Two candidates are seeking the Post 5, at-large seat on the Peach County Board of Education in the only one of three school board seats contested on the ballot for the July 20 primary.
Mike Gilstrap, 62, of Byron, and Donald Williams, 41, of Fort Valley, are both running on the Democratic ticket to replace incumbent Kay Whitley, who is not seeking re-election.
In the other Peach County school board races, Jamie J. Johnson, the Post 2 incumbent, is running unopposed on the Democratic ticket. Robert “Butch” Hammack is seeking office unopposed on the Republican ballot for Post 4, currently held by chairman Jody Usry.
Gilstrap hopes his experience, both in the private sector, as well as a former member of the Peach County Board of Education, will help him be elected to public office once again.
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Gilstrap worked at The Medical Center of Central Georgia for 27 years, 11 of those as the executive vice president and chief operating officer of the hospital, until he retired in 2006.
In his time there, Gilstrap said he gained experience overseeing personnel and human resource issues, as well as working with the Medical Center’s budget of nearly $1 billion.
With those skills, Gilstrap said he is equipped to handle perhaps the largest issue facing the school board, “how to deliver quality education with less funding from the state.”
“It’s important the board runs in a focused, business-like manner,” Gilstrap said.
He served on the Peach County Board of Education for almost a decade during 1990s, serving about half his tenure as its chairman.
With ties to both north and south Peach County, Gilstrap said he will be a “unifier” on the school board, working to combat the historical rivalry between Fort Valley and Byron that has plagued its leadership in the past.
Gilstrap said he will be “objective” in his decision-making should he be elected to office and make “educational, ethical, informed decisions.”
“I’m only here to do what’s right for the children,” Gilstrap said.
Williams feels his perspective as an educator can be applied to benefit all students within the Peach County school system.
Previously working as a teacher at Fort Valley Middle School for 16 years, Williams will be entering his fourth year as assistant principal of Dooly County Middle School in the fall.
“We need people on the board that truly know education and policies that deal with education,” he said.
For Williams, the most important priorities for the Peach County school district include increasing its graduation rate and working toward achieving Adequate Yearly Progress systemwide.
Closely related to that task is managing the district’s finances, Williams said.
“We need to look at the budget with a magnifying glass and ... make sure we provide what’s necessary for students to receive a quality education,” he said.
Based on feedback from voters in the community, Williams said he will also try to improve communication between the board and the public to encourage wider community participation.
That task will include making sure the issues ahead of the board are well-publicized and engaging the community in town hall meetings in locations other than the schools, as well as seeking online input.
Williams, a 1987 graduate of Peach County High School, said his pride in the system pushes him to help serve students.
“I still have a strong desire to do what I can to make sure to help kids receive the best possible quality education,” Williams said.
To contact writer Andrea Castillo, call 256-9751.