Brian Sloan is in his office at Chestnut Mountain Church on a recent afternoon where he is the pastor of adult ministries and care, but he’s reflecting on the end of his time on the Hall County Schools Board of Education.
“The learning curve on the school board was pretty intense that first year,” he said.
Sloan admits that the public nature of elected office was an adjustment.
“Once your name is on the ballot … all bets are off,” he said. “It took me a while to get used to that.”
Sloan was elected to the board of education in 2006. Across three terms, he has seen the school district made over under the leadership of Superintendent Will Schofield and other stalwarts on the board of education.
He had run for office because of his passion for school athletics, Sloan said, and the opportunity it presents students to develop character-building habits.
And Sloan said he has consistently pushed for more funding for school security.
He cast the lone dissent in June on the final budget he voted on as a school board member, not because it wasn’t a good budget, Sloan said, but because he wanted additional funding to hire more resource officers to patrol elementary schools.
He added that there were only a handful of times “I stood against the other four” board members.
Public scrutiny and compromise may be the political price of elected office, but it was the hard decisions that Sloan faced when the Great Recession hit in 2008 and 2009 that were the toughest to manage.
Plans for the school district to expand were scrapped as funding and enrollment stagnated or decreased.
Much of the planned expansion was slated for South Hall, Sloan’s district, and with some school conditions deteriorating, officials shuffled schools around to fill gaps: Flowery Branch High was moved to the Spout Springs Road location as overcrowding became a problem; C.W. Davis Middle moved into the former Flowery Branch High grounds; South Hall Middle to the former Davis Middle campus; and the old South Hall Middle location hosted the Academies of Discovery.
Then there were the spending cuts, the layoffs, the service reductions.
Sloan called one day “Black Friday,” but not the holiday kind, where retailers are trying to turn a profit before year’s end. Rather, more like the stock market crash.
“I could tell that … what’s coming doesn’t look very promising,” Sloan said of the recession.
He recalls running into a principal at a local grocery store around this time whose eyes were bloodshot from tears shed for the teachers laid off at her school.
“It was a brutal day,” Sloan said. “That was probably the hardest point that I can ever remember.”
But if there’s any indication of the rebound that Sloan and school district officials have overseen as the economy recovered, it came this year.
The “South Hall shuffle,” which moved the aforementioned schools back to their original campuses, was finally complete when the school district opened the new Cherokee Bluff middle and high schools off Spout Springs Road in August.
That’s among the many “highlights” Sloan said he’ll take with him.
Sloan said officials have worked to meet the varied needs of the school district’s 28,000 students by adding school choice and specific program areas of study, from STEM to work-study to dual-enrollment courses,
“We have great educators from top to bottom in Hall County,” he added. “It’s just a fact. I can’t overstate that.”
And it’s the people he’ll miss the most, Sloan said.
“The character of my colleagues on the board,” both in public and private, “they showed integrity,” he said. “At this point, I don’t have any other reason to say that other than that it’s just fact. I wish the entire county could see the character they showed.”
Sloan said there were many reasons that compelled him to not seek re-election in 2018. (Republican Mark Pettitt beat Democrat William Wallace for Sloan’s Post 2 seat).
For one, campaigning was expensive and time-consuming.
“That’s one of the things that came into play with my decision,” Sloan said.
He lamented the days when campaigns were a matter of getting out yard signs and meeting with local community groups or neighborhood associations.
But the expense has grown each cycle, Sloan said.
Sloan plans to continue his work at Chestnut Mountain Church, which has seen large growth in the last two years.
And that’s an even bigger reason for him to leave the school board.
“That was a huge piece of it,” Sloan said.
Still, as he exits the school board on his own terms, Sloan is left with nothing less than satisfaction.
“It’s been an honor to serve,” he said. “The people of Hall County are awesome people.”