Board of Education
Common Core displeasure resurfaces at forum
by Celia Shortt
Common Core, local control of education, and teacher workloads were several of the topics at Tuesday’s school board candidate forum held at the Newnan Carnegie Library by the Republican Party of Coweta County.
District 4 candidate Linda Menk, District 3 candidate Jan Horne, and incumbent District 3 candidate Harry Mullins were present at Tuesday’s forum.
Other candidates for the Coweta County Board of Education races who were not present included incumbent District 1 candidate Amy Dees, District 1 candidate Monica Terrell, and incumbent District 4 candidate Graylin Ward.
In her opening statements, Menk said she was running for school board because her 4-year-old granddaughter would be entering the Coweta County School System soon.
“That is the reason why I have decided to run,” she said. “I don’t really have a reason, but a ‘fire in my belly’ to change some things and offer a fresh look at what is going on.”
Menk also said $9,059 is spent per student each year by the state of Georgia to educate them, but the graduation rate is low for the country, around 75 percent.
“Something is definitely wrong, and we need to address it quickly,” she said.
Mullins, a 20-year veteran of the Coweta school board, said he did not run for a political reason, but rather for the betterment of his children and to help make the community a better place. He said it was important for the board to help maintain accreditation and to independently represent student views.
“I’m clearly focused on the objective to ensure a quality based education for each student and bringing more opportunities for them,” he said.
Having been on the board when the state began cutting funding, Mullins also esteemed the school system and its employees for their “dedication, sacrifices, and commitment” in managing the reduction in funding from the state.
“I’m proud that Coweta County has worked to make a quality school system.”
Horne focused on the importance of local control of the school system in her opening statements.
“This is a great school system that has done a good job,” she said. “But there are things now that need addressing.”
Horne said some teachers had come to her and said it wasn’t fun teaching anymore.
“If we don’t have people on the board who understand it we will lose control,” she said. “[We need] local control and people standing up and fighting so we can have local control.”
Tuesday’s forum featured questions submitted prior to the event, as well as ones submitted by the audience during the evening. The candidates rotated on who responded first and each was able to give a rebuttal to answers if necessary.
One of the first questions dealt with administration policies for the teachers.
Chairman of Coweta’s Republican Party, Brant Frost V, asked what administrative policies they could suggest to maintain and impose for teachers “who are buried under paperwork and red tape.”
Local school system officials have mandates coming down from the state with things they have to do, answered Mullins. “What I’m hearing from teachers is, don’t change again. Let us have some consistency.
“I have a wife who has taught in the system for over 30 years and a daughter who teaches there now,” he added. “I understand what is going on… it has hit me personally.”
Horne’s response dealt with the federal government’s control of education.
The federal government is taking control, she said. “We should have a voice.”
Menk also focused on federal government control in her response. She said No Child Left Behind, Race to the Top, and Common Core were examples of federal takeovers and that Georgia’s Department of Education was a governmental agency financially hit the least.
She also suggested it could be to time to adjust the local and state standards.
“Common Core was adopted by the state of Georgia,” said Mullins in his rebuttal to their responses. “It was voted on and adopted by the governor and the legislature. The federal government did not force us.”
In her rebuttal, Horne said she could not see how the governor could say no when he is told he can have so many millions of dollars if he takes this curriculum.
Menk further illustrated Horne’s point and said Governors Deal and Perdue jumped on the bandwagon with those decisions.
“Maybe it’s time we need a new governor, one for local control,” she said.
Another prominent question dealt with the national Common Core standards.
“Do you believe Common Core standards should comprise the entire curriculum?” asked Frost.
“I don’t think it should be Common Core period,” said Horne in her response. “I think when the state of Georgia gets involved with social studies and science, more people will be upset.”
The Common Core State Standards are a national initiative with the goal of providing national standards for students. Currently, there are only Common Core standards implemented in English/language arts, and math.
“If it were up to me, I would rip Common Core out by the roots,” said Menk.
Mullins took a different approach.
“Common Core is an emotional issue around the country right now … I encourage everyone to do their homework … research it … find out where it started and make your own decision,” he said.
“I don’t make the decision on the standards,” he added. “They are given to us by the state of Georgia to adopt.”
Horne also gave a rebuttal and detailed more of her reasons why she did not agree with Common Core.
“The biggest problem I have with Common Core is it was put together by bureaucrats, not educators,” she said.
Another question posed by an audience member was about what the school board could do to close the achievement gap.
It’s not what the school board can do, but what the classroom teacher can do, responded Mullins. It’s a complex problem. It’s a tough environment when students don’t have the resources they need from home or haven’t eaten breakfast, he said.
“Community support is important to help bring every opportunity for every student,” he added.
Horne said they do “need to reach out and help those families,” but they also need to make sure the teachers are not overloaded with paperwork.
In her response, Menk mentioned the school system had some responsibility because kids were in their care all day, but she asked how much responsibility the school system had to take in this situation.
We have social problems coming out of our ears in Coweta, she said. Some of this falls back on lazy parenting. “I’m not trying to sound harsh about this, but what is the role of the school system in this?”
Mullins responded, “It is my responsibility to help a child who needs food to find food. We can take responsibility or turn our heads and not address it.”
In regards to what the school board is responsible for, he said there are things the schools and school board are required to report to the state.
Horne said she thought some things did need to be addressed because the schools are responsible for the kids all day.
Menk responded and focused on the role of teachers.
“I’m not saying I want to see people go hungry,” she said. “We need to clearly delineate so teachers are not bogged down. A teacher’s role is not a babysitter.”
The final question posed by the audience asked each candidate to give their top three goals, if elected.
Menk said her goals are to find an alternative to Common Core, focus on curriculum standards, strive to have representatives of the school system who are educators, parents, and former teachers, and to have the existing policies and board members be open to change.
Mullins said his first goal is to follow state law to maintain the school system’s accreditation and conduct guidelines. His other goals include student achievement and increasing community involvement.
Horne’s goals are to make sure someone from Coweta is sharing Coweta’s voice with the state.
“My concern is where we’re headed on Common Core,” she added.
At the conclusion of the forum each candidate provided closing remarks.
Mullins thanked all the employees of Coweta’s school system for “the outstanding job they have done and will continue to do.”
If re-elected, he said he would continue to work to make an outstanding system and continue to work to keep the school board non-partisan.
“Thank you,” Horne said in her closing statements. “I would love an opportunity to serve on this board… to help make education in this community better. I haven’t been here long, but I plan to stay here.” In her closing statements, Menk thanked all the educators and said she couldn’t imagine how they do their job.
“I would appreciate your vote because I would like to see some change,” she said. “I’m running because a few teachers came to me last year and weren’t happy.”
“I’m worried about what the state is mandating for the local system,” she added. “It comes from the federal government.”
The non-partisan election for the candidates for school board takes place with the primaries on May 20.