The candidates for Rockdale's school board Post 4 seat are both passionate about their community and described discipline and wise budgeting as among their top concerns.
As a passionate critic and regular meeting attendee often dissatisfied with school board decisions, Sharon Pharr decided to become the change she wanted to see.
“I’d been trying for a year to recruit people to run. I got so many ‘no’s I thought I’m going to have to run. Put my money where my mouth is,” said Pharr. This is her first time running for elected office.
“I think there needs to be a better balance on the board. I’d like to see what goes on behind the scenes and maybe that would better help understand some of the decisions I don’t agree with. It’s better to first walk a mile in someone else’s shoes.”
One of her main issues and concerns is the education portion of the property tax and last year’s raising of that rate.
“The millage rate is one huge one I don’t get,” she said. “I don’t understand why we can’t balance the budget without having the highest millage rate in the state... Why are other districts able to run their business without the burden on the taxpayer. I know the dollars aren’t much, but we need to be cognizant” of the high rate and how that might affect people’s decision to decide to live in Rockdale.
Another concern is discipline issues and how that affects teacher morale and the teaching and classroom atmosphere.
“The teachers in Rockdale have no formal avenue to have input or voice concerns. You have a lot of knowledge in the schools. The teachers are on the front lines. I would think they have a lot of knowledge that needs to be considered,” she said.
“That’s why I want to be on the school board. To learn and see what’s actually going on and try to be a voice for people that feel like they’re not being heard.”
Pharr would like to see school board meetings become less about presentations and more about open discussion of problems. “I think people would attend the school board meetings if there were true efforts to enlighten and explain what was going on in our schools.”
Pharr said being “outside the education bubble” allows her to see more clearly. She said she also represents the majority of the community.
“ I feel like people in the education bubble, like administrators or educators, they’re steeped in that special knowledge and bureaucracy. If you want true oversight and true objective decisions, you have to stand outside that."
Pharr, the mother of three now-adult children who attended Rockdale schools, grew up in Montgomery, Ala., lived in Los Angeles, Calif. and eventually moved to Rockdale in 1978. She is a credit manager for an electrical distributor.
Dr. Darrell Stephens
Dr. Darrell Stephens is no stranger to the education profession. As an assistant principal at Indian Creek Middle School in Newton County and a former math teacher, Stephens is familiar with the day to day experiences teachers and schools face.
He said, “What I bring to the position is a wealth of knowledge, 20 years of experience, the community that I’m a part of,” which includes professional associations with networks around the state. He is also the father of three who currently attend Rockdale elementary and middle schools.
This is Stephens’ second time running for Rockdale’s school board. He first ran in 2010 and came in third in a five-way race for the Post 1 Board of Education seat which was won by Jim McBrayer.
For Stephens, reaching out to parents and the community is a priority. “It’s about going where they’re at,” he said. As a member of the Rockdale County Public Schools parent advisory committee, Stephens said he learned the value of letting parents know about the resources and activities out there for children to do instead of sitting at home and creating their own activities, which can lead to trouble.
In talking to parents, he found many felt that “10 percent of the school’s population is causing 90 percent of the problems.”
The school budget was another top issue. “I want to make sure money is being spent appropriately. Not saying it hasn't been, but if there's a place we can save money , we want to do that,” he said. For example, he said some of those savings might come from transition from hard copy textbooks to e-books.
In order to better communicate with the public, Stephens said he would hold quarterly forums to explain why decisions were made. “These are the things that are being done and this is why it was done,” he said.
A former Marine for 13 years, he earned his undergraduate degree at Clemson University and graduate degree at University of North Carolina-Charlotte. He taught math for 10 years, became an assistant principal at Atlanta Public Schools, and began working with Newton County schools eight years ago.
“This is what your job is about. Making the best decisions for kids going forward. This is what I do daily,” he said.