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Clayton school board candidates give brief introductions

JONESBORO — The partisan primary election for the Clayton County Board of Education includes contested seats in District 1 and District 8.

School board Chair Pam Adamson is being challenged by Angel McSwain to represent District 1. Board Vice Chair Dr. Alieka Anderson faces Jeffery Benoit to retain the District 8 seat.

Michael King and Charlton Bivins are uncontested in seeking new terms as the board’s District 4 and District 9 representatives, respectively.

The candidates were asked by email about their reasons in running for office and how they would lead in the posts. Those who responded are as follows:

Jeffery Benoit, 55, is a veteran of the U.S. Army, retired with 32 years of service. He has been a Clayton County resident 21 years.

“I’m running for the post of school board member to support the education of our present and future generations, to support our teachers while bringing leadership to our community and to engage the parents on what matters to them as stakeholders,” said Benoit.

“I support good schools in education, we must do what is best for the education of our youth, no one model will fit every learning style,” he continued. “Education has changed and the board must incorporate changes to meet the challenges of today in order for our youth to compete in a global market.”

Benoit was asked about his position on school funding and priorities in spending.

“There is no one answer,” he said. “Several things must be considered when making a decision on the funding of education, I will consider all factors and make decisions on the best way to improve education for the students of Clayton County.”

Angel McSwain, 41, is a school counselor in DeKalb County Schools. She has been a resident of Clayton County and in her district for more than 12 years.

“I am running for District 1 School Board because of the ineffective leadership we’ve had and continue to have in Clayton County Public Schools,” said McSwain. “I have the qualities of humility, honesty, integrity and commitment, which are needed to sustain a vital leadership position, such as school board member.

“As a school board member, I would work towards changing the climate of the board in order to change the climate of the school system, thus, improving morale throughout the district and increasing student achievement,” she said. “I believe that when individuals are happy and can enjoy coming to work and school, both students and staff, they display a greater level of performance.”

McSwain said she believes alternative forms of public education such as charter and magnet schools have pros and cons just as traditional public schools.

“However, if the proper personnel and resources are in place and utilized correctly, I believe alternative forms of public education will prove to be effective for students,” she said. “No matter the form of public education, in order for students to reach their highest potential levels, there must be key components, such as effective leadership, active parent involvement and accountability for all stakeholders, including students.”

Regarding school funding, she said she believes money should be spent in the areas of greatest need such as providing adequate resources, including school staff. Her top three spending priorities include additional school staff, educational resources and academic programs and student services.

“All levels of government should share the responsibility of school funding, with more funding coming from the state and federal levels,” said McSwain. “Due to the local property tax disparity, low income communities of course would receive less funding at the local level, which would provide more of a disservice to the teachers and students. However, I believe that we must have prudent leaders who will ensure all funding from the local, state and federal governments is spent wisely.”

Charlton Bivins, 50, is an assistant watch commander for DeKalb County Sheriff’s Office. He has lived in Clayton County 28 years and within his district 26 years.

“I am a change agent in my community, an advocate for all and I felt the position of school board representative would benefit from my leadership, oversight and management abilities, cohesive spirit and my need to be involved,” said Bivins. “The challenging element on Clayton’s Board of Education is the lack of a business attitude of some board members.

“I don’t think some board members understand their role as the head of a multi-million dollar service corporation,” he continued. “It takes continuous oversight, full knowledge, collaboration with all peripherals of county government and community inclusivity.”

Bivins said he is an advocate for all forms of alternative education, particularly charter schools.

“The overreaching theme behind free enterprise is competition,” he said. “The opportunity for success increases when creativity and freedom occur. Good charter schools create competition and expose deficiencies in public education. Public education has no choice but to emulate good practices when alternative educational programs succeed.”

He said local, state and federal support for education should be priority one.

“Monies should first be allocated for early education,” he said. “For years, educators have attempted to fix a child midstream the process. From birth to 6 years old, I feel are the most critical educational years and studies show a child that doesn’t read can’t succeed. If money goes into a child’s early foundation, that child has more opportunity to succeed.”

Bivins added his belief that funds should be funneled to career readiness programs such as school’s Career, Technical and Agricultural Education programs that help build life skills and job and world preparedness.

“Not all children understand the path education leads them down but when you can see the light (career) at the end of the tunnel (graduation), then that sector of children succeed,” he said.”Lastly, funding should be allocated for laser focus programs in special education. The parameters of making a child whole are magnanimous.”

Michael King, 59, is an attorney and sole practitioner for civil and criminal litigation. He has been a Clayton County resident 30 years, spending the past 14 in his district.

“I am running for re-election to improve academic achievement and maintain SACS accreditation and a positive school district budget,” King said. “I would like to change the thinking of the current BOE concerning student achievement priorities.

“Am I for alternative forms of education for Clayton County?” he continued. “Yes, those alternative programs supported by positive research data.”

King said he has no position on school funding from the federal, state and local governments per se.

“Such funds are dependent on available resources at each level,” he said. “I would urge increasing the amount spent on individual and small group instructions at each school and the hiring of additional behavioral and anger management counselors and psychologists.”