I-TEAM: Election spotlight with Richmond County Dist. 7 school board candidates

Published: Oct. 31, 2022 at 6:35 PM EDT
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AUGUSTA, Ga. (WRDW/WAGT) - A top leader on the school board is facing opposition to his seat tonight.

This comes as months of ITEAM reports have exposed disorder and dysfunction within Richmond County schools. A failing district repeatedly at the bottom of the barrel for student achievement statewide.

We’ve been here for a decade now. So, who can fix it?

That’s what the ITEAM is asking the candidates in this election spotlight.

District 7 is home to Garrett, Merry, and Warren Road elementary schools along with Tutt Middle School and Westside High.  Vice President of the Board Charlie Walker is running for a second term against newcomer Brittiany Broadwater.

Charlie Walker is an Augusta native, Aquinas graduate, UGA graduate, consultant, current president of Augusta Sports Council, board of directors for Riverfront Family Y, Child Enrichment Council, Walton Rehab, Exchange Club of Augusta, proud Irish American and father of two Richmond County students.

Brittiany Broadwater is a newcomer. She’s a military kid, a Stanford graduate, a nonprofit worker in D.C., a project manager in D.C., a cheerleader in school turned cheerleader for kids in school, a Richmond County substitute teacher, President of Warren Road Elementary Council, and aunt of a Richmond County student.

We asked them both: What is the biggest problem or challenge facing the Richmond County School District right now?

Walker answered, “I would say one of the major factors that plays out later on statistics and information, you guys see is early childhood development before we get the children into the school system. We are having kids coming into kindergarten first grade who have very little cognitive recognition of shapes and object very little skills in understanding letters and numbers. Very low literacy.”

Broadwater responded, “We have a ton of students who come to Richmond County schools- one, two, and three years behind from where we would want to see them developmentally or academically. So, it’s a very tall order for a teacher to not only instill social skills that you want to see in a school setting but also pull kids from behind and move them forward all in one year.  What we find is when we are unable to pull kids from behind that they’re missing these really important milestones, like being able to read at a third-grade level by third grade.”

Data from the Georgia Department of Education shows more than half of all elementary students in Richmond County scored at a beginner learning level at the end of last school year.  Not being able to read affects a student’s ability to read and understand material or tests across all subjects at every grade level.

Both candidates agree this one problem leads to bigger problems later where they differ is on a solution.

“One of the things that I’ve been involved in the beginning is a program called The Basics… It’s a community-based program and focuses on birth to five years old,” explains Walker.

The Basics launched this school year. It focuses on teaching parents five basic principles scientifically proven to increase brain development in young children.

“I was surprised to see how many other things that I had to deal with throughout the day that had very little to do with teaching,” Broadwater says she spent last school year substituting in all the district’s seven schools. “During the pandemic, we developed a massive teacher shortage here in Augusta Richmond County.”

She believes overworked, underpaid, and unsupported teachers have created a crisis in the classroom.

Data from the Department of Education shows the number of underqualified educators doubled in Richmond County over the pandemic… inexperienced teachers tasked with pulling students up two or three grade levels.

“We need to make sure we have the best teachers, the most high-quality teachers, and that also we supportive of them so they can get back to the work of teaching,” says Broadwater.

Walker’s solution: investing before the classroom.

Broadwater’s solution: investing while in the classroom.

Both depend upon the same secret ingredient – parental involvement.

“The opportunities are there they have to make a decision to take the time to do it,” says Walker. “I would ask the question a different way I would phrase it what can parents do to involve their child’s school instead of what can that school do to help the parent because our focus as we talked about earlier is to educate.”

Liz Owens: “If you went to Aquinas then you probably didn’t grow up like the majority of students that are low income and are in poverty.”

Walker: “Nope.”

Liz Owens: “It’s going to be hard to pay attention to your kids when you are like Lord, I just don’t want them taken away from me because I am sleeping in the car or something.”

Walker: “I wish I had a better answer for you than something isn’t ABC or 123.”

“I think the school board should take accountability to say hey maybe we haven’t done everything correctly maybe we have contributed to this problem of lack of parental engagement,” explains Broadwater. “We have to empower and support individual schools at providing additional accommodations or innovative or different accommodations for some of our families. Any strategies we choose to employ, in regard to increasing parental engagement, we have to measure - and have to measure regularly. So, when we have enough data we determine which strategies are most effective and double down on them and replicate those, and for those strategies that are not yielding the outcomes we want to be flexible and be ready to pivot and try other things.”

We asked Walker why he should be re-elected. “Because I have been a good steward of this position. I don’t think I’ve missed but one or two meetings in the last four years. I am an independent thinker. I bring a lot to the table and I like to think those attributions are what people are looking for. I’m going to do things that make a difference, and I would like the opportunity to do that for another four years.”

We equally asked Broadwater why voters should give her a chance.

“We have had schoolboard members serving for decades- and I would tell the voters that if you have been happy with the direction of Richmond County, and our schools, for the last decade, then feel free to move forward with incumbents. But, if you are not comfortable with Richmond County Schools being rated an F or a D for over a decade, the status quo of complacency with an F rating doesn’t sit well with you, then you have nothing to lose by going to try different and voting for change.”

Two candidates voicing their solutions to a failing school system- now need to hear your voice to determine the district’s future.