Putnam City Schools Board incumbent Jay Sherrill is being challenged in for reelection by Richenda Bates, a retired teacher who taught Sherrill’s Oklahoma history class when he was a student at Putnam City High School.
Polls will be open from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. on Tuesday, April 5. Early voting is open from 8 a.m. to 6 p.m. today and Friday.
“I’m a parent first, and I’m a part of the community. I want to do everything I can to continue to serve,” said Sherrill, who is currently the board’s president. “It’s about making sure you ask the right questions, it’s about problem-solving. For me, I have a heart of service and that’s the way I look at it.”
Sherrill, who works in IT for Quest Diagnostics, has served on the Putnam City Schools Board since being appointed in 2015.
“I don’t necessarily have an agenda,” Sherrill said. “Over the next five years, for me, it’s about using my experience and trying to serve best the children in our district, which are my children as well, as well as our patrons and being good neighbors.”
Bates gradated from Putnam City Schools in 1975 and has worked for the district, first as a substitute and then as a full-time teacher, since earning her bachelor’s degree in education, in 1979. She retired from teaching in 2018 but has recently returned to serve as a substitute again.
“It seems like I’ve been a part of PC for as long as I can remember,” Bates said. “I just think teachers should serve on school boards. Medical boards are made of doctors. It seems odd to me that the people who have to do the day-to-day and everything aren’t on the boards.”
If elected, Bates said she aims to help recruit and retain teachers, ensure that the remainder of funds from the American Rescue Plan Act are spent wisely and support the district’s community schools initiative. Bates also believes that school board members should be voices for education at the State Capitol.
“I was saying 10 years ago that we should make our city urban schools kind of a hub of the community, kind of a community in a community, which is what community schools are,” Bates said. “I really support that. Even if I don’t get elected, I will speak out for that.”
‘We need to go bold’
Bates said she feels that teachers have been left out of conversations within the district. As examples, she pointed to a change to the district’s absence policy and a switch to a “no zero” grading policy that requires teachers to contact parents before giving a grade lower than 50 percent on an assignment. She said this left her and other teachers, some with more than 200 students, calling parents on the weekends.
“They never have those conversations with the teachers,” Bates said the school board. “It just comes down like edicts on high. It’s like we’re not trained professionals and our opinions aren’t worth anything.”
To help retain educators, Bates suggests allowing part-time and flexible scheduling for teachers and giving district teachers priority when it comes to the pre-K lottery. Bates said she was also involved in convincing the the school board to temporarily raise substitute pay recently, increasing the daily stipend by $70 between Feb. 1 and March 31.
“Our district motto is ‘go boldly,'” Bates said. “We need to go bold.”
Sherrill said he has not seen or heard any specific dissatisfaction from employees that would rise to the level of school board involvement.
“I will tell you that, yearly, I know our district does employee surveys and satisfaction surveys, and they come up really positive for our district,” Sherrill said. “In addition to that, we’ve been voted Best Places to Work multiple years in a row.”
He said being a teach is tough and that a lot can be done to support educators, whether it comes from administrators, parents or fellow teachers.
“It’s really about engaging and building family,” Sherrill said.
Diversity, equity and inclusion
Sherrill said continuing to advocate for the funding of public education is a priority for him. He also said that over the next five years, the district needs to put policies in place that prioritize diversity, equity and inclusion.
“Right now, we’re going through a strategic plan. That’s one of the things I’ve been really trying to champion,” Sherrill said. “To bring in community, bring in more parents, get them more engaged and make sure that when we’re applying things we’re doing it in an equitable way.”
Bates believes she can help with getting students back on track following the coronavirus pandemic.
“If there’s any time my 40 years of experience might be helpful, it’s during these turbulent waters,” Bates said.
Sherrill said he believes Putnam City Schools is on the right track overall, regardless of who is elected April 5.
“Whether it’s myself or Mrs. Bates — and I still say ‘Mrs. Bates,’ going back to the teaching days — as long as we have the right focus in mind, which is delivering the best education we can to our kids, the district has done great without me and will continue to do so,” Sherrill said. “But I’d like to continue to use my experience and expertise to make sure we continue to provide quality services to our kids and our families.”