The seat for District 2 member of the Newton County Board of Education is up for grabs and incumbent Rickie Corley (R) is defending his seat of nearly 12 years against newcomer Eddie Johnson (D).
Corley has served on the board for 11 years and 10 months and prior to being elected attended school system meetings and served on various committees. Johnson, though, has no previous involvement with the school board and is currently a Newton County bus driver.
When asked what sets him apart from Corley, Johnson said that he would bring new life to the board. "I will bring new vigor, innovations and solutions to many of the problems that have plagued the leadership team," he said. "My competitor has exhausted his means to improve key components of the system that are used to measure results and the growing concerns of the public. We cannot afford four more years of failed leadership and a continuing erosion of public trust at the expense of our children’s education."
According to Corley, however, his 25 years of involvement in the school system is what sets him apart from Johnson, along with training by the Georgia Department of Education to serve as a board member. He also owns a business in the community and has worked with various members of the public for many years.
"I get involved," Corley said, "and I work with others, not just blame and point fingers."
When asked about top concerns the BOE is facing and will continue to face in the future, Corley cited funding shortfalls, growth in the community, improving test scores and student achievement and graduation rates. He said changes need to be made to the high school graduation test and that there needs to be more school involvement from parents as well as school officials with a focus on increased communication between the two groups.
"With the economy as it is we, like other school systems across Georgia, are looking for ways to balance future budgets," said Corley. "All schools and department heads have been notified of possible funding shortfalls. They were asked to look for ways to trim their budgets and we are also looking at other options like a four-day school week. We do not want to do anything that would jeopardize education."
Johnson also has concerns about the graduation rate, including the number of students failing to meet SAT and ACT results, the lack of a plan for vocational training, an absence of after-school programs and efforts to recruit and obtain the best teachers.
"We can deal with these important concerns effectively by electing new leadership that understands the issues, letting new ideas and initiatives flourish from the ranks of our employee base to the top and embrace them by showing appreciation."
The candidates were asked where they saw the school system in the next five years to which Johnson answered there will be "serious consequences and untold cost to our youth, to the educational system in Newton County and society as a whole if there is not a change in direction the system is preceding."
He also said the county could be headed in the same direction as Clayton County [which recently lost its school accreditation] because of failed policies and leadership. Johnson said he believes Newton County needs more public dialogue and public trust to turn things around.
Corley believes that the system will be bigger but also a better performing school system.
"Most likely we will have three more elementary schools, another middle school and high school and another stadium," said Corley, "as well as school choice and theme schools."
Johnson believes there are several issues that must be addressed if he is elected to the board, "I am convinced," he said, "that new leadership is key, along with public trust. Trust is earned and not given to you on a silver platter. I intend to earn public trust by connecting the communities to the school system through community-based organizations, open dialogue and public participation in decision making."
According to Corley, communication, parental involvement and responsibility and reducing the drop-out rate are top on his list of issues that he will address is reelected. He also cites student achievement, more support for teachers and more control in the classroom, safety, accountability and discipline.
"Education is a work in progress. It is a journey, not a destination," Corley said at the Candidate’s Forum on Oct. 23. "My goal is to provide the best education possible for the young people of this county, one that will allow each of them to reach their full potential."