Local school board candidates and state legislative candidates were all invited to an Education Policy Forum, held recently in Savannah.
Local board of Education candidates Carrol Ann Coleman and Candace Piper, who are running for Vice Chairman and District 3, respectively, attended the June event hosted by the Georgia Partnership for Excellence in Education (GPEE) and the Georgia School Boards Association (GSBA).
Coleman said she attended the forum because, after stepping down from board service about 18 months ago, she wanted to stay on top of any changes or issues that had surfaced in that amount of time.
"I wanted to get up to speed on education issues in Georgia," she said. "I knew the forum would be worthwhile if the GSBA and GPEE were involved. I was not disappointed – they did a great job of presenting the overall complexity of board service in an informal setting where participants could ask any and all questions."
This year, the event covered 10 topics for both new and incumbent candidates, including education finance, school leadership, governance and policymaking, early learning, choices in education, student achievement, teacher workforce, and standards, assessments and accountability.
"As always, it was interesting to hear the perspectives and issues of individuals from different counties and the speakers addressed a number of issues," Coleman said, noting the forum also provided insight into what being a member of a school board means. "It was an excellent refresher for me about the role of a board member in school governance and, just as importantly, what is not the role or responsibility of a board member."
Piper said she didn’t know what to expect and was "a little overwhelmed."
"I was very impressed by the quality and totality of information provided," she said. "I wanted to attend in order to gain a wider knowledge of all that is involved in being a good, qualified school board member. The seminar made it very clear what the role and responsibilities of a school board member entail and the individual speakers impressed upon you just how much you will affect the lives of our youth; how much of a difference you make in the future of our children."
Piper said she was proud to be from Bryan County, since the local district was used as a good example of having one of the highest graduation rates in the state.
Other Bryan County school board candidates did not attend the event.
GPEE President Dr. Steve Dolinger said their goal at the forum is to provide information on a variety of education issues from a nonpartisan, research-based focus, he said.
"These are big policy areas that we know these candidates will run into during their campaign. The forum is geared to help them get their platforms together," Dolinger said. "We believe that these candidates – as future policy leaders – there’s nothing more important than understanding education. We talk to them about how important it is for our kids to get a really solid start," he said.
Dolinger said the GPEE is always there to serve as an unbiased resource for boards of education throughout the state.
"We want to help board members understand both sides of an issue," he said. "Sometimes they have people coming at them from different directions and it can be difficult to sort out the real facts."
The Education Policy Primer, which was provided to all forum attendees, is available at the GPEE website, www.gpee.org/2008-09-Education-Policy-Primer.126.0.html.