Elections

Familiar faces running for Twiggs school board posts

Four women with different backgrounds but similar goals are battling for spots on the Twiggs County school board.

There is a familiar face in the District 2 race. Incumbent Johnnie Moore, 87, says she's gained invaluable experience formulating education policy since she's been on the board for three decades.

Her opponent, 43-year-old political newcomer Teresa BlackÂshear, says it's time for a change.

In the District 4 seat, running once again is Shirley Stokes, 58, who just finished serving her first term in office.

She faces her opponent from four years ago, Syldia Kitchens-McNeal, 59, who touts her degree in education.

Their platforms range from keeping school system finances in good shape and retaining quality teachers to reopening Dry Branch Elementary School and improving student transportation services.

All of the women have or have had children or grandchildren in the Twiggs County school system.

DISTRICT 2 RACE

Moore, a retired materiel management clerical worker from Robins Air Force Base who lives in Danville, said she was ready to retire from the school board this year.

"I really didn't intend to run, but constituents came and drafted me," she said.

Her most notable board work, she said, was pushing the board to apply for the most federal funding possible to provide more students with free or reduced-price lunches. Hers was also one of two votes to keep Dry Branch Elementary School open when the remaining board members voted to close it in April 2006.

"Right now, the state has said we have to do so much to bring it up to par. We don't have the money to do it now," she said. "I hope to see it open" one day.

She said the most pressing issue facing the system now is maintaining its budget.

"We had been in a deficit and struggling to get out, and with summer school it was rough," she said. "The state mandates so much and funds so little."

She said the system also needs to focus on keeping its quality teachers and improving student discipline and transportation services. Moore was asked this year by her fellow board members about taking surplus chairs out of the closed Danville Elementary School, but she said she never was reprimanded and anyone who knows her knows she's honest.

Her opponent, Blackshear, grew up in Danville and graduated from high school in Twiggs County. She attended Middle Georgia Technical College.

She has a fourth-grader at Jeffersonville Elementary and has a child who just graduated from Twiggs County High School. That gives her a keen interest in what's happening in the classroom, she said, and is motivation to keep up with the school system's activities.

Plus, she said she wants to see her hometown thrive.

"I have a great interest in our students and the school system because it's my county," Blackshear said. "I love my county."

She said she chose to run because she wants to see the school system do better. The board needs a change in leadership and a new vision, she said.

"My main focus is to improve the education offered to students and broaden their opportunities, such as arts, music and drama," she said. "I feel it's lacking."

If elected, Blackshear says she will work hard to attract and retain qualified staff members, encourage parental involvement and work to help improve student test scores.

DISTRICT 4

Stokes, the incumbent in the District 4 race, says her advantage as a board member is having worked in the school system off and on for 23 years.

"You know what's going on in the schools if you have worked inside and can help make improvements," she said.

Her biggest issue is addressing the teacher turnover during this past school year and finding ways to retain them.

"It was a disaster," she said. "One (Jeffersonville Elementary) classroom had three different teachers."

She said she'd also like to see the school calendar adjusted so that students begin the year later, after Labor Day in 2009, as state school Superintendent Kathy Cox has asked systems to consider.

Cox said if schools started later, it would allow the state to count summer retest results toward whether schools meet Adequate Yearly Progress, which is announced two weeks before school starts. AYP is essentially the bar set by each state that all public schools must achieve to show they are getting closer to No Child Left Behind mandates.

Stokes said she would also like to see Dry Branch Elementary reopen and the system's Web site kept up to date with school calendars, lunch menus and other information. She'd also like for students to be able to learn Bible verses at school.

She'll have to beat Kitchens-McNeal, who was elected to the District 4 seat and served that district for about a year in 2003-04 after Belinda Johnson passed away. She lost to Stokes in the 2004 election.

She said several of her former constituents asked her to run again.

"The closing of Dry Branch broke everyone's heart," she said.

The school's former principal, Paul Smith, helped foster a high rate of student attendance and test scores, and he built a quality staff, but it was lost when the school closed, she said.

"We definitely need a change" on the board, she said.

As a result of the school's closing, some students in that area now ride up to an hour on the bus to attend schools in Jeffersonville, she said.

"We've got to step up in education," she said. "Children are not getting what they need."

She said she would also like to see teachers do whatever it takes to help boost test scores, "even if it's offering free tutorials.

"Teachers can stay after school for a while," she said.

She'd also like to see open community forums about education issues and to help students improve test scores so they can graduate and get into a good college of their choice.

Kitchens-McNeal has a bachelor's degree in secondary education from Macon State College and a master's in political science from Georgia College and State University. She has taught prekindergarten.

To contact writer Julie Hubbard, call 744-4331.

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