Democratic candidate for the Cobb County Board of Education Post 7, Lindsay Terrebonne, answered questions from the Courier about her campaign and who she is.
Terrebonne, running against Republican incumbent Brad Wheeler, received more votes in her primary than Wheeler did in his, indicating that this might be a competitive race.
Wheeler has been in his seat since 2016 and previously ran unopposed.
Terrebonne answered questions about the school district’s inability to pass a resolution condemning racism, the pandemic response and other issues facing the Board.
Can you talk about your background? Who are you?
Terrebonne: I’m originally from just outside of Charleston, South Carolina. I’m a graduate of the University of South Carolina and formerly a logistics professional. I worked in international freight forwarding and warehousing where I excelled in developing creative solutions for my clients that were both cost- and time-sensitive. My customers relied on my leadership and decision-making. I’ll bring these same skills to the School Board. I’m married and a Mom of a fourth-grader and a kindergartener who both attend their Cobb County district school. I’m fully vested in the future of our schools. I’ve served on Kemp’s School Council and look forward to expanding upon that experience to now represent all of Cobb’s students. I co-lead my daughter’s Girl Scout troop and have loved sharing this journey with my girls.
What political issues are most important to you in this day and age regarding Cobb County schools?
Terrebonne: Currently, I’m most concerned about keeping everyone safe as our schools re-open during this pandemic. Everyone wants to see students in the classroom learning, however, we’re in unprecedented times. We must prioritize the health and safety of everyone including our teachers, admin, bus drivers, nutrition staff, and their families. With Cobb County School District being the largest employer in Cobb County, the health of our staff will impact the health of our county and community. I’m also deeply concerned by the pain in my community from our current Board’s inability to condemn racism. Through all the productive conversation we’ve had as a nation, we haven’t seen a willingness to grow or learn from many of our elected district leaders.
Why did you and some of your colleagues write a statement condemning racism?
Terrebonne: I want the families in Post 7 and across Cobb to know I see them. The BOE’s floundering has further exacerbated this painful year. Many parents, students, and administrators have addressed the BOE in Public Comments regarding incidents of racism in our schools, yet their experience hasn’t been validated or acknowledged. Admitting we have work to do is the first step. The fact that several of our Board members wanted to craft a resolution without the input of our Black board members shows how out of touch this board is with its constituency and the times in which it’s trying to lead.
You’ve had experience on Kemp Elementary’s School Council and school planning committees. How has this experience prepared you to become a BOE member?
Terrebonne: Through this experience, I’ve seen firsthand how in-depth our schools are focusing on each segment of our student population. Every subset of student data is important, with its own goals, and an individualized approach for success. I’ve had a look inside what makes Kemp truly special and how dedicated and passionate leaders can meet a student right where they are and make sure they achieve their potential. This is the goal for every student in Cobb. Each student has a unique way they learn and, by looking at best practices across the district, we can ensure we’re offering the same level of personalization to every student.
On your website, why did you make it a point to talk about Republicans on the school board opposing air conditioning on busses?
Terrebonne: It’s baffling to me that, when replacing buses for kids who start school at the very beginning of August in Georgia, that air conditioning wouldn’t be a logical decision. The vote on air conditioning failed on partisan lines – Republicans voted against it, Democrats voted for it. I think every generation hopes to give their children a slightly better experience than they had. Aside from the student’s experience, our bus drivers are on the bus for hours each day in extreme heat. Telling our bus drivers that we appreciate them by actually supporting them is what leaders are supposed to do.
What issues of systemic racism do you see in Cobb schools?
Terrebonne: At one of the schools in my post, a Black child is 4.5 times more likely to be suspended although study after study shows that these statistics stem from how discipline is handled and not evidence that certain students are more prone to bad behavior.
Our teachers are far less diverse than our student body even though the district says we only hire the ‘best’ teachers. Students can go all the way through Cobb schools and not have a teacher who looks like them.
What ways will you work to ensure racial equity in the district?
Terrebonne: I support hiring a Chief Equity Officer and establishing a Community Engagement Office. This would be a landing point where concerns and experiences can receive the detailed attention they require. There needs to be an equity audit to critically examine how discipline is handled district-wide, to ensure congruency, and address outliers.
There was a student mentorship program years ago that I think we should consider bringing back. It paired students interested in teaching with admin to expose them to a career they may want to pursue. This way, we could start recruiting our own students to come back after college and teach where they learned. Especially for our students of color who haven’t seen themselves in a classroom as an educator, this could be a way to encourage them to go into education, and hopefully return to lead in Cobb.
What do you mean when you say you will seek out transparency on your website? Can you give an example of non-transparency in the district and how you will fix it?
Terrebonne: Over the Summer, parents were desperate for any information regarding re-opening plans. Families were trying to pivot but there was such little information from the district. Were parents going to leave their jobs, delay finishing degrees, or have to seek private school for their children? School operations are the Superintendent’s responsibility but, he is hired by and accountable to the School Board. Parents needed the Board to seek transparency in terms of answers to their questions with clear, concise, details. Mrs. Davis and Dr. Howard proposed having a separate meeting to discuss COVID and our re-opening plan but it was voted down. Having a meeting about how to safely re-open schools after starting virtually, during a pandemic, should only be logical. Sometimes transparency can be audits and data, sometimes it’s just answering questions.
How do you feel about the school board’s responses to the COVID-19 pandemic? Would you do anything differently about the pandemic response when elected?
Terrebonne: I appreciate that the Superintendent insists he’s using data to drive decisions, that he’s working closely with local health officials, and I fully acknowledge these decisions are incredibly difficult. In many other counties, the superintendent gathers data and makes a plan to present to the School Board. There is a conversation, questions, answers, and a vote on how to proceed. This hasn’t been the case here. The Superintendent makes his remarks announcing major shifts in our COVID response to open the School Board meeting and only takes a limited amount of questions before the Chair moves forward with the agenda. The elected School Board hasn’t been part of the equation. Families are left trying to figure out how to pivot to accommodate drastic shifts in operations with very little information to work with. Employees are worried about their safety and what their support net looks like from their employer. Teachers are stretched and stressed to the max, teaching both in person and virtually. CCSD is Cobb’s largest employer and the School Board is the elected voice of families, employees, and community stakeholders; they need a voice and open communication from the Superintendent. One of the tasks of the School Board is Superintendent evaluation. I’m running to address a lack of district transparency. Even though the Superintendent insists the district has been clear and direct, I’m a parent who watches Board meetings, follows all the channels of communication, and the ambiguity is astounding.
On a similar note, what is your opinion on sending students back to school face to face this year? Thoughts on virtual learning?
Terrebonne: I’m concerned about the health and safety of our teachers, bus drivers, food and nutrition team, and our administrators. Many have contacted me expressing their concerns about their personal health or the health of their loved ones. I’m deeply concerned for the physical and mental health of our teachers as they simultaneously teach in person and virtually. I think our re-opening plans have to be made with the safety and wellbeing of our most vulnerable members as a priority. I was glad to see many of our special education students return during Phase 1 since virtual learning isn’t an option for many of our students. Our virtual learning platform was a significant financial investment and there are still many glitches. My kids are learning virtually now (4th grade and kindergarten). School hours are all-consuming and it’s incredibly challenging some days. They both need help. For the sake of our teachers and to have more focused learning, I think it would’ve been best to group the virtual learners together to form a class with a dedicated teacher and the in-person learners could have the full attention of their teacher. This way, teachers uncomfortable with teaching face to face could teach the virtual learners remotely.
What socioeconomic issues do you see within Cobb’s school district? For example, Charisse Davis supported providing children with WiFi and other resources so they can learn virtually. What do you think of some students not having access to certain resources for virtual learning and what do you think the solution is?
Terrebonne: This conversation is so important. I’m running with a focus on advocating for student equity because it’s so often overlooked. Equity can’t be an afterthought. Just this Spring and Summer, the district started sourcing laptops, trying to estimate how many they would need. The laptops were given out first come, first served. Since it wasn’t taken into account that we have 30,000+ students on free and reduced lunch, there were schools with a high percentage of students on free and reduced lunch where 79% still didn’t have a device weeks into the year. Even after the laptops were distributed, many students didn’t have wifi access and it didn’t seem as though there was an immediate plan. Now, we’re dispatching buses with wifi where needed but, many districts were doing this last Spring. Cobb does so many things right and has the reputation of excellence. We must make sure everyone in Cobb is included by removing barriers to access so that all of our children get to participate in the best Cobb has to offer.
How would you fix the gap in school resources between East and South Cobb schools? To elaborate, some students say that schools in certain parts of Cobb have outdated teaching equipment and some schools bathrooms’ don’t even have doors, whereas other schools in Cobb have recently received new buildings.
Terrebonne: All of these problems around resource allocation and funding are equity issues also. The School Board approves the $1.2B budget each year and that review is where many of these discussions need to be addressed, and one of the reasons your elected Board members are so important. Currently, our board won’t discuss issues of equity so these gaps across the county are only exacerbated with time. If board members are elected who priortize student and resource equity, these deficits can be addressed. People will always fund their priorities.
Some activist groups have been calling for removing police officers from schools. How do you feel about removing police officers from schools? If you do or don’t support it, why? If you do support removing officers, what is the alternative?
Terrebonne: There has been a lot of national attention around this subject recently. Looking at our district discipline data, we can see incongruencies among student groups and how similar infractions are handled differently at schools throughout Cobb. I see the disproportionate impact on students of color by the presence of officers in their hallways and through the officer’s involvement in student discipline. I would like to see an audit completed to study the impact of officers in our schools outlined by student groups, a thorough evaluation as it relates to student equity, and a historical analysis of past students’ interaction with police officers in schools and the impact, if any, it’s had on their life after high school. Through looking at this data, and evaluating what similar school districts are doing across the country, we will determine what is best for our students. Creating schools that are safe and inclusive for all of our students must be our priority. Regardless of how the data directs us to proceed in our relationship with our SRO’s, I firmly believe we need to commit more resources to school psychologists and professional counselors, with a focus on rolling out trauma-informed practices in all of our classrooms to best support our kids social- and emotional-wellbeing.
How do you think you differ best from your opponent besides the obvious political party difference?
Terrebonne: We have a completely different vision of and for Cobb County. I look around and see how beautifully diverse Cobb is and know it’s one of our strengths. Even with all the accolades Cobb has earned, I see our best days being ahead of us. My campaign is ‘future-focused’ because we’re preparing our kids for a future that has yet to be written; a future of inclusion, acceptance, and equality. I want to engage with our community and not only listen, but follow through with solutions. I’m a Mom with two elementary aged children, fully vested in the success of Cobb schools and the challenges of modern pandemic parenting. Policy decisions aren’t an isolated vote removed from my life. Our school is our community center and policy is interwoven into everything we do. I’m passionate about representation and with only one of seven seats held by a woman, I think we need the voice of another Mom at the table. I will bring my empathy, compassion, and energy to this position everyday.
In your primary this year, you received more votes in your primary than Wheeler did in his. On a larger scale, across Cobb County, more traditionally Republican seats are now beginning to be challenged, with Democrats receiving many votes in traditionally red places. What do you think has changed in your district and perhaps county-wide that has caused traditionally Republican seats to be more contested?
Terrebonne: The demographics of Cobb County are definitely shifting. Our schools have an excellent reputation and many young families are moving here for their children’s education. The parents, especially Moms, are seeing that our local leadership isn’t always reflective of a young, diverse Cobb. In recognizing the opportunities for growth in our leadership, many women are stepping up to run for office to create the more inclusive future they want for their community, family, and children.
What do you want voters to know most about you and your campaign?
Terrebonne: I bring with me experience from a career in logistics where I developed creative, time- and cost- effective strategies to fulfill the individual needs of each client, much like every child also learns their own, unique way. I’ll bring the fiscal responsibility of a Mom who appreciates that every dollar must be spent wisely. I have the compassion and empathy to truly see everyone in my Post, and the desire to amplify their voices on the Board. I’ll bring the energy, drive, and willingness to work that’s necessary to make a difference. I want voters to know that transparency, equity, and engagement are on the ballot. I’m future-focused, student-centered, and community-driven, and I need your vote to be your voice. Early voting ends Friday, October 30th and Election Day is Nov. 3rd. Your vote is your voice and I’m asking for your support!
Arielle Robinson is an undergrad at Kennesaw State University. She is the president of the university’s Society of Professional Journalists and an editor at the KSU Sentinel. She enjoys music, reading poetry and non-fiction books and collecting books and records.