Incumbent Bibb County school board member Susan Sipe faces a Nov. 6 challenge from Republican Angela Freeman for the District 3 board seat.
Given the changes on the board and the issues facing the system -- from safety to academic achievement -- Sipe said the board needs stability now more than ever. Current board members Tommy Barnes, Gary Bechtel and Susan Middleton have reached their term limits and cant run again. Thelma Dillard and Jason Downey will replace Barnes and Bechtel, respectively, while Dominique Johnson and Lester Miller are vying for Middletons seat.
Sipe said she aims to keep the administration transparent and accountable.
There are so many things that are happening in our system right now. There are so many initiatives right now. I dont believe this is the time where we want four brand-new board members, she said. I have the experience. Ive been on the board for four years.
Freeman, on the other hand, said she sees a need for change in District 3. She said that districts representative needs to be willing to compromise and build relationships with other board members to make decisions in the best interests of a diverse student population. Division on the board could put Bibb County in danger of losing its accreditation, she warned.
I do not think that District 3s relationship (with the board) is a positive relationship, Freeman said. Its just basically in a stalemate. Its not that were not heard in District 3. Its that the relationship that our current representative has with the rest of the board is so fractured. I just cant imagine four more years of it.
Both Sipe and Freeman said student safety and discipline should be a priority.
School leaders should enforce safety measures already in place, Freeman said, pointing to a months-long delay in her daughters getting a school-issued ID from Central High as one example of a flaw in the system. That kind of gap, she said, makes it difficult for employees to know who actually belongs at the school.
I think Bibb County has every system necessary to succeed, Freeman said. I do not think that their systems are checked to see if theyre effective and working.
Issues such as classroom discipline also have an impact on teacher morale, said Freeman, herself a former Bibb County classroom teacher with family members who have also worked in the system.
Sipe said she is encouraged by campus Police Chief Russell Bentleys return to the school district a few weeks ago. She also said the re-implementation of random student searches, which were in place when her children attended Bibb schools about a decade ago, has been a step in the right direction.
I believe its important, and I think its necessary to keep all the students safe, she said. If students know that random searches are going to occur, theyre going to think twice about bringing that knife to school or that gun to school.
Sipe also raised concerns about dormant plans to build a new Heard Elementary, which officials have said tie into plans to put in place portfolio schools in Bibb County. Portfolio schools allow students to choose programs based on individual interests.
Sipe said she would like neighborhood students to be given priority to enroll in portfolio schools once they are put in place to encourage parental involvement, something she said is strong at Heard now.
If the students who live in that neighborhood all attend that same neighborhood school, the parents will follow, she said.
Freeman said some of the districts recent initiatives, such as the Welcome Center and Mandarin Chinese courses for some elementary school students, have been more Band-Aids to long-standing problems. Chinese can benefit some students, but school leaders first should have made sure that students were reading and writing at grade level.
Putting Mandarin Chinese in every single school when you really havent been here long enough to know if it will benefit the child, it was, in my opinion, a poor choice, Freeman said.
To contact writer Andrea Castillo, call 744-4331.