May 2024 ElectionNewsNews Features

Three Familiar Names Seek Clarke County School Board District 2 Seat

From left, Claudia Butts, Kirrena Gallagher and Mary Bagby

Former school board member Kirrena Gallagher and two-time candidate Mary Bagby are challenging incumbent Claudia Butts for the District 2 seat representing East Athens on the Clarke County Board of Education.

In 2020, Gallagher defeated Bagby and was elected to the school board. She then resigned the seat in 2022 to run for the Athens-Clarke County Commission after Mariah Parker resigned. She lost that race in 2023 to Melissa Link.

The board appointed Butts over Bagby to the District 2 seat when Gallagher left. A 2012 graduate of Cedar Shoals High School, Butts earned a psychology degree from Paine College in Augusta, a historic Black institution, and returned to Athens. She started a tennis club in 2021 with the East Athens Development Corporation, growing the membership from eight to 20 children. She also leads a Girl Scout troop.

Butts said she’s running for a full term because she wants “to see a difference in student morale as well as teacher morale.” She wants fewer seasoned teachers to leave the district, to see the graduation rate increase and to have more students involved in the fine arts departments.

“I am the best candidate because I’m in the community, listening to parents/students’ concerns,” she said. “Being a voice for the people is my number one goal. I represent them and it is my responsibility to listen to their concerns and bring them to the board. I believe I bring the spirit of teamwork, laughter, and compassion to the board.”

Like Butts, Gallagher is a Cedar Shoals graduate. She studied early childhood education at Athens Tech and runs a licensed home educational daycare. She has two sons who have been educated in the school district.

“My vision for education, centered on empowering parents, students, and accountability to us as decision makers is what I believe helps me stand out as the best candidate for the District 2 School Board representative,” Gallagher said. “I aim to be the change that District 2 needs by advocating for comprehensive reforms in phonics and literacy education.”

Gallagher is on the Classic Center Arena Bonds Oversight Committee and the Local School Governance Team for Fowler Drive Elementary. She has been on the LSGT for Coile Middle School, on the board of directors for the Athens Land Trust, DFCS, and ACTION Inc., and on the ACC Vision Committee that recommends nonprofit grant recipients to the mayor and commission. She recently organized a workshop series at the Boys & Girls Club to help parents navigate the school system.

“I believe I am uniquely equipped to foster collaborative relationships with parents/guardians, fellow board members, teachers and the community at large,” Gallagher says. “I am dedicated to being a voice for change and progress in district 2.”

Bagby was a vocal supporter of controversial former CCSD Superintendent Demond Means, speaking in his favor at most board meetings and getting testy with his critics. At one meeting, she implied that board member Patricia Yager was a Nazi.

Bagby has been trying, unsuccessfully, to get a seat on the school board since Vernon Payne resigned his seat in 2019 because of declining health, after serving 40 years. Former CCSD teacher Frances Berry was appointed over Bagby and former ACC commissioner Harry Sims to take Payne’s place. When Berry resigned after a few months, the board appointed Antwon Stephens, who, it came to light later, had misrepresented his qualifications. He didn’t run for re-election in 2020, but he did endorse Gallagher against Bagby.

Bagby, who could not be reached for comment, has said that sending her two children through Clarke County schools qualifies her to run. She told the audience at Link’s re-election campaign kickoff event that she wants to bring more resources to District 2.

The election will be held May 21. A runoff, if necessary, will be held four weeks later.