By Curt Yeomans
Charlton Bivins and Irene Lewis are concerned about the direction in which they see the Clayton County school system headed, but it was children who inspired them to run fo the vacant Board of Education District 9 seat.
Both are parents of Clayton County students. Bivins has two daughters in high school, and a son who is a Clayton County graduate. One of the inspirations to run for this seat came from a poem his middle child, Chelsea, a senior at Jonesboro High School, wrote last spring about the school system's accreditation crisis. "It was entitled 'I'm mad, but I'm helpless," he said.
"I didn't realize how upset these students were about this until then, and she is just a replica of all the students in the school system. She described just how helpless the students felt about the accreditation," said Bivins.
Lewis has a daughter, Iris, who is a fourth-grader at Morrow Elementary School. She also has a two-year-old son.
For Lewis, the decision to run came from commitments she made to be a good mother, and a good citizen of Clayton County by staying put, and fighting for a school system, which the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools (SACS) had said was being run a dysfunctional school board.
"I made a promise to my children when they were born that they would get a better education than the one I received," said Lewis. "My daughter isn't getting a bad education, but she's not getting a great education, either. It's just an OK education. I don't feel it's better than the education that I received when I was growing up."
Lewis said the board needs to work with the school system on strengthening the district's curriculum, and improving parental involvement. While she would like to see more parents attending PTA meetings, she said a better curriculum is needed for children, in light of a struggling economy.
"I'm upset that they don't teach another language at the lower grades," she said. "Right now, we need to give all students the tools they need to be successful adults."
Bivins echoed those sentiments when he said the board and the school system need to work together to improve standardized test scores, and the number of Clayton County schools making Adequate Yearly Progress (AYP).
While his daughter, Chelsea, attends Jonesboro High School, Bivins' younger daughter, Cydni, is a freshman at Forest Park High School. His wife, Terri, had concerns about Jonesboro's struggles to make AYP on a regular basis. Chelsea remained at the school to stay with her friends during her senior year. Still, he thinks there are some positives which can be found in his district.
"You look at [Mount Zion Primary School, one of only two primary schools in the county] and the math and science magnet program at Rex Mill Middle School," Bivins said. "We have a great district. If those types of problems were implemented across the district, we would have the best school system in the state."
Bivins also said, if elected, he would work on helping his constituents by focusing on the issues which affect the entire school system. He also said he would work to avoid the temptation to engage in the micromanagement of schools, which got Sandra Scott, the former District 9 representative, in trouble with accreditation officials.
"My advocacy for District 9 is for the global district, rather than the individual problems people have at the individual schools," Bivins said.
Lewis said she would be an effective board member, providing a voice for her constituents, but she also would be diplomatic and willing to follow when another board member has an idea that she feels is good for the entire school system.
"This is me, I'm committed to this area," she said. "It's better to take something that's already working and improve upon it, than to start from scratch with something new."
The candidates and their backgrounds:
Charlton Bivins, a lieutenant (deputy) in the DeKalb County Sheriff's Department, is an Atlanta native who moved to Morrow with his wife, Terri, 20 years ago to start a family.
Bivins spent three years at Tulane University in New Orleans, La., before transferring to Georgia State University for another year of study. However, he does not have a college degree. In addition to serving as the chairperson of Concerned Citizens of Clayton County (C4), Bivins has also been a volunteer coach for girls softball, and boys baseball and football teams for the last 20 years, and he is involved in the Parent Teacher Associations (PTAs) at Jonesboro and Forest Park High Schools. He is also a member of the Parents on Patrol (P.O.P.S.) volunteer organization at Jonesboro High School.
Irene Lewis is a training manager for AT&T, and a mother of two young children. She is a native of White Plains, N.Y. She and her husband, Rick, decided to move the family to Clayton County five and a half years ago. They liked the county because "it has everything you need," and the proximity to Interstate 75, which makes it easier to get to Midtown Atlanta for work every day, she said.
Lewis earned a bachelor's degree from the State University of New York at Buffalo, and has a master's degree from Indiana Wesleyan University.
Since she was a high school student in New York, Lewis has offered tutoring in the areas of mathematics and computers to school-age children. She said she does it because she enjoys the subjects, and therefore, wants to help children in those areas. Lewis is a member of the Morrow Elementary School PTA.