Incoming, outgoing Houston County school board members share wish lists

jmink@macon.comNovember 5, 2012 

WARNER ROBINS -- Dave McMahan spent years in the woodworking shop of Warner Robins High School, teaching students how to turn blocks of wood into practical creations.

Now, as McMahan prepares to take a seat at the Houston County Board of Education, his thoughts return to his teaching days.

“I’m going to be an advocate for the classroom teacher,” said McMahan, of Warner Robins. “Schools can operate without a lot of things, but teachers are important.”

McMahan, who moved to Warner Robins as a military child in 1967, taught in the Houston County system for 15 years before becoming an administrator in the maintenance and facilities departments. After he retired in January 2011, people began urging him to run for the school board. He was elected in July and will begin in January.

“I will ask questions,” McMahan said about his duties as a board member. “I may not have the answers, but I’m willing to ask questions.”

McMahan is taking the spot vacated by Toby Hill, who is wrapping up his eighth year as a school board member. He did not seek re-election.

“I believe in term limits for one thing,” he said, “and I’d rather go out when people are asking you to stay.”

Hill, who teaches part-time at Georgia Military College, has been an educator for 46 years. He was superintendent of the Crawford County school system before moving to Houston County in 1981, where he become vocational director and then went on to an assortment of jobs, including principal of the alternative school. After a three-year stint managing a halfway house, Hill began teaching full-time at Georgia Military College. Soon, he decided to run for a board seat.

“We’ve always had a great board, but eight years ago, it wasn’t as stable as it is now,” he said. “I saw an opportunity to add some stability to the board.”

Over the years, Hill has worked under seven different superintendents in Houston County. Since serving as a board member, the highlights have been working with great people and seeing former students take leadership positions within the schools, he said. And there have been challenges. The most difficult times were when officials were considering zone changes for Veterans High School, Hill said.

“I answered personally, literally 1,000 e-mails,” he said.

As he prepares for his departure, Hill has written a wish list for the school system. He wants string instruments added to music classes in middle and high schools, a closer look at high school students who have too few class credits, a countywide online course department and a board-sponsored charter school.

“We need to be ahead of the curve on charter schools and online schools,” he said. Hill envisions a conservative charter school with student uniforms, a strict behavior code and some lessons devoted to the “dying arts,” such as cursive handwriting.

Still, Hill says a proposed amendment that would allow the state to open charter schools without local school board approval “is a mistake,” he said.

As Hill prepares to leave, McMahan is considering his own wish list for local schools. For now, that list mainly focuses on teachers’ needs.

“Is there anything we can do to minimize or reduce stress, so those teachers can spend more time teaching?” he said. “I think we don’t realize how full their plates are.”

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