DALTON, Ga. — Sam Sanders, who takes the Dalton Board of Education seat of Pablo Perez after defeating him in November's election, wants to keep the school system "moving in the right direction."
"We're all on the same page as a board, we have a really good superintendent, and I'm really excited to be part of the direction we're moving," said Sanders, an attorney with Dalton's McCamy Law Firm. "I hope we can continue our momentum."
Though there was "no doubt" in the mind of Sanders' daughter, Georgia Claire, that "I was going to win," election night was "more nerve-wracking than I imagined," Sanders said with a smile. Perez "was a gentleman, and there was no acrimony" in their race — "which I appreciated" — but there's still "self-imposed stress, because there's nothing like election night when your name is on the ballot."
Sanders is one of two new board members who will officially take their positions during tonight's meeting, along with Jody McClurg, who served six years as a trustee on the Dalton Education Foundation board. There will be a reception for McClurg and Sanders at 6 p.m. inside City Hall and the public is invited.
"Sam is good at getting things done, and he doesn't waste time," McClurg said. "He's also a husband of a teacher and has two children in the system, so I know he's invested in the long-term success of" the school system.
After graduating from Southeast Whitfield High School, Sanders completed his undergraduate degree at Harding University in Searcy, Arkansas, then attained his law degree from Tulane University in New Orleans, according to Dalton Public Schools. Sanders and his wife, Shauna, a longtime educator at Roan School who is now at Brookwood School, have two daughters who attend Brookwood, the aforementioned Georgia Claire, a fifth-grader, and Henley, a first-grader.
Indeed, his wife and children led Sanders to his initial involvement in the school system, first on the school council, then with the education foundation, and now on the school board, he said. After a term as vice president of the education foundation, Sanders was elected president last summer, and he'll have to officially resign that post as he becomes a member of the school board.
With the education foundation, "you meet a lot of people invested in the success of" Dalton Public Schools, as well as meet monthly with Superintendent Tim Scott to "get an in-depth look at how things work," and Sanders was continually impressed by the generosity of the community to the foundation, he said. "I learned what a giving community we have."
During the past few months, McClurg and Sanders "have attended every training we could," including conferences in Rome and Atlanta, and "I've tried to talk to every past school board member still living," Sanders said. That includes Steve Williams, a managing partner at McCamy, who previously served as school board chairman and who has been a "very beneficial" resource for Sanders.
Based on his training and conversations, Sanders has learned "you need to listen, number one," as a new school board member, as well as "understand our job is not to micromanage, which can be an easy trap to fall into," he said. School boards ought to "hire the best people, and let them do their jobs."
"Hiring the right folks" will be paramount as the school system reconfigures grades and opens a new building in roughly 18 months, Sanders said. "We've got to get the right people to run those schools and communicate to Dalton what those schools" offer.
In the fall of 2021, the current Dalton Middle School campus will become a junior high for grades eight and nine as well as a magnet high school for grades 10-12. Hammond Creek Middle School will open for grades six and seven, and Dalton High School will be a 10-12 school.
As the school system prepares to reconfigure grades in the fall of 2021, teachers will be asked to fill out their building preferences based on certifications this September, and staffing decisions will be made and announced in January-February of 2021, according to Scott. Teachers will be notified of new assignments prior to signing new contracts.
In March of 2021, all students in grades eight and up will be asked to select their 10-12 grade school, Scott said. Prior to that, there will be numerous informational meetings for students and families, as well as various social media postings.
"It's pretty simple," Sanders said. "We just have to make sure we communicate."
He also hopes transitions are as seamless as possible for students, including his own children, he said. "I want it to feel like a natural progression, and we'll be able to do that."