Leroy “Tre” Hutchins, who is running unopposed for Cobb County Board of Education Post 3, answered questions from the Courier about his plans and positions as an incoming school board member.
Hutchins will take the seat currently occupied by David Morgan.
Can you talk about your background? Who are you?
Hutchins: [I am] a 35 year resident of South Cobb County. Affectionately known as Tre, I graduated from Pebblebrook High School and the Cobb County Center for Excellence in the Performing Arts in the early 90s. I am a Father, Minister, Community Leader and Child Advocate.
What political issues are most important to you in this day and age regarding Cobb County schools?
Politically, as it relates to Cobb Schools, I would like to see the CCSD have legislative priorities that will assist with the long term sustainability of the District. Priorities that allow the District to have flexibility of how Ed-SPLOST is spent to meet the growing needs of the schools. I also would like to ensure we have a sustainable funding model, so reevaluating the impact of exemptions and other abatements that would affect funding should be reviewed.
Why did you and some of your colleagues write a statement condemning racism?
It was imperative the ball didn’t stop with the current BOE as it relates to the work of condemning systemic racism. While the current board was unable to reach an agreement, I wanted to ensure our diverse county recognized there were leaders who were willing to do the work.
What problems of systemic racism do you see in Cobb schools and how would you work to fix them?
Systemic racism is all around us in Cobb County and Cobb Schools. The inability to equitably support underperforming schools is a prime indicator of this. The disproportionate rate in which children of color are disciplined speaks directly to these systemic challenges. How and why schools are named within the CCSD further indicates there is room for improvement and growth in dismantling systemic racism and oppression. Our lack of diversity amongst our educators in certain schools in certain parts of our county is indicative to the need for improvement. It is proven statistically that children perform better academically with a diverse teaching staff. We have work to do. This is community work and it will take the guidance and support of the community to improve our school district in this area.
You’re the president of the South Cobb Council PTA and have served on different advisory boards. How has this experience prepared you to become a BOE member?
I am thankful for my experiences with the South Cobb Council PTA and various other boards because they have given me an up close and personal view of the challenges many of the schools in Post 3 and around the county face. The SCC PTA serves 28 schools in Mableton, Austell, Powder Springs and Marietta. Having worked with students, parent leaders and principals in these schools, I have a better understanding as to the culture and climate as well as areas of needed improvement. As a State Advisory Panel member for the Georgia Department of Education, Special Education, I learned first hand through data, how we can better support our students who receive special services. The knowledge I gain from these quarterly meetings is preparing me to be a better advocate and strong informed voice when time to ensure we have policies in place to support all students. For many years I have served on the Advisory Board for Communities in Schools, Cobb County Marietta. Through this work, we support our students by focusing on the whole child, their families and community to ensure they graduate high school. This work adds perspective on how we can best support students with wrap-around services. This body of experience has made me better prepared and knowledgeable on how to help meet the needs of our students.
Can you elaborate on what a “team survey” looks like from your website? Who will fill out the survey? What issues in the district will be assessed?
The Team Survey I reference on my website is an opportunity for the BOE to gather data from all team players that affect Cobb Schools. This is a survey sent to all stakeholders in Cobb County; students, parents, educators, legislators, seniors, civic organizations, non-profits, churches and faith-based organizations, county and city government officials, the business community, chamber of commerce and all other entities that support our quality of life in Cobb. I don’t believe in working in silos. Everything we do as a school district affects the quality of life of all residents and those traveling in and out of Cobb County. Having a “One Cobb” approach to planning and long term development will best sustain the great County we currently live in. So when the School districts mention our mission of One Team, with One Goal of Student Success, we will know that this is the work of everyone in Cobb County because we all play a part on this team. The survey should focus on how well we interact within the community so you can expect questions around school performance, culture and climate, funding sustainability, community development, partnerships, expectations and future planning needs, to name a few items for discussion.
On your website, you stress the importance of safe schools. What do adequate safety protocols, trained staff, proper SRO coverage, and reasonable class sizes look like?
School safety is paramount and carries a broad sweep of things. The physical buildings need to be safe and adequate. That is just a basic expectation but we also must have protocols in place to ensure safety for every child while in the building. Using tools such as Alert Point with fidelity should be a priority. Proper use of SROs should be evaluated to ensure we are meeting those expectations. Training for SROs and school staff is also a part of this conversation to include bias training. Reevaluating many of the strategic waivers we request as a District should be evaluated to ensure we are focusing on student achievement. A couple of those waivers in particular are classroom sizes and School Councils. I have witnessed classrooms with 40 students in them. Many of the students were sitting on the floor around the classroom because there weren’t enough desks for that many students. The class was in complete chaos and left the educator at an unfair advantage trying to educate that many students. I was appalled! Also, School Councils are an excellent way to ensure every school community have actively involved parent and community leaders supporting education. Any measures that would dilute the authenticity of what our legislators put in place to better our schools and community is disingenuous and counterproductive. School safety should also be reevaluated. Every school community is different and will have different needs. It’s time we start individualizing our approach to these matters to ensure we are supporting the community accordingly. We can do better!
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?
I am appreciative that the District makes a concerted effort to ensure data is at the basis of all decisions related to COVID 19. I am hopeful that we will continue to do that as schools are opening up. I am concerned about the lack of transparency in the data being collected. There are so many challenges currently that I am uncertain we have the best protocol or practices in place to ensure safety for all students and faculty. Having a COVID committee developed by the BOE to be apart of the planning, information gathering and decision making would have been an approach I would’ve asked of the BOE. This advisory body would’ve allowed everyone an opportunity to be heard and address concerns in a way that could ease many of the concerns I am hearing from Cobb stakeholders.
What issues of transparency are there in Cobb schools and how would you fix those issues?
I believe the conversations around transparency should begin with proper communication. How we communicate and what we communicate is so important. Exhausting all means to communicate should be the thought process, leaving no stone unturned to ensure everyone has all the information they need to make well-informed decisions for their household. This should be our communication philosophy: Have adequate opportunities for parents and stakeholders to be engaged; ask questions and feel apart of the solutions. Part of being a good leader is having the ability to share leadership and power. This philosophical approach to leading will help with concerns around the lack of transparency. If there is a lack of transparency, it’s difficult to be held accountable … that’s food for thought!
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?
The conversation around removing SRO’s from schools seems to have been a hot topic this summer and rightfully so as communities are grappling with social justice nationwide. I believe SRO’s have a place within the framework of education. I believe how we manage that construct is where we see differences. I have seen models of SRO’s, who really serve as School Resource Officers and not an added layer of policing on top of our city/ county police services. These Resource Officers serve as case managers within schools to support students/ families with tools to be successful academically. They assist with Restorative Justice practices and serve as a liaison between the students and the judicial system and other law enforcement agencies. A focus on school attendance and less truancy. Mentor students with behavioral challenges and become part of a positive school culture and climate. If no resources are being applied, then we need to change their names to campus police. I am not in favor of campus policing. The focus should always be student achievement.
Why have you decided to endorse DA Joyette Holmes, a Republican who has also faced recent criticism over her handling of the Cobb County Detention Center?
I endorsed DA Holmes because she has the experience necessary to make real change in that particular judicial office. DA Holmes has actively engaged the community with programming such as Project Restore 360 which is Cobb’s first ever restriction/ expungement program. When COVID hit, the DA office actively engaged the community by participating in community service events. This is the first I have ever seen community engagement from the DA office. Lastly, I have engaged DA Holmes in regards to a Junior DA program, similar to one in Fulton County where our middle and high school students can be actively engaged in our judicial system to bridge the gap of trust with those that have taken an oath to serve and protect our communities. I believe the handling of the Cobb Detention Center is complicated. Many of those issues predate DA Holmes being appointed to that office. Now she is left to clean up a mess. I am hopeful, she will help devise a plan, along with other agencies to ensure the issues surrounding our County jail is rectified. Assigning an outside agency to review the jail concerns is a step in the right direction. I don’t want to see the work compromised by insiders.
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?
It is imperative as the Governors of our County education system, we provide every student with the tools they need to be successful academically. This is why we currently spend money on books, technology and programming so students can maximize this experience. I fully agree with Board Member Davis. Now is the time for us to reimagine and reprioritize how we educate children in Cobb. This pandemic has shown me many things in regards to our blind spots in meeting the educational needs of students. Now is the time to take what we have learned and apply it to a more prosperous way forward. I find it unacceptable that all students did not have the tools necessary to start school. This is an area of improvement for the district which will involve better planning and reallocation of resources. I believe, being a one to one technology school district should be a focus moving forward.
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 school bathrooms don’t have doors, whereas other schools in Cobb have recently received new buildings.
I hear about these disparities and often times see them first hand. Many of these concerns are a reality because of poor planning and not prioritizing needs properly. Recently, Cobb’s [Board of Commissioners] asked the district, how does a high school (Pebblebrook HS) become grossly overcrowded to the tune of 500-700 students over capacity? We all know this doesn’t happen overnight. As a parent who had children learning in this environment, recognize we have work to do to minimize these issue. Prioritizing how SPLOST dollars are spent is one example in how to achieve this. A policy should be drafted to ensure this happens. Gwinnett County Schools has a similar policy I would like for the Cobb BOE to peruse to ensure we are meeting the needs of Cobb County and the School District. The voters will continue to support Ed-SPLOST when we adequately present a plan that is equitable and ultimately sustainable. Many have suggested looking at Cobb Schools Foundation and the other School Foundations and Endowments that Cobb currently has. A thorough evaluation of these resources should allow us an opportunity to determine how we can better support those schools that currently do not have Foundations or Endowments.
What do you want voters to know most about you and your campaign?
I want to assure the residents of Cobb County that my only agenda is doing what is right for all students in Cobb. I am student-focused and every decision I make will be for the betterment of Cobb County Schools. I also have an obligation to Post 3 to ensure we have high performing schools, programming and facilities. I will work to ensure that is a priority for our District Leadership team. My desire is to close the current academic gaps in Post 3 schools. I am aware these gaps are widening because of COVID therefore, it is imperative we began focusing on an educational recovery plan. As the community liaison to the School District, we will work together to ensure we model the mission of One Team, One Goal of Student Success!
Arielle Robinson is a student at Kennesaw State University. She also freelances for the Atlanta-Journal Constitution and is the former president of KSU’s chapter of the Society of Professional Journalists as well as a former CNN intern. She enjoys music, reading, and live shows.