The two candidates running unopposed in the Nov. 7 election for Gainesville City School Board say the size of the middle and high schools are among the biggest challenges they want to see the board address.
Andy Stewart, 44, is the lone candidate running for the District 1 seat currently held by School Board Chairman Brett Mercer, who decided not to seek re-election.
Heather Ramsey, 40, is the only one on the ballot for the District 4 School Board seat currently held by Delores Diaz, who is not seeking a third term.
Both candidates expressed concerns about the size of Gainesville Middle (1,725 students) and Gainesville High (2,157 students).
“I think there’s a need for another middle school. I think there’s a need for another high school,” Ramsey said. “It’s intimidating for a sixth-grader to come from the size of the elementary into the middle school.”
“I think obviously growth is going to be an issue,” Stewart said. “The middle school and high school there are obviously capacity issues ... The middle school in general needs to be addressed, the size of it. I don’t want to be negative, but there has been a lot of teacher turnover as well ... Obviously the middle school, to me, would be a top priority to address as far as the size.”
Stewart, a member of the Greater Hall Chamber of Commerce Board of Directors, said he wants to see the school system work more with the chamber as well as business and industry.
“We need to have a good local school system to continue to attract new industries and new businesses to our town,” he said. “I am on the local chamber of commerce board and I want to see the school system work with that organization and its constituents which are the business and industry locally.”
While he said college preparatory work is important for a school district, Stewart added that some students need to be prepared to enter the workforce after graduating from high school.
“If you talk to the businesses and particularly industries, they’re looking for skilled labor,” Stewart said. “I think part of what we need to do is change that mindset in the school system that everything is geared up for you to go to college. We need to get a path in place for a lot of our students where they can develop the skills, learn the skills and the knowledge, so that they can go directly into the workforce.”
Ramsey said her work at Lanier Tech has shown her there can be more done cooperatively between the school district and technical college programs.
“I think there needs to be more collaboration with the technical college system,” she said. “I think that’s a large avenue that we’re not tapped into as much as we could be and it could benefit a lot of children.”
Ramsey said the fact that she is a parent will allow her to make contributions as a board member.
“I have a personal and vested interest into making the system the best that it can be, so I definitely think parents on the school board is imperative,” she said. “They’re the ones who want it to work well. Everyone wants the best for their children. I think I have a different perspective because I’m not necessarily a teacher, so I think I may be more open-minded to trying new things.”
Stewart said the fact that he has two children in the school system shows he has “a strong conviction that the system is a good one.”
“While they have had very good experiences throughout their years in the system and they have been in the system the whole time, I feel there are some challenges ahead and I want to (make) some positive change with regard to the future of the school system,” he said.
Both candidates said they have already received advice from the person who currently holds the seat they are running to fill.
Stewart said Mercer told him to “always listen to other people.”
“I specifically remember saying, ‘Brett, I’ve got your number. I know there’s going to be an instance when I call you and say, ‘Hey, what did you do in this particular situation?’ I’m going to lean on you for advice at those particular moments.”
Ramsey said Diaz was “encouraging.”
“She did say I would have to make some hard decisions that some people might not be happy about, but as long as my heart was in the right place, I would be OK,” she said.
Stewart, a graduate of Gainesville High who holds bachelor’s and master’s degrees from the University of Georgia, is senior vice president for commercial lending at Peach State Bank and Trust.
His wife, Ellen, is a paraprofessional at Centennial Arts Academy. They have two children: Elizabeth, a freshman at Gainesville High, and Emily, a fifth-grader at Centennial.
A graduate of Milton High School in Alpharetta, Ramsey earned a bachelor’s degree from the North Georgia College and State University and a doctorate of dental medicine from what was then the Medical College of Georgia in Augusta. She is a dentist working as an associate with a practice in Lawrenceville and also working as the adjunct dentist in the Dental Hygiene School at Lanier Technical College.
Her husband, Andy is also a dentist with a practice in Gainesville. They have four children: Anna Cate, a sixth-grader at Gainesville Middle; Gracie, a fifth-grader at Centennial; and twins, Jack and Jim, who are second-graders at Centennial.