Graduation has come and gone for the students of Newton County and as the children jump feet first into summer, there is still education business at hand.
Two men will face off in this year's race for the District 2 seat on the Newton County Board of Education. One is a familiar face, while one is a first-time candidate.
Newcomer Eddie Johnson (D) plans to take on incumbent Rickie Corley who has held the District 2 seat for 12 years.
Originally from Leesburg, Johnson earned a bachelor's of business administration from Albany State University after a three-year enlistment in the U.S. Army. Johnson retired from AT&T after 30 years with the company and said he has extensive leadership skills that will help what he refers to as a "board that is totally out of touch with reality."
"The parents that I have talked to feel their concerns are not addressed prior to decisions being made on their behalf," Johnson said. "The board follows a consistent pattern of exclusion."
Johnson held several management positions within AT&T including roles in planning and development for corporate directions, fleet management and controls, budget preparations and forecasting, and labor relations and customer service.
Johnson hopes to draw from his corporate experience and plans to improve public confidence in the board should he get elected.
"I will engage in dialogue, hold town hall type discussion at PTO meetings and be available anytime to discuss the concerns of parents," Johnson added. "The board must do a better job communicating to the public on how their tax dollars are spent and demonstrate to the public an open policy and a free flow of detailed information."
Johnson and his family have lived in Covington for the past 17 years, as he relocated from Boston in 1991. He has several initiatives planned and plans to discuss them with members in the community throughout his campaign, but one of his priorities is improving the graduation rate in Newton County.
"The board or the public doesn't know what kind of job is being done when it comes to what percentage of our kids drop out of school or graduate," Johnson said. "I plan to work with the staff and the board to develop and implement a tracking process that measures the most complete performance in the school system.
"I see education as the foundation that we can explore and it is going to be a determining factor as to how we pursue opportunities later in life," Johnson said. "Education is the foundation of life itself. Without an education you cannot succeed and be competitive in a global market."
As far as how to improve the education system in Newton County, Johnson said it is important to identify at-risk students and give them an opportunity to succeed.
"I think we should identify at-risk students early on in the education process," he said. "We have to make sure there are no extenuating circumstances with kids who have problems studying and disrupt class. If we have exhausted all means with a disruptive student, we need to pull him or her out and put them in a different program. But we can't give up on a student and can't give up on the educational process."
Covington native Rickie Corley (R) is no stranger to the community. For 54 years he's been a fixture around town and in the schools.
Corley attended Newton High School before it moved to its current location on Ram Drive and has put his children and grandchildren through the county's school system.
As an active leader in the community, Corley has owned and operated his own auto repair business for over 30 years. As the BOE's vice chair, Corley looks to serve a fourth term as the District 2 seat.
"There are many pressing issues in education today, but I think one of the main ones today is attracting qualified teachers," Corley said. "We've got to make the education process more appealing for young people coming out of college. Right now we are not getting enough and it's our responsibility to make our system attractive for well qualified young minds."
The school system holds an annual career fair and has recently traveled as far as Michigan to look for qualified teachers and administrators.
As a seasoned BOE veteran, Corley understand the frustrations felt by teachers and administrators as a result of No Child Left Behind. He said the key is getting more input from teachers.
"I understand the need to have checks and balances," he said. "The problem we have right now is that certain subgroups can affect whether or not a school is put on the needs improvement list. That needs to be looked at because it isn't fair to some schools to have a subgroup determine that."
Corley said he feels like he has had a productive run so far as a board member and hopes he's earned the public's trust. As a proponent for public involvement, he worked hard to promote public participation at monthly board meetings and encourages citizens to attend.
"We discuss financial reports and matters of public spending at each of our board meetings," Corley said. "Anyone is welcome to attend. The only thing we do in private is our work sessions.
"It's important for the public to understand that we don't make rules, we simply vote on recommendations made by the superintendent," he added. "The only way we can get anything accomplished is by working together as a team.
In a typical week, Corley said he devotes between 20 and 30 hours to his BOE duties. And while he manages his shop full time, he said the reward outweighs the extra time.
"I've given over 30 years to community service but I enjoy it," he said. "I go to the grocery store or around town and it's like a town hall meeting. People talk to me everywhere I go and I'm happy to listen to them."