School Board Elections - no longer sleepy

School board elections used to be sleepy little races, but in recent years, they have become a flash point for the culture wars. COVID politics, teacher shortages, and banned books are just a few of the hot topics that garner national attention, but the real nitty gritty of school board politics is rather mundane and tedious.

While overseeing a nearly $840 million budget, 5,600 people on staff, 60  facilities, and 36,000 students, the nine individuals who make up the Savannah Chatham County School System (SCCPSS) Board are cloaked in immense power, yet virtually anonymous to the majority of taxpayers. 

A coveted seat on the School Board has become one of the most prized and powerful positions in Chatham County, and voters get to make the decision about who is hired.

There are four nonpartisan school board positions on the election ballot for Tuesday, May 21 - Districts One, Two, Three, and Seven. The other five positions on the School Board will be up for election in 2026.

In District One, Barbara Hubbard is challenging first term incumbent Denise Grabowski. 

click to enlarge School Board Elections - no longer sleepy
Dr. Dionne Hoskins-Brown - SCCPSS District Two Representative

Dr. Dionne Hoskins-Brown, who began her service of District Two in October of 2011, is unopposed and she will continue in her position for another four years.

Connie Hall has been a member of the school board since 2012, and she is being challenged by Tanet Taharka Myers for the District Three seat.

The above three races will be decided on Tuesday, May 21st; but with three candidates running for the District Seven race, there could be a runoff election if no candidate receives an absolute majority of the votes (50 percent plus one vote).

Michael Johnson is being challenged by Stephanie Campbell and Jay Jones for the District Seven seat.

People elected to the school board on Tuesday, May 21 will be inaugurated on January 1, 2025 and receive an annual salary of $25,000. SCCPSS School Board members meet monthly on either the first or second Wednesday at the Whitney Administrative Complex, 2 Laura Avenue.

Early voting starts on April 29 at four Chatham County locations - VR Annex, Mosquito Control, Civic Center, Oatland Island Wildlife Center. People who have questions about voting are encouraged to call Chatham County Voter Registration at (912) 790-1520.

Voices for Schools and Deep Center will be hosting a candidate forum on Sunday, May 19 at Front Porch Improv, 210 West Victory Drive, Savannah.

Migrant Equity Southeast will be providing translation services during the forum.

District One will begin at 2:00 p.m., District Three at 3:15 p.m., and District Seven at 4:30 p.m.

Connect Savannah will livestream the forum on Facebook.

District One:

Denise Grabowski - incumbent - started January 1, 2021

Connect Savannah: Why do you want to be on the SCCPSS School Board?

School Board Elections - no longer sleepy
Denise Grabowski - SCCPSS District One Representative

I believe deeply in the importance of giving back and the importance of education , so serving on the board is an honor and a commitment I take very seriously. I am completing my first term and ready to keep going! I have been active with the school district since my children were in elementary school when I served on the school council at Charles Ellis Montessori Academy. They are both still students in the district, so I am personally invested, not only as a board member but also as a mother. When I began my term in January 2021, we were still in the height of COVID and we continue to deal with the impacts the pandemic had on our students, teachers, and staff. As we look to the future, I am excited about the direction in which our district is heading and want to continue working collaboratively with the Superintendent and her team, the board, and the community to support our focus on literacy, improving academic outcomes across the district, and ensuring our students are prepared for their future whatever that may hold for them. I believe that I bring a unique perspective to the board through my education professional experience and engagement with the community both professionally and through service.

Connect Savannah: What are your top three priorities?

Our continued coordination and collaboration with community partners, including government, business, and nonprofit organizations is essential. We have many established partnerships that work in tandem with our focus on providing students educational opportunities, internships, and experiences. For example, our partnership with the Savannah Music Festival continues to grow and evolve through programs like Musical Explorers, which now includes a focused literacy component. We are working alongside SEDA and business and industry leaders to ensure we can continue to meet the needs of our employers. I look forward to continuing to build and strengthen these partnerships particularly as our region is on the cusp of unprecedented growth and the emergence of new job and career opportunities. It is critical that the district is the part of these conversations.

I will work to continue the active engagement of our teachers, administrators, youth, and families. We know that teacher burnout is a real issue, and we must continue to work in collaboration with our teachers to address the root causes and ensure that we are providing the highest quality teaching and learning environments. I believe we must support our teachers and staff not only financially, but also through the culture throughout the district and at our schools. We are already looking at innovative ways to recruit and retain our teachers and staff. For example, recognizing the challenges of affordable housing, we are exploring how the district may be able to help address this need for our staff. As a member of the Chatham County Housing Coalition, I am already involved in these conversations and will continue to bring my experience and expertise to the district.

The health and well-being of our students and staff is a top priority for me. Healthy is not merely the absence of disease, but a state of physical, social, and mental well-being. One way we can facilitate well-being is through the physical learning environment. I am a long-time advocate for high-performance, healthy building design because of the importance of the physical learning environment for our students to be their best and brightest and for our teachers and staff to have a quality work environment. This is an often-overlooked aspect of learning, but a critical one as documented by countless studies that document improved test scores, higher retention rates, lower absenteeism, and more. I will also continue to advocate for outdoor learning spaces, including school gardens and outdoor classrooms. As another example of partnership, Loop It Up has been instrumental in bringing gardens to many of our schools through funding and partnership with Big Green. I am committed to making sure initiatives like this continue to grow and are sustained.

Connect Savannah: What role does SCCPSS play in the mental health of our students, and if elected, what will you do regarding the mental health needs of our children?

As stated above, student health and well-being has been a long-term passion of mine. The recent deaths of our students are tragic and heartbreaking and, for me, personal. One of the students was a year younger than my daughter and they attended the same middle and high school. Another student I have known since she was a small child, and I am friends with her parents. This is an issue that extends across our community and affects all students, public and private. In addition to expanding mental health resources, such as school counselors, I think we need to look holistically at the root causes of mental health issues so we can identify upstream solutions. As a district, we cannot control all the external influences, but we can foster a healthy learning environment for our students for the six hours a day they are with us. This may include big steps, such as revisions to cell phone policies, and smaller steps, such as peer-to-peer groups and initiatives in the schools to foster positivity, kindness, compassion, and tolerance.

Barbara Hubbard

Connect Savannah: Why do you want to be on the SCCPSS School Board?

click to enlarge School Board Elections - no longer sleepy
Barbara Hubbard - SCCPSS District One candidate

My personal vision has always been to be a leader in my field, using my expertise to create positive change in the community through the school system. As the District 1 School Board member, I will continue to work towards sharing my skills and building meaningful connections with others in the school district.

As a veteran teacher, I have seen firsthand the challenges and triumphs within our schools. My experience has taught me the importance of ensuring all students have access to a high-quality education. As a career educator, I am used to dealing with complex issues. I will work tirelessly to create new solutions to complex problems.

Connect Savannah: What are your top three priorities?

COVID has had an enormous effect on our education system. Many of the problems that we had before the pandemic have been exacerbated by the students missing a year or more of school. Our low literacy rates, low attendance issues, lack of transportation for all students, mental health issues for students, parents, and teachers, as well as the economic impacts on families are all complex problems that must be addressed.

We will need to take a very close look into the fiscal practices of the school board. Too much money is being spent on non-educational items. We need to look at reallocating funds that should be in direct support for our students and those front-line workers in the schools. We must have the best interest of the students as our priorities.

The culture of the school system has always been a problem. Basically, there is a lack of trust across the system. Top-down administration and silos at the Central Office have created a lack of communication with the School Board and the schools. There is an overall feeling of distrust. Parents do not trust the schools and schools do not trust the system. We must work on breaking down the barriers and communicate across the lines. We must all work together to build a stronger school system where students’ success and well-being are at the center of the focus.

Connect Savannah: What role does SCCPSS play in the mental health of our students, and if elected, what will you do regarding the mental health needs of our children?

Suicide is the third leading cause of death among high school students, 14-18 years old, according to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). It is a growing concern among younger students, too. For those ages 5 to 9, suicide is the 10th leading cause of death according to the CDC.

It appears that suicide prevention programs vary for each high school. Some do not have a specific program. Some rely on student organizations such as Sources of Strength and they sponsor events throughout the year such the “No Place for Hate” pep rally, movie viewings and positive/inspirational student notes.

Suicides are kept very quiet. Teachers usually are not made aware of them and only hear about them from people outside of the school system. Awareness needs to be the priority rather than hiding the issue. There are learning opportunities that are missed.

Bullying continues to be a growing problem, especially cyberbullying. Teachers and parents should be educated to see the signs that students are being bullied. Counselors cannot be solely responsible for addressing this issue with students. A schoolwide approach to bullying ensures that the entire school community understands the role they play and is prepared to support students. Creating an accepting school environment, where students feel safe is key.

As I have stated before, mental health has been an issue and it is growing. COVID only exacerbated the problem. Programs that have a direct impact on students must be a priority. I will support the need for more counselors, mental health specialists and social workers in the schools. Students cannot learn if they do not feel safe or loved (Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs).

District Three:

Connie Hall - incumbent - started February 2012

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Connie Hall - SCCPSS District Three Representative

Connect Savannah: Why do you want to be on the SCCPSS School Board?

I take my position as a school board representative very seriously. As a senior member of the team, having served since February 2012, I have had the opportunity to confront and often resolve , through policy changes and upgrades, many stubborn challenges as well as enjoy areas of growth and success.

Connect Savannah: What are your top three priorities?

The continuing expansion of our School to Career pathways is an important initiative that has brought me great satisfaction. For our students eager to enter the workforce immediately after graduation, our capacity to offer industry level certifications in welding, aviation, hospitality, culinary arts, barbering and automotive mechanics has opened opportunities unheard of when I first joined the board..

Secondly, efforts to increase the number of STEM and STEAM designations awarded to our schools has revitalized student interest and outcomes in the arts, mathematics , science and engineering tremendously. I want to increase these designations at neighborhood schools across the district.

Lastly, among the concerns I wish to particularly address over the next months and years is the rising rate of absenteeism prevalent here in Chatham County and across the nation. Post pandemic absence is worrisome at all levels, elementary through high school. Some high schoolers tell me they are burdened with family responsibilities while others enjoy doing their assignments virtually now and do not care for the in-person model on a regular basis. I grapple with the idea of how we might make coming to school easier with the help of more social workers and counselors as well as more interesting and compelling. On the other hand, a second grader not coming to school is a parent motivated behavior. What has disillusioned some parents about the educational experiences we offer to the point that they would grow apathetic about attendance? Given the chance, I plan to do the hard work needed to reverse this alarming trend.

Connect Savannah: What role does SCCPSS play in the mental health of our students, and if elected, what will you do regarding the mental health needs of our children?

If re-elected, I would like to focus on ways to enrich the relationships between our students and the teachers, administrators and coaches who populate our schools. In so many cases these sources of human connection are trained only to react to situations.

Very little skilled practice is offered in how to proactively confront issues through the creation of nurturing environments that students feel are safe and welcoming for troubling dialogue.

Knowing at least some of the right questions to ask our students would go a long way in opening sensitive spaces. I hope to bring in professionals to train as many of our site based personnel as possible about what these important questions are. I envision a culture that projects adults in our schools as constant reliable purveyors of the question, “How can I help?”

Tanet Taharka Myers

Connect Savannah: Why do you want to be on the SCCPSS School Board?

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Tanet Taharka Myers- SCCPSS District Three candidate

I want to be on the SCCPSS School Board to address the current crises plaguing our students, parents and educators. I am committed to resetting our record of being a school system of excellence that is in high demand due to student success. According to the Georgia Department of Education, five out of seven public schools in District 3 are categorized as Title One School Wide Programs (SWP). These schools are defined as comprehensive reform programs for low performing students. The current status of District 3 schools coupled with other system-wide issues like high levels of absenteeism and low rates of student performance in reading and literacy adds to the increased level of student deficits and further exacerbates the classroom education experience for our teachers. I am pursuing the District 3 School Board seat to resolve this growing list of academic concerns for our students, parents and educators. The restoration of a stellar educational journey needs to be experienced by each school system stakeholder and I truly believe our students, parents and teachers deserve an opportunity to “Rise and Shine”.

Connect Savannah: What are your top three priorities?

Better Outcomes in Student Reading and Literacy Rates;

Giving a Voice to Students with Disabilities and Empowering Those Families;

Reinforcing Safety in All School Settings for Students, Families and Educators.

Connect Savannah: What role does SCCPSS play in the mental health of our students, and if elected, what will you do regarding the mental health needs of our children?

One of the key focus areas of my platform includes community collaborations to support student success. Due to growing concerns surrounding the mental health of our students, our SCCPSS stakeholders could stand to benefit from the resources recently approved in HB 915; $15.5 million dollars of state budget funding was allocated for the construction of Gateway child and adolescent crisis stabilization unit in Savannah. By broadening existing programming with SCCPSS professionals through options with local service providers like Gateway, our parents and educators may be able to connect our students with critical assistance during periods of crisis. Additionally, I encourage individuals to complete the SCCPSS survey for FY25 Budget Development to request funding for resources to address suicide prevention, mental health awareness and educational programming for parents to ensure student wellness.

District Seven:

Michael Johnson - incumbent - serving since June 2016

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Michael Johnson - SCCPSS District Seven Representative

Connect Savannah: Why do you want to be on the SCCPSS School Board?

There is still more to be done. I have not accomplished all that I set out to do in my first election.

Connect Savannah: What are your top three priorities?

Work with other Board Members to change promotion/retention policy. Unless the child is ESOL or SPED to have every 3rd grader reading at grade level before being able to move on to 4th grade.

Make every school as safe as possible without making them look or feel like a prison. We need to provide Campus Police with the resources, money, personnel, and grant writers, they need to do their job.

Continue working with the City of Pooler and SCCPSS staff to get a High School in Pooler. Start the process with City of Bloomingdale and SCCPSS staff to get a Middle School and High School in Bloomingdale.

Connect Savannah: What role does SCCPSS play in the mental health of our students, and if elected, what will you do regarding the mental health needs of our children?

We play a huge role in the mental health of our students and our staff. We need to be able to recognize signs for help. Currently I am working with other Board Members and staff to increase mental health professionals within our schools. When I am re-elected I will continue to work towards having a 250:1 social worker to student ratio. I will continue to work with the superintendent to ensure staff have the support staff to focus on their mental health as well.

Stephanie Campbell 

Connect Savannah: Why do you want to be on the SCCPSS School Board?

click to enlarge School Board Elections - no longer sleepy
Stephanie Campbell - SCCPSS District Seven candidate

Chatham County Schools are failing our students and our community. With less than a third of 3rd graders reading at grade level, illiteracy is now commonplace. Our student test scores remain abysmal and only 65% of graduating seniors are deemed “ready” for college or career.

The classroom is no longer safe with nearly 10,000 school discipline events reported in 2023. Even worse, 74% of those incidents involved "harm to person" - violence.

With the loss of transportation for choice and charter schools, parents are unable to send their children where they will be granted the best possibilities for success. Families have run out of options for quality education. We should offer excellence in education to all families, regardless of financial resources or zip code.

Teachers are overwhelmed by overpopulated classrooms in which distractions and necessary interventions are routine, causing them to abandon their dream of being a lifelong educator or feel unsupported by administration.

While taxpayers, who are battling inflation, pain at the pump, and rising costs of groceries are tightly managing their spending, the school system refuses to do the same. We have a teacher shortage, bus driver shortage, and social worker shortage, yet the Board approves bloated budgets that fail to prioritize what matters most.

The status quo in Chatham County is simply unacceptable and unsustainable.

Academic excellence should be the standard – not the exception. School safety should be a priority – not an afterthought. Our tax dollars should be spent in the classroom – not on the bureaucracy.

Our students and parents deserve better.

Connect Savannah: What are your top three priorities?

Work to dramatically boost literacy rates and school safety standards.

Ensure fiscal transparency and accountability to make sure students are our #1 investment.

Empower parents and stand guard against efforts to indoctrinate students, rather than focus on education.

Connect Savannah: What role does SCCPSS play in the mental health of our students, and if elected, what will you do regarding the mental health needs of our children?

Early identification and intervention is essential to preventing youth suicide. Our schools need social workers and they need them quickly. Also, a system-wide awareness and understanding of what to look for in students (i.e. when a child is at-risk, warning signs for which to have concern, and which resource to consult if staff are concerned) is essential. To best support our students, we need to have plenty of social workers in schools, as well as staff who feel ready to intervene. Therefore, as a school board member, I would be sure to prioritize spending on social workers' salaries and promote regular school-wide education on suicide prevention.

Jay Jones

Connect Savannah: Why do you want to be on the SCCPSS School Board?

click to enlarge School Board Elections - no longer sleepy
Jay Jones - SCCPSS District Seven candidate

I am passionate about education and deeply committed to the 

success of all students in our community. Serving on the SCCPSS School Board allows me the opportunity to contribute my skills, experience, and dedication to supporting our schools, teachers, and students. I believe that by being a part of the school board, I can help shape policies and decisions that will improve educational outcomes, create a safe and inclusive learning environment, and ensure that every student has access to quality education. I am eager to continue the work that has been started and to work collaboratively with other board members, educators, parents, and the community to make a meaningful difference in the lives of our students.

Connect Savannah: What are your top three priorities?

My first priority is to work towards ensuring that every student in our school district has equitable access to high-quality education and resources. I will advocate for policies that address disparities in educational outcomes, support underserved communities, and promote inclusivity and diversity in our schools.

The success of our students hinges on the dedication and expertise of our teachers and staff. I will prioritize initiatives that support professional development, well-being, and retention of educators. By fostering a positive and supportive work environment, we can attract and retain top talent and ultimately benefit the entire school community.

Building strong partnerships with parents, community organizations, and stakeholders is essential for the success of our schools. I will focus on enhancing communication channels, promoting transparency, and encouraging active involvement from all members of the community. By working together collaboratively, we can create a shared vision for the future of education in our district and ensure that the voices of all stakeholders are heard and valued.

Connect Savannah: What role does SCCPSS play in the mental health of our students, and if elected, what will you do regarding the mental health needs of our children?

Ensuring the mental well-being of our students is paramount, and the Savannah-Chatham County Public School System (SCCPSS) must take a proactive role in addressing their mental health needs. As a candidate committed to the holistic development of our children, I firmly believe that schools should serve as a pillar of support for students facing mental health challenges.

If elected, I have no problem championing initiatives to prioritize mental health within the SCCPSS. By enhancing mental health support services, promoting awareness and education, fostering community partnerships, and creating safe and supportive school environments, we can create a nurturing ecosystem that empowers our students to thrive emotionally, academically, and socially.

Together, let us advocate for policies that place mental health at the forefront of our educational agenda. By investing in the well-being of our children, we not only ensure their success in the classroom but also lay the foundation for a resilient and thriving community. Join me in prioritizing mental health within our schools and making a lasting impact on the lives of our students.

Election Day is Tuesday, May 21. Early voting starts Monday, April 29.

For more information on the School Board candidates, please join Connect Savannah at the candidate forum hosted by Voices for Schools and Deep Center on Sunday, May 19 at Front Porch Improv, 210 West Victory Drive, Savannah.

District One will begin at 2:00 p.m., District Three at 3:15 p.m., and District Seven at 4:30 p.m.

Connect Savannah will livestream the forum on Facebook.

School Board Elections - no longer sleepy
People who have questions about voting are encouraged to call Chatham County Voter Registration at (912) 790-1520

Kristy Edenfield

Freelance Correspondent
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