Athens Voters Are Ignoring Schools

Do Athens voters support the Clarke County school board replacing paper textbooks with electronic notebooks next year for grades 3–10? Do Athens voters support the continued Ombudsman program for students who grossly disrupt the regular school setting? Do voters support the continued emphasis of the Career Academy over the offering of career, technical and agricultural education classes at the high schools? Do voters support establishing a charter school that will function in the early evenings for older teens who are on the verge of dropping out of school? Do voters support the distribution of surplus school district computers to county residents for a nominal charge? 

The silence is deafening.    

As a voter, I support some of these actions and have questions as to the details of others. As the newly-elected school board member for District 1, the lack of interest on the part of county residents is disheartening. Though the education of our children rates very high-interest in national opinion polls, this interest does not translate to the local level.   

This lack of community interest in local schools hit home when I tried to get myself invited to the candidates forum sponsored by the Athens-Clarke County Federation of Neighborhoods. In an emailed response, I was told, “We have produced this event with just enough time for the candidates running for mayor and county commission to address the audience. We do not have anyone running for the Board of Education in the program, but I would encourage you to attend and network at the event.”

On May 20, county voters went to the polls to elect the mayor, five county commissioners and five school board members. One commissioner, one commission candidate, four incumbent school board members and I, the lone candidate in school board District 1, ran unopposed. All five people running for school board had no opposition. In a recent interview sponsored by The Light 1470 AM, a high school student asked me why there is so little interest in the school board. I coughed and stammered through that one.

When I started my teaching career in 1989 at Burke County High School, I was already a parent. As an assembly line worker on overtime at Ford Motor Company, I had no time to follow actions of the local school board. I was working hard enough just trying to keep my teenage stepson in school. 

But when I became a high school teacher, I saw involvement slightly differently. I gained administration support for holding swap days where the parent could replace the student at school. I also gained support for organizing many parent and administrator breakfasts and parenting classes. Involving parents on a school level continued when I became a middle school counselor in Augusta.

It was when I was hired in 2008 as Clarke County School District Family Engagement and Equality Specialist that I began to see parent involvement in a still larger context. Bringing school staff into neighborhoods and parents into the schools for decision-making purposes became an important part of my job description.  

Now that I have been elected to the school board, I will be an advocate for community involvement. What that means is that as a candidate, I want to be queried as to who I am, what my beliefs about education are, and what my positions are on current issues facing the board. I want to be held accountable. I also want to hold the school board accountable for going into the community and explaining the decisions it is making. There are many good decisions being made by school district administrators. There are also decisions being made that need more input and further thought. 

I am realistic in the knowledge that most parents in District 1 will not hold me accountable for my votes on the school board, because their limited time will be spent focused on motivating their children to do right. I am realistic in knowing that most of those who are too young or too old to have children in public school have other community concerns that they see as more pressing.  

What I do expect is for the printed and electronic media to hold me accountable. What I do expect is for community-based organizations to hold me accountable. What I do hope for is a small group of citizenry who will serve as watchdogs of the school board. May it be so.