Kelley Haynes Pearce, current board vice president and former president, is facing Steven Sewak, while Caroline Allen-Ross, current president and former vice president, is being challenged by Emily Sims.
David Glass and William Walter will vie for an open seat being vacated by longtime board member Lori Tippets.
Election day is Aug. 28.
The Jacksonville City School system is why Kelley Haynes Pearce moved into town from Golden Springs 12 years ago. An educator herself, Pearce visited several nearby school systems and was drawn to Jacksonville because of the balance it provided between strong academics and a hearty range of arts and extracurriculars for her active daughters.
Declining revenues have made it difficult for the board to maintain some of the programs that initially drew Pearce to the district. That's the biggest problem facing the district, she said.
“We’re not going to get a lot from the state; each year we’ve seen that budget decrease” said Pearce, 48. “Now it comes down to working with our local government. I know they have a lot of people trying to get part of their pie, and that’s what we’re trying to do too.”
Pearce said she hopes the city and school board can work together to make sure the schools are a big part of the vision for the community.
“To me it goes hand in hand,” she said. “You don’t have a strong economic base without a strong education system.”
Her fellow incumbent, Caroline Allen-Ross, advocates for children every day. The director of a Birmingham-based independent living program for teens in the foster system, 49-year-old Allen-Ross thought she could be of service to students in her own community, and thus sought a seat on the school board in 2008.
Although she lost her first race, she was appointed to fill a vacant slot about three years ago and has since served as vice president of the board; she is now president.
The incumbent’s greatest mission as a school board member is to ensure that every child—every last one of them, she emphasized—has the best educational opportunities the district can offer. Part of the mission to level the playing field for students has been a move toward consistency in learning environment through implementation of a new dress code.
Allen-Ross said that the district wanted to create “a situation where kids weren’t distracted by anything other than coming to school and learning.”
She said it’s important that everyone, from administrators to students, be aware of the policy and expect consistency in the rules.
Consistency among school policies is something newcomer Steven Sewak will also focus on if elected to the school board. A former Army pilot and classroom teacher, Sewak, 60, said he believes he is uniquely qualified after a decade spent driving a school bus in Jacksonville.
Sewak said he’d like to see the district’s good start with a new dress code further reinforced. He said he’s like to see it enforced not only during the school day, but also at all school-sponsored functions, including sporting events and on the school bus before and after school. He also said he’d like to see more emphasis at the elementary school on handling discipline problems, something he said the high school does a great job of but that in his experience as bus driver, the elementary school was less apt to handle.
“I don’t think the kids should have to wait until they get to the high school to learn you can’t do that: actions and behavior have consequences,” he said.
Transitions are important to students as they move through the education system, and Emily Sims thinks her years of experience and observations can provide insight into helping students through them at every level.
Sims has been a public school educator in Calhoun County for 13 years, from the middle school level all the way to four-year universities. In her daily work as an assistant professor in JSU’s secondary education department, she said she sees gaps in what students need to be prepared for the real world.
Sims, 46, said these gaps are not necessarily educational, but also involve life skills.
“Our goal as educators ought to be to prepare students to be successful in life, be productive citizens in society and in the community,” she said. “It’s more than academics; it’s about preparing the students all the way around.”
These observations, she said, are not of Jacksonville students particularly, but rather high school students in general. But in Jacksonville, Sims feels like she could help evaluate ways to make the transition smoother for high school students.
David Glass’ main mission as a potential school board member is to pursue general excellence in the system.
Part of this philosophy involves identifying those programs that the district excels in and evaluating ways to excel in those it doesn’t, in order to improve.
“We want to be excellent at what we do or just not do it,” he said. “Whether it’s choir or math or band, I want us to be excellent.”
Glass, 45, said he sees the biggest issue facing the schools is the same as most districts across the state: financing, as they continue to see cuts from the state level.
“I believe it’s crucial over the next few years that the schools find ways to be not average, but be excellent with the financial issues they’re going to be dealing with,” he said in an interview at his office at Calhoun Insurance Agency last week.
One way to deal with this is to ensure the district is not “in a position where you react to issues,” he said. “You want to be proactive and be prepared” for problems and expenses that might arise.”
William Walter is relatively new to Jacksonville, but he is a lifelong learner. At age 70, the retired banker is working on his third master’s degree at Jacksonville State University, which he hopes to finish next year.
“Jacksonville is a college town,” he said. “And there is nothing more important in a college town than the children growing up in that town and the education being provided for that town.” His school board bid is a way to give back to the district, which is now home to his 10-year-old son.
A longtime New Orleans resident, Walter sold his property casualty business after Hurricane Katrina hit the city in 2005. When he arrived in Jacksonville in May 2009 after successfully battling cancer, Walter became a student again, enrolling in JSU to complete his second master’s degree.
Besides his role as a continuing student, Walter said he has served in various leadership roles, including president of the New Orleans Rotary Club, on the Council of the Boy Scouts of South Louisiana, and on the board of directors for two commercial banks in Louisiana.
“I have the experience, time, energy, and no agenda,” he said. “All I need to do is represent the families of our children that attend school there.”
Star staff writer Paige Rentz: 256-235-3564. On Twitter @PRentz_Star.