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Political activist, former teacher to battle in Hall Post 2 school board primary
School board primary.jpg
Mark Pettitt and Gina Pilcher face off in the Republican primary May 22 for the Hall County Board of Education Post 2 seat.

Mark Pettitt and Gina Pilcher are squaring off in the Republican primary for the Hall County school board race to represent Post 2 in South Hall.

Early voting begins Monday, April 30, and Election Day is May 22. The winner will face Democrat William Wallace in November’s general election.

Election 2018

Primary early voting: April 30-May 18

Primary: May 22

General election: Nov. 6

The primary is a race that pits a young, up-and-coming political activist against a former county teacher and mother of four adult children who have all graduated from local high schools.

“I, of course, was everywhere they were,” Pilcher said.

She’s been busy putting out yard signs, attending school board meetings and public events to raise awareness about her campaign since qualifying in March.

Pettitt, too, has been making the rounds.

“It’s really fun to just continue going to different events and meeting with different groups as a candidate now,” he said.

Though the school board post represents South Hall, voters countywide will cast ballots in the primary.

Incumbent Brian Sloan, who occupies the Post 2 seat representing South Hall, told The Times last month that he would not seek re-election and instead focus his attention on his duties at Chestnut Mountain Church.  

Pettitt narrowly lost to Sloan in 2014, receiving 49.52 percent of the countywide vote.

And turnout could be higher than usual, with several local and state government races on the primary ballot this spring.  

“That makes it somewhat of a challenge,” Pettitt said.

For Pilcher, the countywide stakes means she’s had to reach out to her contacts across Hall, she said.

And Pilcher is relying on her experience developing relationships in the school system as a teacher, parent and advisory committee member to sway public opinion.  

Pilcher is a lifelong resident of Hall County, a graduate of Johnson High and holds a Bachelor of Science from Georgia Tech and a master’s degree in education from the University of Georgia.

In addition to teaching at West Hall High in the 1990s, she also filled long-term substitute positions and served in an adjunct faculty position at Lanier Tech. She currently owns and operates Garments & Gifts.

She has recently been active in organizing Martin Road residents against more traffic coming onto the rural South Hall road as the new Exit 14 off Interstate 985 is being built.

Pilcher said that if elected she would focus on improving school safety and growing school choice options for students and their families.

“He understands the political system because he’s been involved with that,” she added. “I, on the other hand, am not a politician. I am a mother who has been a teacher.”

Pettitt said the biggest difference between him and Pilcher is that he is not so far removed from attending and working in the school system. He graduated from Johnson High in 2011 and the University of North Georgia in 2016.

He has also served as a volunteer coach and substitute teacher in the school system. And Pettitt has also remained active over the last four years, serving as chairman of the Hall County Library Board of Trustees and a member of the Hall County SPLOST Citizen Review Committee.

“I think that sets me apart and makes me unique,” he added.

With student debt on the rise and the difficulty some liberal arts graduates have in finding work after college, Pettitt said he is focused on improving pathways for Hall County students to attend trade and vocational schools.

“Not everybody needs to go to a university,” he added.

The opening of the new Lanier Technical College campus off Ga. 365 in northeast Hall next year could potentially help the school district align with this priority.

“It’s going to have a huge regional impact,” Pettitt said, adding that the school system already has a good relationship with local universities and trade schools through dual-enrollment programs.

But Pettitt is most concerned with the future, which is why he is running.

“The decisions the school board makes today will affect the educational opportunities my future children will have,” he said.

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