By Christopher Smith
He admits there were days he wanted to quit. But now Rodney Lock is confident in running for a second term on the Whitfield County Board of Education.
Lock is running for re-election against Jamie Johnson, a lieutenant with the Whitfield County Sheriff’s Office, for the District 2 seat on the board in the May 20 Republican primary. No Democrats qualified. The district covers Cohutta and the northeast part of the county.
“Lord, two years into my first term I would have resigned if I hadn’t taught my kids never to quit on anything,” Lock said. “I came in during a bad time.”
Lock said previous superintendents and school board members’ spending habits had hurt the system, but he believes most of those issues are being resolved with new leadership and better financial planning.
“I want to make sure that stuff gets rooted,” he said. “We’re heading in a good direction, but it’s a vulnerable system.”
Lock said the biggest change he pushed for was approving Judy Gilreath as superintendent after Danny Hayes resigned in March 2013. Lock said the board wasn’t going to renew Hayes’ contract because they wanted to take the system in another direction. Gilreath’s contract expires on June 30, but Lock says he’s likely going to vote for a renewal.
“We really can’t do any better than Judy,” Lock said.
He says Gilreath has put a focus on “frugal” spending. Gilreath cut ties to the Schlechty Center during her first week. The teacher training organization cost the system roughly $2 million over eight years. Most teaching training, Lock says, now happens in-house to save money.
“School expenses are coming in under budget, too,” Lock said. “Everyone is watching dollars and spending wisely.”
Lock pointed to recent College and Career Ready Performance Index (CCRPI) scores as a sign test scores are also improving under Gilreath. The CCRPI rates the success of schools on a scale of 0 to 100 by crunching data including test scores and graduation rates. Whitfield schools went from an average score of 66.7 in 2012 to 73.4 in the most recent report, which reflects 2013 data. The state average is 75.8. Lock believes the next CCRPI report will show more improvement.
“We’re also trying to find better ways to get money,” he added.
Last year, the system received roughly $3 to $4 million in grants, Lock said, which meant Gilreath and the board could return two days to the school calendar that had been cut during the recession.