May 30—ALBANY — After a 2018 challenge of long-time Dougherty County School Board member Milton "June Bug" Griffin, Debra Wiley said she was driven to seek the seat again after encouragement from the community.
But for Wiley, an educator, the real incentive is making sure all children get the best education possible.
"I actually was called — my father was in the hospital — and I received (calls) from several community leaders and parents who asked me to run," Wiley said. "Had I known my father was going to die a few days later, my answer might have been different."
Wiley is one of six candidates running in the June 15 special District 2 race to fill the unexpired term of Griffin, who died in February. The term ends in December 2022.
Many of the students in the district face socio-economic challenges, and the system has to help them in overcoming those challenges, Wiley said.
"I want to ensure the children in District 2 are receiving the same benefit the children in the rest of the county are receiving," she said. "When you have children that have a great number of issues before they even enter the door, that needs to be addressed, too."
Wiley, who has 28 years in education, including time as an associate professor at Albany State University, and has taught English and education courses, said that personnel decisions are key.
In one instance, she said, a principal at Lincoln Magnet Elementary School was only at a school for one year and her contract was not renewed.
"Lincoln hasn't had stable leadership since Dr. (Chara) Willaford retired, yet you have a principal being pulled," the candidate said.
The school system also needs to recruit educators who represent the diversity of the community, Wiley said, and it will be doing it with a smaller budget as declining enrollment will mean less state dollars coming into the county for education.
She gave as an example Milwaukee, where teachers from historically black colleges and universities were enlisted to teach in the schools.
"Enrollment continues to decline," she said. "Turnover with teachers continues to be an issue. How are we going to be able to attract high-quality teachers, high-quality leaders to Dougherty County? Some of it is pay, but some of it is developing relationships."
She also said she thinks that principals who have excelled should, in some instances, be moved to struggling schools in order to spread that success.
Equity also is important to Wiley, who said that equal spending per student does not produce equity to those who are facing challenges. Passing students who are not prepared for the next grade is another issue she identified.
"I'm not saying we have to retain every student, but we need to make sure students are mastering the content, not just being moved along," she said. "If a student hasn't mastered reading and we move them along, we're doing a great disservice to them. We're doing a great disservice to our families as a whole."
With virtual learning a tool that will be used beyond the pandemic, the school system also needs to make sure that students are positioned to make the best use of it, she said.
"Online is very different than in-person learning," Wiley said. "It's not just the child; you have to educate the parent. It is my belief that every parent wants the best for their child, and education remains one of the great equalizers, especially for people of color. Even with the return (to in-person), you're still going to have parents who are going to want to keep their children home."