In­tro­duc­ing Polk school board can­di­dates

The Standard Journal - - LOCAL - From staff re­ports

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.

Carolyn Wil­liams

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.

Judy Wig­gins

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.

Chris Cul­ver

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.

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