01/23/08 — Two school board members will seek new terms

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Two school board members will seek new terms

By Phyllis Moore
Published in News on January 23, 2008 2:11 PM

Two school board members have announced they will seek new four-year terms.

Chairwoman Thelma Smith recently took over the reins of leadership, following in the footsteps of Shirley Sims, who broke the racial and gender barrier last year by becoming the first woman chairman.

A third member, Pete Gurley, who serves at-large, is also up for re-election this year but has not announced his decision regarding re-election.

It will be Ms. Sims' fifth term, representing District 2 and the fourth term for Mrs. Smith, representing District 3.

Both agree it is all about joining forces.

"Everybody's talking about unity and working together. I think everybody in Wayne County is working for a better Wayne County, but what we're doing, we're doing it separately," Mrs. Smith said. "We're not putting it all together. I believe we could be a strong, and maybe the best, school system in the country."

Communication has been lacking, she noted, but that can be remedied.

"I think we're on the threshold of doing that, especially with the county commission. We're opening up dialogue, sharing ideas and supporting each other."

If others in the community would follow suit, much could be accomplished for the educational system, Mrs. Smith said.

"Our schools are doing great things but a lot of people don't know what we're doing because we're not communicating what we're doing well enough to the public," she said.

With the recent announcement that the business community is becoming more actively involved, Mrs. Smith said she is optimistic about what can happen.

"Right now I believe it's a good time in Wayne County for all of us on boards and the business community to get together and share our ideas," she said. "There's nothing we can't do."

Ms. Sims said now is the time for all parties to work together.

"As hard as we have worked to get here, everybody seems to be singing the same song from the same hymnbook," she said. "This is the time to keep that momentum going.

"I personally have decided to continue so that we can see the fruits of our labor. ... I feel like we can move forward and do all the things that we can do."

Bolstering their interest was the encouragement both received from their districts.

"If constituents desire you to continue, I think that's the best support you can ask for," Ms. Sims said.

There are several things the two candidates hope will come to fruition in the future -- resuming meetings of the advisory councils from each of the public schools, continued involvement of the business community and improvement of test scores and the quality of education in the schools.

"It's my desire to see that there are no schools in Wayne County that are not reaching their growth this year," Mrs. Smith said, adding the hope that "we can get the reauthorization of No Child Left Behind (and) that we'll have no school that will not reach their standards, meeting the benchmark."

And while schools might have stalled in the past, Ms. Sims said, that does not mean they will remain there.

"Just because you're low-performing one year does not mean that you stay there," she said. "Many of our schools have come out from under that umbrella."

Recruiting, and retaining, quality teachers is essential, Mrs. Smith said. "We're interested in creating a recruitment package, with bonuses and incentives that bring them here and retain them," she said. "We're surrounded by counties that offer more."

Parental involvement and community support are also areas the women hope to foster. One recent initiative came from Carver Heights community resident Ulis Dawson and others from a neighborhood group that banded together to support schools in that district.

"We would encourage communities to take a lead (like Dawson's)," Mrs. Smith said. "That's going to be part of what we want to do in our district, to see that some of the same type of activities are replicated."

They were also personally motivated by the message shared Monday during the city's annual Martin Luther King Jr. breakfast.

"If I had not thought already about running again, after listening to the speaker, I have been more energized. Instead of wondering if someone else is going to do it, that I am that somebody," Ms. Sims said. "We're that somebody to make a change."

It helps that the tide is turning, with other elected officials exhibiting a "willingness and openness" to work together, Mrs. Smith said. Already, she said she has talked extensively with county commission Chairman Bud Gray.

"We have decided that we are going to meet once a month at a school," she said. The first session took place earlier this month, at Eastern Wayne Middle School, with another in February at Mount Olive Middle School.

"Unity needs to start with us," Mrs. Smith said. "If the community sees us at odds, that gives them more to talk about and more to complain about. We have got to show them that we're unified and serious about working together."

Whether they run unopposed or ultimately win another seat on the school board, their hearts are still in it for the children.

"My whole life has been with the schools," said Ms. Sims, whose background includes being a teacher.

Mrs. Smith also has a life-long interest in education.

"I have recruited for colleges, and been national scholarship chair for Dillard Alumni, which has generated over one-half million dollars in scholarships a year," she said. "Every other organization we belong to is child-oriented, so if I'm not re-elected it will not stop my efforts or (Ms. Sims') efforts."