By Curt Yeomans
Clayton County Public Schools' slogan may be, "It's All About the Children," but the three candidates for the District 9 seat on the school board are saying it is really all about the basics of academics, student safety, and school board governance.
Incumbent school board member, Charlton Bivins, is being challenged by Housing Authority of Clayton County Board of Commissioners Chairman James Searcy, and Atlanta Public Schools Director of Army Instruction Grandvial Quick.
All three point to regaining the district's full accreditation, and ongoing budget woes as the major issues facing the school system. But, people who dig a little deeper will find that the candidates are most concerned with the core expectations many people have when it comes to education.
"We must make sure our curriculum is full of rigor, and the things our children need, such as science, math and reading," Quick said.
"We can either be proactive already in our approach to dealing with discipline problems, or we need to start being proactive, so that, as time goes on, it could get worse, but we'll already have a plan in place to deal with it," Bivins said.
"The primary issue would be the organizational growth of the board itself," Searcy said. "The board has had to punish two of its members for misconduct. First, it was [board member Michael King] and, more recently, it was [board member] Jessie Goree ... Something is not right, and it comes to the issue of gate-keeping."
Which one of three gets to represent District 9 -- which is the northwest area of Clayton County, including the Rex and Ellenwood areas -- for the next four years, will be decided by voters in that area in the July 20 Democratic primary. There are no Republicans in this race.
Bivins won the seat in a December 2008 special election, after the previous occupant, former school board member, Sandra Scott, was removed from office by Gov. Sonny Perdue, upon the recommendation of a state administrative law judge.
Bivins, who is a lieutenant in the DeKalb County Sheriff's Office, said he has been in law enforcement for 21 years. He said he currently oversees deputies in the DeKalb County Juvenile Court. He is running for re-election, he said, because "I'm not finished yet." He said there is still some work to be done on the accreditation issue, because, while the accreditation has now been restored, the district is still on probation.
The incumbent said there is also other work he needs to do, which goes back to the student safety issue. "I haven't had a full, four-year term to do all of the things that I want to get done," Bivins said. "There are two programs I want to see become shining programs in Clayton County."
He said he wants to see growth in the district's "500 Men Standing in the GAP" initiative, an effort to get more males to volunteer in the schools; and the Clayton County Community Action Nexus (Clayton C.A.N.) program, which is a partnership between the school system and local law enforcement agencies, and juvenile justice officials, to steer students away from criminal activity, and toward positive behavior.
James Searcy, is a Realtor who has lived in Clayton County since 2004. He also ran against Bivins two years ago in the District 9 special election. He is a retired U.S. Navy chief petty officer. He said that, while accreditation continues to be a problem facing Clayton County Public Schools, it is an issue the district, and the school board, need to find a way to finally move past.
"The district has to move beyond the accreditation issue once and for all," Searcy said. "It's something that can't be ignored, but we must move beyond it. This school system has a lot of potential to be great, if we focus on making it great."
One thing Searcy suggested to help children reach their own potential is to conduct regular assessments throughout their educational careers. The purpose of the assessments would be "to learn which of the students have aspirations for college, and which would be better suited on the vocational tract," Searcy said.
Quick, who is a retired U.S. Army lieutenant colonel, said there is another reason for the district to finally put the accreditation issue in the past, for good -- the business impact. He said he believes many businesses do not want to come to Clayton County as long as the school system is perceived as struggling to hold onto its accreditation.
Quick said the focus comes down to the child, every aspect of child, to be exact. In addition to focusing on science, math and reading, he wants children to be well-versed in technology, so they will be "ready to compete in a global society."
Still, ever the Army man, Quick said there also needs to be a focus on some good, old-fashioned physical fitness for Clayton County children. "We've got to think outside the box when it comes to making sure our students are healthy," he said. "I champion helping the whole student, and a child has to be physically fit, in order to grow up to be a healthy, productive adult."