Candidate Q&A

George County School District

School Board Election 2022

Our public education questionnaire was offered to school board candidates in the November 8 school board elections. Search below for responses from board districts that have opposing candidates. Unopposed candidates are not included.

District 1

Matthew K. Smith



Tonya Beech


Jessie D. Ludgood


District 2

Maria Clanton

1.  What has been your involvement with the community and school district? Describe your leadership and volunteerism in the community. Did you or your children attend school in the district? Have you volunteered in or been employed by the school district?  I was born and raised in George County and loved being one of the ‘flag girls’ for Mr. Stringer’s morning and afternoon bus routes. While in high school, I was a member of the George County Golden Brigade Marching Band. I graduated George County High School in May 1985. My two children both attended Agricola Elementary, George County Middle and then graduated from George County High School.
I served the Lucedale Fine Arts Club for many years and during that time had the honor of serving as club president and co-chair for our local Distinguished Young Women program. I worship with my Journey Church family here in Lucedale.
I began my teaching career with the George County School District in 2001. I have served as a special education teacher and general education teacher for the George County School District in elementary, middle and high school levels. During my time with the George County School District, I also worked as a Positive Behavior Specialist, Director of Human Resources, Director of Alternative School and Director of Special Education.
In 2020, after much prayer, I resigned my position with the George County School District and accepted a position in Pascagoula-Gautier School District. I am currently teaching self-contained special education in Gautier.
2.  Why do you want to serve on your school board?  I want to work to make sure that CHILDREN ARE FIRST. If we make decisions that are based on the foundation of doing what is best for children then we’ll be making good decisions.
The School Board members oversee how the district is being run. I want to be a part of putting the right people in place to make sure that all children in George County have the best possible educational experience. I want to work, as a team, to ensure that there is transparency within our district. I do not believe that the people of George County are asking for every decision to be made public, but the people of George County want to know what is going on in our district. When it comes to big curriculum decisions, safety, and financial expenditures that are excessive, the community wants and deserves to know what is being considered before a vote is taken.
I want to work to ensure that the policies that are in place are the right policies for our district and not simply a ‘cookie cutter’ policy that is adopted from outside sources. Those policies need to be authentically reviewed and revised regularly. Those policies also need to be followed.
As a public school district, there are times that based on law, we have to implement policies that the people of George County do not agree with. We have to understand that because the majority of our district funding comes from state and federal sources, not following legal mandates would mean, among other consequences, withholding of said funding. Our district is dependent on state and federal funding sources. Transparency, again, is essential.
3.  Students from low-income households often need additional resources to achieve academic success. What should your school district do to ensure that all students are successful?  I would agree that children from low income households often need additional resources to achieve academic success, but actually most ALL children come to school with individual and specific needs. As a school board member, it would be my responsibility to make sure that funding that is being allocated to specific groups of children is being done so effectively and efficiently. Putting plans into place that not only identify specific needs of children but also oversee the procedures that are used, and especially important, having a system of accountability is crucial.
4.  What strategies would you support to create a safer school environment?  What can your school district do to address cyberbullying, mental health, and physical safety?  Each school is unique in its location, population, and accessibility. As it pertains to school safety, it’s important not to get complacent. Our district has recently taken a great step in addressing safety for our children by hiring additional school resource officers. Training and awareness are essential in relation to providing a safe learning environment. As an educator, I participate regularly in safety drills; however, one area of improvement that we can make in being prepared, is to conduct safety drills at times that are ‘inconvenient’ such as when children are at lunch, at recess, or changing classes. We also need to make sure that we consider safety measures for public events such as local football games.
When it comes to protecting our children from cyberbullying and other mental health concerns, we need to work closely with our technology team and our local mental health providers. We need to make sure that our school counselors and nurses have access to on-going quality training programs and are kept abreast of concerns on their campuses. Additionally, we need to make sure that our educators receive regular authentic training or guidance on addressing issues that may arise in their classrooms.
Bullying and harassment should NEVER be tolerated in any format toward children or adults. It is our duty and responsibility as a district to provide our students and staff with a safe learning environment.
Working with local law enforcement, we need to be aware of what is happening in our community in relation to drugs, crime and other matters that can roll over into the school setting.
Each school needs to have a safety team that is made up of administrators, educators, support staff, and law enforcement. For upper grades, it would also be beneficial to have student representation for parts of the team. This team needs to meet regularly to conduct a safety screening of their school environment and then make needed adjustments, as well as, report to the district office.
5.  What do you see as the most pressing infrastructure needs facing your district?  George County School District has a great maintenance staff who work diligently to complete work orders and make repairs to our buildings. They do a great job at addressing issues on a daily basis.
While I am excited that there is currently work being done for additional classrooms at Central Elementary, cafeteria renovations at Rocky Creek Elementary, and upgrades at Agricola Elementary’s gymnasium, there is still so much work to be done. Many schools still require garbage cans to collect water in the hallway when it rains, floors that are still ‘fragile’ in classrooms, moisture that continues to be an issue requiring dehumidifiers to be emptied multiple times during the day, restrooms that are not working and no restroom for students in the gymnasium of LC Hatcher. These are just a few of the concerns that employees and/or parents have recently notified me about.
I continue to hear that our community is growing, and one ongoing concern that the people of George County have asked of me is, “If we are growing, where will we put all of the children that comes with the growth?”
6.  Mississippi school districts are funded by a mix of federal, state, and local funds. The state contributes to local school districts through the Mississippi Adequate Education Program (MAEP). MAEP is intended to fund teacher salaries, retirement and benefits, transportation costs, facility maintenance and utilities, special education and other programs, but it is underfunded statewide this year by $279-million. What role will you play in advocating for full funding of MAEP for your district?  As an educator, I am a member of Mississippi Association of Educators (MAE). This group does a great job advocating for funding of education.
I also want to thank Dennis Debar and his colleagues who recently worked to pass the teacher pay raise for our state. I have had the privilege of talking with Mr. Debar on multiple occasions. He is always attentive to what educators have to express in regard to the frustrations, concerns and suggestions as it relates to education. If elected to serve as a school board member, I will continue to engage in conversations with our representatives to pursue full funding for our schools.

7.  Vouchers for private school tuition and online schools divert public funds away from public schools. Do you agree that tax dollars should be used for only public schools and not for non-public schools? Why or why not?  I believe that public funds should be used for public education.

If there is a UNIQUE circumstance where a district is UNABLE to meet the needs of a child (such as: safety or mental health), the district should then work closely with the family to ensure that information is provided regarding resources that are available for the child/family. 

Additionally, in a district where a student with disabilities cannot receive Free Appropriate Public Education (FAPE) in their Least Restrictive Environment (LRE), under IDEA the district is legally responsible for the financial obligation associated with the child’s educational placement. (Funds from public and private sources such as family insurance can also be used in funding resources that a child might require.)

It is my opinion that when a child is unable to receive FAPE in their home school, this should not be ‘a blank check’ for the parent to select a program that will put the district in an extreme hardship. The key is to provide the child with adequate services for the child to make progress.

Districts should make every effort to provide students with the resources and services needed to make progress in their home school.  If the district offers adequate services for the child but the parents opt for a private placement, the cost of the private placement is then the parent’s financial responsibility.

8. In Mississippi, academic standards are set by the Mississippi Department of Education and local districts choose curricula from an MDE approved list. Do you trust educators in your district to teach using their professional judgement and training or should teaching be further regulated by school board policy or law? If you believe teaching should be further regulated, how so?  I do believe that there is an increasing overstretch of what legal mandates say must be taught in our local school districts.
Therefore, I think, now more than ever, it is important for the school board to have conscientious and qualified individuals to monitor and oversee curriculum. This includes the purchasing of resources such as textbooks and online resources. There should be accountability at all levels – from the classroom to central office.

9. Mississippi is experiencing a severe teacher shortage. What strategies will you support to recruit and retain high quality educators?  I believe that our district needs to actively encourage and support district teacher assistants to complete the TA to Teacher programs that are available.

The district also has an amazing teacher academy program at the high school which is doing a great job of growing teachers; however, we need to do a better job at making sure that we are creating an environment that calls these young adults back home after obtaining their degrees. Salaries need to be looked at in comparison to neighboring districts.
The district is doing a nice job of honoring our employees with monthly recognition. We need to work with our local stakeholders to find additional ways to honor our educators on a regular basis.
As a school board, find ways to include educators in local decisions to honor the value of their input in the daily operations of our district. We should not simply enlist input from a small group of educators or district administrators, but seek to include genuine input from a wide range of experiences. Those in the ‘trenches’ have a unique perspective as it relates to education that is often underutilized. Let’s find ways to show that we genuinely value our staff.

David Pritchett


Margaret Tyrone


This website uses cookies to ensure you get the best experience on our website.