Residents meet, ask questions of two District 4 Board of Education candidates Sophe Pope and Bridgette Freeman

A forum was held at the Eagle’s Landing Country Club Tuesday to give residents an opportunity to meet and ask questions of District 4 candidates Bridgette Freeman and Sophe Pope. (Staff Photo: Heather Middleton)

STOCKBRIDGE — Two of the three candidates running for the District 4 Board of Education seat met with community members at Eagle’s Landing Country Club Tuesday, April 24.

Via written questions submitted by attendees, candidates Bridgette Freeman and Sophe Pope provided approximately 17 responses in the hour-long forum.

Freeman has lived in Henry County 22 years and owns a local real estate company. Pope is a Henry County native and a language arts teacher.

The following are the candidates’ responses to three of the questions asked during the forum:

1. Describe the achievement gap in this district. What do you think causes it and what do you think can be done about that achievement gap?

“Our new Superintendent Dr. Mary Elizabeth Davis has a track record of closing achievement gaps in large districts. That is so promising for us. I think a lot of it has to do with some of our transient neighborhoods. Unfortunately, sometimes it follows the socio-economic status in different neighborhoods. I think autonomy is important in many ways. But I think if we standardize more of what we expect in terms of learning outcomes from these children all across the board, then we will close that achievement gap. We should know walking in to any fifth-grade classroom what a student is expected to know. We should leave it up to that professional in that classroom to teach it — how they see fit and how their principal has instructed, but I think that we can close that gap if we leave it to the professionals who we push back on — some of these initiatives are taking the place of the core of our education — and if we rely on our wonderful new leadership with Dr. Mary Elizabeth Davis.”

“I agree that Dr. Davis is bringing a good bit of experience on her end. What I have heard from people talking just out with boots on the ground and knocking on doors is … in the past Henry County has jumped on the bandwagon a little too quickly on some of our programs and initiatives. I think Dr. Davis is steadfast on getting to the core of a lot of our programs and making sure that it is benefiting the education system and each child. So we’re certainly on the right path and closing that achievement gap.”

2. How would you fix our teacher retention problem?

“Usually with the question the answer is always salary. Let’s get the salaries up for teachers and, quite honestly, I don’t think teachers are paid enough anywhere. What they provide is invaluable. If it were a perfect world I’d pay our teachers like athletes. We can’t do that. But what I do know is it’s salary, as well as support, parental involvement and those things are very important to teachers. So if you pay a teacher more and you bog them down with a whole lot of unnecessary reports and systems, then they’re still not happy. So there has to be a balance, and I think that that helps with retaining our teachers. Having that support system, having programs that work for the teachers and the students and certainly parental involvement is going to be my focus as well. Because think about how long a child is at school. They’re with that teacher more than they’re home. So there should be some involvement and support from the community and bridging that gap with teachers and administration.”

“I think that teacher retention has to be top of our priority list. I’ve said several times that if we don’t have the most highly qualified teachers in front of our students then it’s going to determine the outcome of all of their education.

“I think the biggest thing is that stopping and pushing pause on some of these initiatives. If only one third of our students in the state of Georgia are reading on grade level at third grade, we need to stop and focus on that. They need to be reading and have high quality print in front of them — that is what the teachers want. They want to be teaching these basics. They want to know that their children are going to graduate from high school with all the skills necessary. So being a teacher myself, I’d say that giving the reins back to the professional a little bit, not bogging them down with all these initiatives and paperwork and reports. Several of our teachers spend a great deal of time outside of the classroom, not with their students, having to fill out reports and turn things back in. We need to find a way to pull some of that responsibility back from them.

“And then the relationship is vital with the community. When the teachers’ morale is down, the community’s morale is down. It is very contagious. If we increase that relationship and we just really strengthen it with these conversations like Dr. Mary Elizabeth Davis is providing. I think that we can ensure that we have the most qualified teachers in our classroom.”

3. If you could change one thing in our schools, what would it be? What’s the very top priority?

“I think there are several things we can do to ensure that our schools are more secure. I think the No. 1 thing is a single-point of entry and locking our buildings. Our elementary and middle schools have done a great job. If you haven’t been to one recently I encourage you to do so, but you will be stopped at the front office, which is exactly how it should be. Those vestibules are not free of cost. Before we’re constructing these schools there’s so many things we can do to ensure that we know who’s supposed to be in our building. We can have visible ID tags. The system I worked at before, all teachers, students and faculty members had to have a visible ID badge at all times. It empowers everyone in that building to know ‘Hey, I don’t think you belong here. Could you please go by the front office and check in?’ It makes students feel more secure and certainly makes the staff feel more secure. I would love to talk within budget about ID entrances in our schools . I think that because we have so many kids in and out of our high schools it’s difficult to have that one single point of entry, but it’s a conversation I think needs to be had. I think we need to look more into our budget and to how we can allocate those funds to make our schools more secure.”

The primary election will be held on May 22 from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. Early voting is April 30-May 11, 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. at the Elections and Voter Registration Main office, 40 Atlanta St., in McDonough.

Residents can vote on Saturday, May 12 at the main office from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. and at the Stockbridge Municipal Court Building, 4602 N. Henry Blvd. in Stockbridge from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m.

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