December 10, 2013

‘Something all of us are proud of’

Williams, Orr reflect on service with school board

How do you convince a small town lawyer to join a school board when he refuses at first after being asked by several friends?

Through his mother.

At least that was the case for outgoing Dalton Board of Education member Steve Williams, a local attorney with the McCamy Law Firm who was first elected to the city school board in 2002.

“When was the last time you told your mother no?” Williams joked. “She called up one day and she told me, ‘You come from a long line of educators, you come from a long line of people who believe in public education. And I know you’ll do a good job.’”

The convincing worked. Now Williams, along with outgoing board member Mark Orr, is preparing to leave the board. Williams and Orr were recognized Monday night at City Hall during a ceremony at their last scheduled school board meeting.

Both opted out of running for another term this year. Williams, who served for 12 years, will be replaced in January by Sherwood Jones III, while Orr, who served for 16 years, will be replaced by Steve Laird. Jones and Laird begin their terms at the first of the new year.

For Williams, the meeting was a time to reflect on his past and his mother’s influence on his decision to run for elected office.

“My mother’s gone, she’s been gone for a few years now,” he said. “But I think she’s in this room tonight.”

Orr said his final few weeks as a board member have him “reminiscing” on past decisions. Superintendent Jim Hawkins said Orr was always an “advocate” for building better schools.

Orr was on the board during construction of Dalton Middle School, Park Creek Elementary School, Blue Ridge Elementary School and Morris Innovative High School and also during major renovations to City Park Elementary School, Brookwood Elementary School and Roan Elementary School.

Of course, Orr said, big decisions like that brought “many conversations and much debate.”

One accomplishment Orr said he is proud of was preserving arts-focused classes like theater and dance in tough economic times.

“With all these budget issues we’ve had over the last several years, a lot of school districts — well, those classes are the first thing they cut,” he said. “It’s easy. But we decided as a board there was a lot of value in (the arts).”

Williams was remembered by several for advocating a more diverse school system, including pushing for international baccalaureate classes now taught at Dalton High School.

“Dalton Public Schools, for generations, for decades was thought of as almost a private school system in a public school system setting,” Williams said. “This community was so proud of this system and still is. But a lot changed in the 1990s.”

For at least the last 20 years student enrollment and poverty rose “drastically” in the area and the school system became more racially diverse, Williams said. A good thing, he noted.

“To think about what this school system has done during that transition is truly amazing,” he said. “Every child, whether he is rich or poor, is given every opportunity to do what he or she wants and that is something all of us are proud of.”

Williams said the school system was right to embrace diversity even if it meant big changes.

“Over the years, I think we’ve all heard it, you talk about Dalton Public Schools in the last 15 or 20 years, you hear, ‘Well, you know there’s a lot of different kids there now. Oh, the diversity. I don’t know.’

“In the course of the next 50 years, are our kids going to work any more or any less with international communities? The answer is obvious. And when is it we think they ought to learn how to do that? When they’re 40 or when they’re in school? (Diversity) is a tremendous asset. We are an international school system and I’m proud of it.”

Orr agreed, adding that he “thoroughly enjoyed my time on the board.”

“I won’t say for every single meeting or every issue we’ve had to debate,” he said. “But I just hope that people look back in a few years and say, ‘You know, that board did pretty good for our community and our schools.’”

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