Whether it’s on the issues of the day, their personal backgrounds or their priorities for the future, the candidates for the at-large seat on the Hall County Board of Education diverge in many ways.
But running for school board means Democrat Stephanie Lopez and Republican Bill Thompson share a passion and concern for the safety and academic success of students across the county.
“It would be an honor to be elected,” Lopez said.
For Thompson, seeking a third term on the school board comes from a desire to embody the district’s motto of being the most caring place on earth.
“That’s my goal — is to continue caring,” he said.
But the issues facing the school board are varied and pressing.
School safety, for example, has become one of the most consistent and trying challenges for school officials.
With two children in kindergarten and first grade, school safety is something that hits home for Lopez, she said.
When she hears about the latest school shooting, events which have become all too frequent, “My heart drops,” she said.
That’s why Lopez has found new security measures that Hall County has put in place in recent years, such as more stringent check-in requirements that include scanning photo identification cards to verify that a person is who they say they are, somewhat reassuring.
“I see it in the bigger picture,” she said, adding that funding for security must remain a priority.
“We need resources when it comes to mental health.”
Thompson said that while school shootings have become somewhat commonplace over the last two decades, they are magnified now by intense news media and social media coverage.
“The more we can try to focus on the needs of those students that’s doing these things, the better we’ll be,” Thompson said, adding that resources for mental health and behavioral counseling are important.
Thompson has served two four-year terms on the Hall County Board of Education, and has spent more than four decades in various professional capacities with the school district.
He’s nothing if not proud of Hall County’s growth and development, from adding new facilities to new study programs to growing the graduation rate.
And programs like these are what Thompson believes can help support students who might otherwise feel like an outsider or are prone to behavioral issues.
“If we have something for every kid out there, nothing will eliminate (school violence), but it will help provide for every student to see their own self worth,” he said.
Lopez, whose heritage is Puerto Rican and who attended Flowery Branch High, said closing the minority achievement gap, meanwhile, is about providing equitable opportunities for all students despite their socioeconomic backgrounds.
For example, more classes require online study and work, but low-income families are less likely to have Internet access in their home than their middle- and upper-middle-class counterparts, Lopez said.
And, Lopez added, transportation, or lack thereof, as well as other financial constraints, can limit the ability of students from low-income households to receive extra mentoring, tutoring and study to keep their grades up.
“I really, truly want to bring the community into what the board does,” Lopez said.
Doing so could include better communication with families about issues the board is voting on, Lopez said, as well as live-streaming all board meetings online so that interested parents and community members who are unable to make meetings in person can tune in and stay up-to-date.
“It would be so beneficial for the community to take advantage of this technology,” Lopez said. “If we want out students to be successful, we need to engage our community in all aspects of education.”
Thompson said career pathways, work-study and programs of choice also help minorities close the achievement gap that exists by allowing all students to “find their niche.”
Thompson said he believes academic improvement among minorities, particularly students from Latino households, is responsible for the significant jump Hall County saw in its overall graduation rate for 2018, which rose to 88.2 percent from 83.8 percent.
“To me, the major difference in helping us get there are those minority students who haven’t felt like they could finish,” he added. “I hope we continue to be the best. The best of the best.”
Experience: Eight years on the Hall County Board of Education; 32-plus years working in Hall County Schools
More info: Bill.firstname.lastname@example.org
We are continually looking for ways to improve security and safety for everyone. More secure entryways, more school resource officers covering elementary schools, and Sheriff’s Office patrols visiting elementary schools are some ways to help.
The only people that can change the current system are the legislators. We must work together to provide a workable solution.
Minority achievement gap
If we can continue the upward trend in graduation rates, the gaps will hopefully be reduced. It is a K-12 success story.
We must continue to find ways to stay one or two steps ahead of increasing student growth and facility needs.
Residence: Flowery Branch
Experience: Graduated from University of North Georgia with a degree in business administration and more than 10 years of experience in customer service
More info: www.VoteStephanieLopez.com
Security and safety goes beyond making buildings more secure — we need to also realize that mental health plays a big role with both our students and faculty. As a school board member, I want to see more mental health resources in place because our highest priority should be internal.
I would propose that a study committee decide the economic impact to our county and the individuals impacted. If there’s an overall positive impact in reducing exemptions, then yes, but only a proper cost-benefit analysis can give you a snapshot into whether that will help or not.
Minority acheivement gap
We can address the achievement gap by providing additional programming support that works with the population that needs it the most. This kind of programming can be initiated at the elementary school level, specifically in making sure that literacy rates are being met before the third grade, and that there is additional support with math and science.
In my experience as a parent, our community’s engagement with board meetings are rare and, if elected, I would work to change that. The board needs to build a better relationship with our community and I plan to do direct outreach to aid the connection.