Introducing Polk school board candidates
In recent weeks, local candidates in municipal elections came together so constituents would have a chance to ask questions ahead of November’s big vote for Cedartown, Aragon and the Polk County Board of Education’s District 6 seat.
The Polk County Chamber of Commerce event featured candidates from Cedartown and the Rockmart school board seat, and though not all the questions were answered, many were and focused on one overall issue: how will candidates up for seats this year do to make Polk County a better place in the years ahead.
To make it easier to understand each candidate’s position, here’s a rundown of who they are and what they had to say, starting with the Polk County Board of Education’s District 6 special election. We’ll be featuring candidates from the City of Cedartown and Aragon next week in the Oct. 18 edition and online this week at Polkstandardjournal.com.
Here’s an overview of what candidates had to say about their positions on where the Polk School District stands now, and where it will be in the future.
A retired math teacher who served in many districts and later was an educator in the Department of Corrections, Carolyn Williams has long experience and involvement in the Polk School District and in local politics.
One of 14 children of Bob and Josephine Williams of Rockmart, she attended Elm Street Elementary and High School and was deeply involved in the school and later went on to Morristown Junior College and Savannah State University, where she studied mathematics.
She said that she worked with a group of Elm Street alum in a community organization to register voters in one of the largest drives in Polk County.
Though she worked in a number of districts, Williams said that was to her advantage over the years.
“I’ve gotten to see how a number of different school districts approach education,” she said.
Her message is one of ensuring that children receive the best and fair education, and that schools partner with the community to take on a greater role in ensuring youth not only have the best academic and character education available.
“There is no greater joy when you see students realize that they truly matter,” she said.
When asked about the need for balancing District 6, it would be her top priority would do her research first.
“As a rule, students are students. So there would not be that much difference between what the needs of District 6 are than what they are for the whole,” she said. “District 6 would be my number one priority, but the whole district is my concern.”
Williams said when asked over how she would deal with complicated budgets, she needed to decide first how the administration came to decide on what the school system needed.
“Why is this a complicated budget? What are the things that created this situation, and how can we solve it?” she said.
She added that she would have to evaluate the circumstances for each case.
“There would have to be other information introduced along with the budget to help me determine what is needed,” she said.
She said she sees the opportunities for the district are to create a system that will see to it that all students “have the opportunity for a good education. All students, not some, must be given the opportunity to be successful.”
“This is an opportunity to bring about change,” she said.
But the challenges the district faces, she said, is making sure the central office is complying with the standards put in place to ensure students are getting the best education possible.
A educator with 33 years of experience in local schools, Judy Wiggins was appointed to serve as the interim representative for District 6, and is running to keep the seat for a new term.
Wiggins said that Polk County is her passion and home. A graduate of Rockmart High School,
“I always knew as a first grade child that I wanted to be a teacher in the Polk School District,” Wiggins said. “I have taught on both the Cedartown side and the Rockmart side, though I’m a lifelong resident of Rockmart.”
She said that her past month on the board she’s gotten a quick education on what it’s like to sit on the other side of a school board meeting as a member.
“I can say that for over 10 years I’ve been to somewhere around 400 school board meetings in my teaching and ad- ministrative career, and it is very different being up there on the panel and help make decisions,” she said.
Wiggins said that it has been some time since a educator has also been a school board member.
She said when it comes to balancing what the needs of District 6 are with the rest of the county, her experience has taught her that the needs of one area are usually the needs of all.
“Every little aspect of what our students needs are need to be looked at for each decision made,” Wiggins said. “I can assure you sitting on this board for the past month that no decision is being made without a lot of questions being asked.”
A question over how candidates would handle complicated budgets boiled down to one thing for Wiggins: Rockmart Middle School.
“In the world of sports, and clubs and lots of other things I’d never dealt with as an elementary school teacher,” Wiggins said. “Complicated budgets take a lot of time in looking at where that money needs to go.”
She said that Polk School District makes long term plans to tweak when funding is and isn’t working on a day to day basis in certain areas, but overall ensure that enough money is around annually to ensure education is well funded.
“If it’s a good budget for the system, it’s a balanced budget ... one that benefit everyone,” Wiggins added.
She said the opportunities for Polk School District include the Polk County College and Career Academy, where students in both high schools have chances to take classes.
“92 percent of students attend those classes between both schools,” she said. “That’s an incredible number.”
Wiggins added that she sees the challenge from more a month ago was different from now, before Laurie Atkins was named Superintendent. Trust would have been her answer then, but now her answer is ensuring the community will get more involved in educating youth on all levels of life.
Local businessman Chris Culver, who is head of Culver Exterminating Company, is a 1990 graduate of Rockmart High School and has two children in the school district currently in Rockmart Middle and Rockmart High School as well.
He wants bring a common sense approach to the seat, avoiding politics and simply focusing on what he can do for students as a political newcomer to the Polk School District, though he isn’t a stranger to serving having been on a number of boards over the past 20 years.
“How many of you have woke up one day and said ‘I want to be on the Polk School Board,’” Culver said. “Me neither. I truly don’t think you wake up one day and say I want to do that. It’s not been the most appealing position to hold over the years. Let me just say this: I wasn’t raised to run, I was raised by my parents to serve. And that’s what I hope to do in this case.”
He added in his opening statement that it is his goal to see the district do everything they can for Polk County’s youth to have the best education possible.
“The kids of PSD deserve the best educational experience possible,” Culver said. “The kids of PSD deserve an education system that works for them. They deserve a passionate, hard-working, forward-thinking approachable board that has the highest expectations for the kids future at the forefront.”
When it comes to balancing the needs of specific students in District 6 and the rest of the school system, Culver said that he’ll be concerned that if it doesn’t benefit students he looks to represent, he will need convincing as to why the decision was good for everyone.
“Students are students ... and if you’re a Rockmart student then you are a student of Polk County,” he said. “I will in general do what’s best for Polk County, but I will ensure that these students of District 6, these families and these taxpayers of District 6 will get what they are paying for and will be fair.”
Culver said when asked about how he would handle complicated budgets that he would treat it the same way he did his budgets in his personal and business life: he wants to remain fiscally responsible.
“It’s going to take hard decisions, someone to say ‘we’re going to buy this, or we’re not going to buy this,’” he said.
He added that if the school district is going to build structures, they should make sure to spend wisely and keep within budget.
Culver said the opportunity now for Polk School District is areas like the College and Career Academy, and all the educators and administrators working behind the scenes.
“Expectations are high, and we can’t move forward without a board that doesn’t set high expectations as well,” he said.