Which one will the BoE choose?
Seven private citizens auditioned Monday night for a spot on the Fayette County Board of Education.
The four judges — the remaining elected members of the school board — could make their choice as early as the Nov. 14 meeting.
One unusual element: One of the aspiring volunteers — Emory Wilkerson, a seeker of local elective offices several times in the past decade — is suing the same board in federal court.
The board is one member short since the death of Post 5 member Sam Tolbert Sept. 22. By law, the school board is tasked with appointing a new member who lives in the same district as the late Mr. Tolbert, so the board invited volunteers to submit resumes and to make their cases for appointment at the Nov. 7 called meeting.
Wilkerson is not only a candidate seeking the Post 5 school board seat. He is also one of the plaintiffs in a lawsuit against the Board of Education seeking to force district voting, but is now seeking to withdraw as a plaintiff from the case, according to NAACP attorney Wayne Kendall.
Kendall said Wilkerson wants out because “it would be best” if he was not involved in the suit since he is seeking appointment to the vacant seat.
The lawsuit is seeking to eliminate the current at-large voting system in favor of district voting so a minority-majority district can be created. Under the current system, Fayette voters can vote on all five board of education seats when they come up for election. But under a district voting system, voters would be able to select only one board of education member, whose seat corresponds to a particular geographic district.
Candidates Monday night drew numbers to determine the order of appearance. Once in the board room, each was asked to relate work experience, educational experience and any other information that would assist the board in reaching a decision.
First up was Leonard Presberg, who described himself as long-time Fayette County resident who earned a J.D. magna cum laude from the University of Richmond School of Law in Richmond, Va. in 1996. Presberg currently serves as CFO at Women’s Medical Center, was the former headmaster and teacher at Hill Country Montessori, an attorney with Fayetteville-based George N. Sparrow, Jr., editor-in-chief of the Richmond Law Review and manager of Performance Testing with National Software Testing Laboratories in Philadelphia.
Presberg in his letter of intent noted the current issues facing the BoE and stated that instead of focusing on the negatives, we should look at our situation as a unique opportunity to revitalize our school system while we maintain our top-of-the-line results and reputation.
Noting his work methodology as one of collaboration and compromise, Presberg added that, as a board member, his goal would be to educate every stakeholder on the importance of the school system in their lives.
Presberg said he has two children in the Fayette school system and has served as a youth coach, on the school council and the PTO. He said that, as a teacher, he has taught all ages of students.
Presberg said he is aware of the theoretical and practical aspects of teaching, noting that he is especially interested in the impact of technology on education, both now and in the future. He also referenced the similarities in education and medicine, both currently dealing with decreasing revenues.
“We can’t use this as an excuse not to do our job and our duty,” Presberg said, adding that the school system drives the vibrancy of the community. “The answer is not throwing more money at it, but to do the best we can.”
Next up was Emory Wilkerson who, since 2001, has served as legislative and regulatory associate general counsel and managing attorney with State Farm Insurance in Atlanta.
Wilkerson’s tenure as counsel with State Farm began in 1992. Wilkerson earned a J.D. from Mercer University in 1988 and has served as adjunct professor in political science at Georgia Perimeter College and, more recently, as a political science instructor at Clayton State University.
Wilkerson has two children currently enrolled in the school system and two others that graduated from Fayette County High School.
Wilkerson said that both he and his wife had served as either classroom or extra-curricular volunteers, adding that he has served on two school councils.
Wilkerson noted the importance of continuing Fayette’s standard in education, adding that the continued prosperity of the community will depend on the assurance that every student in Fayette County continues to have access to the best secondary education in Georgia.
Far from educational background and career, Wilkerson said his greatest experience comes from being a father and a parent of children in the Fayette school system.
“I’ve been involved in the school system since the day my kids entered school,” Wilkerson said. “I’ve given my time, resources and compassion.” Wilkerson said a contribution he would bring to the school board is experience with the law and the morass of regulations that school boards must deal with. But at the end of the day, he said, it is all about what is going to be best for our students and to be the premier school system in Georgia and the United States.
The third presenter was Bonnie Willis,who earned a master’s degree in Organizational Psychology from Columbia University and attended Harvard and Radcliffe College during her undergraduate years. Willis is currently owner of The Willis Group that specializes in areas such as organizational learning and development, change management, systems and soft skills training and communication planning. Willis previously served as Management Learning and Development manager for Popeye’s Louisiana Kitchen and Director of Undergraduate Student Services and Assistant Director of Admissions and Academic Advising at Regent University in Virginia Beach, Va. Willis also served in positions such as director of Academic Advising and Assistant Professor of Psychology at King’s College in New York.
Willis and her husband have three children in public schools and two being home-schooled until they are of kindergarten age.
Commenting on what she sees ahead for public education, Willis said she is concerned about the potential direction and difficult decisions that must be made.
“I’ve never been one to sit on the sidelines and complain. Rather, I do as my mother taught me. Get involved, work hard and do what’s right,” Willis said, adding that, if needed to benefit the whole system, she would vote to close her own children’s school.
“A lot of leaders won’t make that sacrifice. But the county needs sacrificial leaders who will do the right thing.”
Willis said she pledged to maintain the county’s academic excellence, to be a fiscally responsible steward of the people’s money and to build positive relationships.
The fourth candidate was Dr. Chuck Fuller, an Adjunct Professor and academic advisor at Central Michigan University since 1999 who teaches master’s level educational research and psychology.Fuller also served in the Atlanta Public School System’s Department of Research, Planning and Accountability and in capacities such as the school system’s director of Educational Development and Standards and as director of Curriculum and Staff Development. “I’m most proud of my work with training principals and teachers. That work stood for about 20 years,” Fuller said. “I earned a reputation as a ‘doer’ who can work with people.” In all, Fuller has 34 years in education, including K-12, higher education and several years of experience at the state and federal levels. Fuller said he is still actively engaged in research and remains up-to-date by publishing and presenting at local and national conferences.
The fifth candidate was Rasheed Dawodu, who served until recently as the Cash Management Officer for the state Office of the Treasury and Fiscal Services and previously served as Senior Business Manager at Georgia State University. He also worked as an accountant with Georgia Pacific and as an audit manager with Interstates Management Corp.
Dawodu earned a Master of Public Administration in Finance and Management from Ga. State and a Certificate of Law, a general overview of law, from People’s Law School at the University of Houston in 2006. Dawodu in his letter of intent said he recognized that in order for the county to continue down the path of educational success the community must make a strong commitment to lend its support.
To this end, Dawodu said, he had actively served as a volunteer in every school his children had attended, adding that he and his wife are active supporters of Sandy Creek High School initiatives.
A resident of Fayette County for 10 years, Dawodu said he had lived in other countries and recognizes the importance of having Fayette County students prepared to participate globally.
Noting his contribution to the school board, Dawodu said, “My financial background would bring a good addition to the board. And my objective is to serve and make a positive contribution.”
Next up was Dr. Richard Coulson who has held the academic rank of professor since 1985. A resident of Fayette County since 2006, Coulson in his letter of intent said that since 2010 he has served as an Adjunct Professor of Anatomy and Physiology at Gordon College in Barnesville and serves as a substitute teacher at Our Lady of Mercy High School. Coulson’s letter also noted an extensive career that included teaching at six universities in three countries.
A sampling of that experience includes Coordinator for Evaluation and Assessment at The Commonwealth Medical College in Scranton, Penn., Director of Assessment at the Center for Instructional Development at Clayton State University, Director of the Provost’s Office of Assessment at Southern Illinois University, Professor of Physiology and Medical Evaluation and Curriculum Director for Cardiovascular Medicine, also at Southern Illinois University.
Coulson after earning a Ph.D. in Physiology and Biomedical Electronics at University College in London has been involved in a number of research endeavors, has published more than 100 scholarly articles and has taught a variety of other courses such as pharmacology, biochemistry, biophysics and biomathematics.
“It is better to focus on student learning than on ‘teacher learning,’” Coulson said, using the comparison of a receiver being thrown a football to make his point.
“Imparting learning is completing a pass where the student learns. A dropped pass is where the student does not learn. An intercepted pass is where the student learns something wrong. Helping students to learn how to learn, it’s almost impossible to fail.”
Last up was Sharon Collins, a former assistant principal at Spring Hill Elementary School, having served in the Fayette County School System from 1997-2008. Collins holds a M.Ed. in Educational Leadership from the University of Georgia and is currently engaged in doctoral studies in Educational Leadership at Nova Southeastern University. She is a retired U.S. Army lieutenant colonel who served 20 years in military intelligence.
In her letter of intent, Collins centered on two elements she would bring to the board. In leadership competence Collins described herself as a “servant leader” with strong listening, communication and problem solving abilities, adding that as a team player with keen collaborative skills she had led groups of men and women in the successful completion of diverse tasks around the world.
In community relationships Collins said she has lived in Fayette County since 1995. She described herself as caring deeply about the community, the students and families of our county. Collins said she desires to be part of the team that designs and develops the 21st Century vision for Fayette County students and she would strive to keep the dream of public education alive for every child and ensure that students achieve, succeed and reach their potential.
“We must help the whole person and have an appreciation for diversity and getting along with other people,” Collins said, adding that, “It’s time to step up to a larger platform and give back to the community.”
Chairman Bob Todd at the outset of the meeting reminded the audience that local legislation specific to Fayette County requires that the vacant position be filled by appointment rather than by holding a special election.
The school board’s decision on the appointment for Tolbert’s seat could come at the regular meeting on Nov. 14. If not then, the decision would likely come in December.
Superintendent Jeff Bearden said after the meeting that he would speak with the school system attorney on Tuesday and, barring any legal barrier, the resumes and letters of intent of the seven candidates would be placed on the school system’s website at www.fcboe.org.