LAWRENCEVILLE - Change isn't just a buzzword in the upcoming presidential election.
The Democratic challengers to the Gwinnett County Board of Education incumbents say change is needed on a school board that is disconnected with the community. The Republican incumbents, however, say they will provide stability to a high-performing school district while working to provide needed change in schools.
Megan Kline said her teachers helped her get the best education she could have, and she graduated with honors at age 16 from Dacula High School. In 10 years, a lot has changed, she said.
These days students feel stifled, and teachers are forced to teach to the test, she said. If elected, she said her priority would be to eliminate unnecessary testing.
Kline said she also wants to help retain teachers by making them feel valued. She also pledged to listen to the concerns of the constituents.
"Change for the sake of change is not what I'm about," Kline said. "Change is about being able to step back from a situation and say what's not working ... and being a big enough person to say what can we do to make this better."
Carole Boyce said Gwinnett County Public Schools has a good board and superintendent team that has made great strides with the large, diverse system.
"I feel like we're on the right track for even greater gains in student achievement," she said.
Change, she said, could be a deterrent to student achievement, but she's willing to look at modifications if it's in the best interest of the students.
Boyce said she's looking forward to the opportunity to give schools flexibility from some mandates in exchange for accountability and performance.
"I try to make every decision with students' best interests at heart," she said. "We're giving our children a disservice if we're not giving them every possible opportunity."
Duluth resident Jane Hendrix is new to her district - she previously lived in Lawrenceville - but she has listened to the community's frustrations. There's a disconnect, she said, between the school board and the people in the schools.
"I want to be that voice of reason on the board," she said.
Hendrix doesn't have any political experience, but she said 15 years of running the Dunwoody School for the Arts has given her experience in handling budgets and managerial leadership. She said she also served on the board of the Kindermusik Educators Association, where she helped bring change to an organization that wasn't working.
"I think it did take a certain amount of courage to say this isn't working. ... Let's make the relevant changes," she said.
Incumbent Mary Kay Murphy said she is seeking re-election because she believes in the role and value of public education in Gwinnett County. She said she wants to be in office to help continue to close the achievement gap and help students perform at their highest levels.
She said her 12 years of experience as a school board member will help her bring needed change to the district while sustaining programs that are working.
"It's been a privilege and honor beyond any capacity to serve for 12 years. I appreciate the trust our community has shown in allowing me this honor," Murphy said. "I pledge the very best of my intellectual, moral and spiritual values as I lead the district. I'm not running for a public school board seat. I'm running for the future of public education."
Lilburn resident Ravindra Kumar said his first priority, if elected, would be to establish an after-school program to help students with their reading and writing skills and homework assignments. Such a program, he said, would raise student achievement.
Kumar said he will seek input from teachers before making decisions about issues that impact them.
"If we make teachers happy, they will concentrate on the education and the teaching of the students," he said.
The political newcomer said his academic qualifications and teaching and research experience have prepared him to help govern the district. He said he's also an active parent in his children's schools, Berkmar High and Gwinnett School of Mathematics, Science and Technology.
"I'm asking for voters if you want to bring change, then support me," he said.
Incumbent Louise Radloff, however, said she doesn't think there has ever been more of a need for stability on the school board.
"I look at the challenges on the horizon, I look at the fact that we are really zeroing in and focusing on high-risk schools, and I don't think there has ever been more of a need for insight on the board," Radloff said.
Radloff, who has served on the school board for 36 years, said she is seeking re-election because there is more she would like to accomplish. She wants to see Meadowcreek students on grade level by the time she leaves the board.
"I really believe in kids and families and quality schools," she said. "It motivates me to see kids be successful.
"Change will come. When I was first elected, I was 'change.' Change is constant," she said. "But you earn change."