Kirkland makes case for District 2 school board seat

Published 11:52 am Friday, April 26, 2024

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By Charlotte Reames

As the primary races in Troup County approach, the candidates for the Troup County School System District 2 seat were invited to a forum on Wednesday night.

Incumbent Ferrell Blair was not able to attend the forum as he had a conflicting engagement. 

Blair’s opponent, Joe Kirkland, was present. Kirkland is a supply chain manager at Duracell, where he has worked for 15 years. He has also worked with the Troup County-LaGrange Chamber of Commerce, dealing with SPLOST funding and projects like the Thread and the Griggs Center. 

Blair who currently serves on the school board, also owns and operates a cattle ranch in the county and invests in real estate. 

The forum was hosted by the Troup County-LaGrange Chamber of Commerce and live-streamed by the LaGrange Daily News. Each candidate was given 90 seconds to answer a series of questions, with two minutes for opening and closing remarks. 

The full live stream of the forum can be found on the LaGrange Daily News Facebook page. Below are some of the questions asked and answered during the forum:

What are the most pressing issues facing the school system today, and what steps would you propose to address them?

Kirkland said there are three things he wants to focus on: implementing bullying prevention and awareness, improving academic excellence by benchmarking surrounding schools and applying those standards to TCSS, and lastly, encouraging community engagement. 

“We are a village and it takes a village to raise a child,” he said. 

What are your thoughts on TCSS’s policy on combating gang activity in schools, and is gang activity an issue?

“I think gang [activity] is an issue, and if you don’t think that, you’re being naive,” Kirkland answered. “I have a young daughter that’s fourteen and she shows me things on TikTok like guns and things … I think it needs to be a top priority to address that and see what we can do. And I think we need to use the community as a resource to combat gangs and violence in our community.”

What are your thoughts on the Promise Scholarship Act?

The Promise Scholarship Act, which Gov. Brian Kemp signed into law this week, allocates funding for students to be sent to private schools if their current public school is low-performing.

“Why use that money to send them to private schools when you could address issues in the public schools?” Kirkland said. “… I think we see where we can use that money to increase the pay for our teachers, to get more quality teachers, to help improve scores and to help improve the quality of our students and make better citizens.”

What do you consider important criteria for evaluating a new superintendent that you didn’t hire, and how would you build a good working relationship with them?

“I think a superintendent has to have proven demonstrated leadership skills, where they have accomplished certain criteria that we’re looking for,” Kirkland said. “… Building a relationship with a superintendent, like any other person, takes communication, and it takes listening and understanding and setting expectations.”

How do you feel about the progress the school system has made, and what is your plan for continuing progress in the right direction? How can you help build a positive public perception?

Kirkland said setting goals and having open communication with the public is one way to build a positive public perception, including town hall meetings with the community. 

“I think the progress that’s been made in the last few years has been slow progress, and I think we can do, like I mentioned earlier, more benchmarking on different surrounding counties. And I’m looking more at academic excellence … We can — not reinvent the wheel — just communicate with different counties and see what they’re doing.”

What strategies would you use to attract, retain and support high-quality teachers/staff in TCSS?

“I think we should recruit with the local colleges so we can get teachers that are homegrown, here,” Kirkland said. “And I think we need to look at the pay… Making sure our pay is competitive with the local market. And for retaining, just making sure we’re taking care of our teachers, making sure they have the right resources they need to serve our students.”

How would you prioritize the limited resources to balance the diverse needs of the students, teachers, facilities and programs?

“I think you would have to evaluate the performance of the schools as a whole,” Kirkland said. “And once you evaluate the need, you could prioritize that by the greatest need that need the most resources.