A Progressive Vision for Athens, Part III: Education A Grady newsource series by alex marchante

There are more than 13,000 students in 21 schools within the Clarke County School District in Athens.

Recent challenges to best prepare more than 10 percent of the Athens population within the school district has changed strategies for both the Athens-Clarke County Unified government as well as the Clarke County Board of Education.

Source: Georgia Department of Education's 4-year cohort graduation rates from 2013 and 2018

In my interview with Athens mayor-elect Kelly Girtz in September, Girtz suggested a solution to boost CCSD students outside of the classroom.

If mayor-elect Girtz and the Athens-Clarke County Commission focus what goes on in the community, outside of the schools in Athens, who has purview within the class?

Dr. John Knox, professor in geography at the University of Georgia, is a member of the nine-person Board of Education for Athens-Clarke County, representing District 8.

Interestingly, Knox became critical of the model of governance in Georgia for boards of education once he joined the board in Athens.

I asked Knox why there was a point to elected officials in the Board of Education if the goal he explained to me, to positively improve the lives of students in the district, is ultimately the same and as he said, "uncontroversial".

Before we get into how the Board of Education works, let's see what they necessarily do.

“The Board of Education is probably not what most people think it is in terms of what it does", Knox said. He also explained that it is difficult for the public to understand, admitting he did not entirely know the role of the BOE until after he was elected in 2016.

“The Board of Education is a policy-making organization which means it sets policies at a high level for the district administration to implement.”
“We set a range of top-level policies that serve as a guiding policies. We hire superintendents, we can supervise their performance and if the performance doesn’t live up to our expectations, we can replace superintendents", Knox said.

Knox said that one example involves the fact that although 80 percent of the CCSD student body are students of color, 80 percent of CCSD teachers are Caucasian. Rather than suggest the direct hiring of more people of color, Knox said the BOE would ask the superintendent what could be done to expand the applicant pool to make it more diverse, as a decision directly impacting the hiring process is against BOE protocol.

I suggested a relationship between how the BOE runs to that of a Board of Directors of a corporation, which Knox explained has some relation, but with a few caveats.

Although Knox is familiar with the Carver Model now as well as the new model being used in Athens based on Thomas Alsbury's book "Balanced Governance", Knox was unaware when he ran for Board of Education in 2016.

When I ran, not knowing this, in 2016, I said ‘we got a problem.’ This was after the Cedar Shoals sexual assault incident and the lack of faith in both the board and district which seemed to have done nothing and the superintendent who openly antagonistic or defiant in my opinion. So I ran believing we need a board that asks questions and is less of a rubber stamp and can be responsive. That’s what I’ve been trying to do. There was a time of crisis and I still believe there is a time of crisis of confidence. People ask about how the Board operates, teacher morale and resignations.

While Knox calls the Carver Model "on the fairly extreme end of laissez-faire" management, he says that there must be a balance to how the Board of Education governs.

Knox describes the balance between being a trustee, in which the public elects an official and trusts them to make correct decisions on their behalves, and being a delegate, in which the public elects an official to represent their direct interests in their decision-making in policies.


Alex Marchante, alexmarchante1997@gmail.com, © 2018

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