Community Bends the Ear of Department of Education Representatives


Payton DiSario

Cowart and Cardoza listen to Romanelli’s requests as a teacher who really cares about his students. “There are students that suffer from mental illnesses. Do they have access to the resources they need? Or do we need to have a projector in every room?” Romanelli said.

Payton DiSario, Copy Editor

From tissues to textbooks, members of Henry County’s community gathered on April 29 to discuss their concerns with Lee Anne Cowart, elected Board of Education member for the Tenth Congressional District. The county chose Ola High School to host the hearing.

“Every year, we have fourteen congressional districts and each of the board members for them has to do an annual public hearing like this. Ms. Lee Anne chose [Henry County] because she was looking to get closer to Atlanta because she had done some other hearings closer to Augusta,” Matt Cardoza, Department of Education chief communication officer, said.

As the meeting began, Cowart informed everyone in attendance that, if they choose to speak, they would have three minutes to do so and that she could not answer any question at the time.

“We go back to the department and we turn these questions over to the specialists in that area and they formulate a response to the particular question and email that person back,” Cowart said.

If students would see that there are ways for their voices to be heard, I think they would realize how much more powerful they can be”

— Leah Wetzler

Even the representatives could not respond to the concerns immediately, multiple educators took their opportunity to bring pressing matters to attention. For example, how counties all across Georgia are spending their budgets concerned Marco Romanelli, geometry teacher.

“What I see us doing, which is not a negative thing, is improving schools’ technological resources, which is great. But, then what I see is some of the main resources being left behind… Every student here gets computers- great. We can’t get tissues,” Romanelli said.

Romanelli is not the only teacher who brought up resources. Katrina Pandya, biology teacher, made Cowart and Cardoza aware of the negative aspects of not having textbooks in the classroom.

“I had students look up what a ‘niche’ was and they thought it was something in a wall because that’s what Google told them… If they would’ve used a textbook, clearly they would’ve understood and not wasted that time of learning,” Pandya said.

Overall, the Department of Education representatives were pleased with how the hearing went.

“It was excellent. I’ve been to hearings where there were hardly anyone who shows up at all and even if they do they might not say anything but there were some really good questions, really good discussions,” Cardoza said.

Payton DiSario
Cowart introduces herself and welcomes everyone with encouraging words. In front of her podium, educators sat with numerous concerns that they had to calmly voice.

Although the state representatives found the hearing to be successful, how little of the public outside of those who are apart of the school system participated shocked many of the educators.

“We do have a chance to speak our minds on Twitter, versus other social media platforms, but when it comes down to the chance to actually be able to personally speak, how much do we really? Any kind of opportunity where you can share how you feel and you can educate yourself as a citizen should be taken,” Leah Wetzler, TOSA, said.

Along with the general public, no students attended. Wetzler believes that students should be essential to hold a hearing about their education.

“If students would see that there are ways for their voices to be heard, I think they would realize how much more powerful they can be. I think hearing from local and state leaders about what is going to impact them matters,” Wetzler said.

If they would’ve used a textbook, clearly they would’ve understood and not wasted that time of learning,”

— Katrina Pandya

Nonetheless, Cowart remains thrilled to hold each hearing so that she might gain a new perspective.

“When people come together to collaborate and communicate, great things can happen,” Cowart said.

Now, Cowart and Cardoza will take Henry County’s questions and concerns back with them to begin resolving them, which could take a long time.

“Really big things can take a half a year to get done while some things are as quick as telling someone, ‘Hey, we heard this concern’,” Cardoza said.

Even though the process can be harrowing, Cowart and Cardoza love what they do and continue trying to better education for everyone involved.

“There are those of us, every day, who try to bring truth to education and get to the bottom of what these various problems might be,” Cowart said.