accreditation. "I believe," he said, "we should empower kids, so they become better adults."
Michael King, who taught for 15 years and is a practicing attorney, said he would "get the parents involved in the total education process."
Phyllis Moore said she's been on the citizen's budget council and very active in schools. She said she wants to see a continuity of curriculum across the school system and incentives for schools currently passing Adequate Yearly Progress tests.
Basil Lue said he was running because of the students' poor performance on SAT tests and said he would like to see students taught etiquette and better behavior. "They have lost their pride," he said. "When I was a kid, I had to pull my pants up to my waist -- that would be my first priority."
Robert Green said board members "have to make tough choices," and said he was more interested in enforcing the current policies and rules than making up new ones.
Diana Nicholson, the mother of a 2-year-old and a 3-and-a-half-year-old, said she has lived here her whole life and graduated from Jonesboro High School and Clayton State. "I decided to get into this because of my children," she said. "It's going to take us awhile to get on the right track."
Trena Morris said "public trust has fallen short," but she wants to "revive the spirit of excellence." She said she would "never appear immoral, never appear unethical, and never appear improper," and she would be "a voice for the children."
Jennifer Talley said she is running because she had "the heart of a servant ... I have a passion for children. I have a passion to see children succeed."
Ophelia Burroughs, a recently retired teacher after 23 years at Jonesboro High School, said if she had the money she would like "more teachers so our class sizes would be smaller," and she would make seat belts in school buses a first priority.
Mary Baker, a mother of two who has been attending school board meetings for nine years, said she finds it appalling and "amazing that in a system this big, we can't do better for our children." She said she would do "better promotion of what we have," and "show what we can do in this county."
John Askew, who has spent 40 years "in the business world," including time at Wachovia Bank, said the school system needs "a board in place that understands what there role is." He pledged himself to improving public relations, which he said he would do with press releases.
Glenn Dowell, a "lifelong educator," said "the focus has to be on education" and "we can do better." He said the last election brought change, and change is needed, but the voters have to "get it right this time."
James Stanley, a United States Postal Service supervisor, said, "First things first, we must reclaim the accreditation and maintain the accreditation for years to come." One of the mandates for accreditation, he said, is to "seek continuous improvement."
Mabel Swaby said she has four grown children, 13 grandchildren, and was a teacher for 19 years. Currently a CASA volunteer for the juvenile court, she said, "I think we can do something different when we decide to do something different."
Trina Garrett, an active parent for 10 years, promised she would, if elected, "turn this struggle into a jewel and do what we must do for our children."
C. Denese Sampson, a mother of five children, two who have graduated and three who are enrolled in the county's schools, said she would work "around the clock" to turn things around. "I am already doing what the board does every day," she said.
Ed Rigdon, a marketing director and a department head at Georgia State University, said he is only running because "the schools are in crisis" and he has experience working with the accrediting agency. "We've got a window to save accreditation," he said, and we can do that, but even if you save it, then what? You're on probation. Everything's not immediately great."
Alieka Anderson, an educator and a single parent who is working on her doctorate, said she wants to see the school system become a model school system. "I am going to do what it takes to save our schools."