None of the candidates denied the fact, but most had different ideas on how to reverse the trend.
“The bottom line is that they go to those schools because of athletics, not academics,” said District 1 candidate Rob Cleveland, who is running against incumbent Bernice Brooks and challenger Terry Turner in the nonpartisan election. “They’ll tell you they go because of academics because it sounds more credible. But they want to play at Carrollton.”
Cleveland said parents choose to send their children to Bremen City Schools because of the probability their children will play in sports.
“They think they will have a better chance to play at Bremen,” he said. “Bremen does not have a lot of athletes. They have good kids who play hard, but parents want their kids on the field or the court.”
Though Cleveland stressed that athletics is the driving force behind the exodus, District 3 candidate Robert Pinckney was adamant that academics is the primary reason.
“You cannot tell me that every child who’s left Carroll County Schools to go to Bremen or Carrollton is because of athletics,” said Pinckney, a former Long Island, N.Y., superintendent who challenging incumbent Chris Gammon. “They left because they felt, rightly or wrongly, that their children were not receiving the level of quality of education that they could get in other institutions.”
Pinckney said he would suggest to the superintendent a “come-to-Jesus” meeting between the BOE and community parents, in which the board would examine why students are leaving the system.
“We have to engage the entire community to find a reason why,” Pinckney said. “Let’s engage them on what we can do to improve the educational product we put out.
“Education is not a game,” Pinckney said.
Turner, the District 1 candidate, agreed with Pinckney, saying athletics are part of parents’ decisions, but it is not the main reason.
“When I was running for mayor, I talked to a lot of people about their kids’ education, and they said their kids go to Carrollton,” he said. “They told me it was to give them a better education, and, yes, sports.”
Turner said it is “common sense” that if the system will “become the best,” they will “be the best.”
“We have to start in the classroom,” he said. “You educate these kids and make them smarter, you will see a change. If we build our education system, people will come back in.”
Turner quoted the 1989 film “Field of Dreams,” saying, “Like the movie says, ‘If you build it, they will come.’”
Brooks said students’ reasons for migrating to city schools are more practical.
“I understand that a majority of these students have parents who work in the Carrollton area,” Brooks said. “So they enroll them there so they can reach them if there’s a problem. Some just want to be home-schooled.”
County schools are not able to provide the extracurricular activities the city schools can offer, as well as aesthetically pleasing facilities, Brooks said.
“What we’re planning to do is provide as many extracurriculars as Carrollton so we can draw these students back into our system,” she said. “Also, I’ve heard that people pass right by Sand Hill Elementary because it’s not aesthetically beautiful, so that’s another thing we’re working on.”
Gammon said he appreciates the competitive environment the county school system is in — that it helps the system improve.
“If we don’t improve in this competitive area, we fall flat,” Gammon said. “Competition is part of society, and it helps us grow by pushing others up.”
Gammon cited the county system’s perception and how that has influenced attendance.
“If you look at the high-performing students, they’re right there with the city schools,” he said. “We have to make sure perception and reality is the same. We have to grow and give students adequate resources to compete in every way.”
“The ones that go to Carrollton are going for the facilities and the tradition,” Cleveland said. “The ones who go to Bremen are going because they can play there.”
In a June 21 county Board of Education meeting of the BOE, Chairman Dr. Jon Anderson gave a few central office employees the task of creating a survey to find out why students leave the school system.
Anderson asked Superintendent Scott Cowart, Assistant Superintendent of Teaching and Learning Stan Davis and Assistant Superintendent of Administrative and Student Services Dr. Christie Johnson to collaborate and formulate the survey.
“We’ve got between 1,500 and 1,600 students who have left our schools for whatever reason last year,” Anderson said. “That’s 10 percent of our system population. That’s a statement on our quality perception.”
In the District 1 election, voters will decide among incumbent Brooks, Cleveland and Turner. Vying in the District 3 election are incumbent Gammon and Pinckney.
Voting starts at 7 a.m. July 31.