Fifth-generation Caldwellian says parents must work on behalf of students now and for the future
LENOIR, N.C. — On her campaign literature for the Caldwell County School Board, including a billboard on U.S. 321 south of Granite Falls, Sarah Greer-Koenig seeks to distinguish herself through her slogan — “A Vote for the Parents of Caldwell County.”
It springs from her passion and active involvement in the educational lives of not only her children but all children in North Carolina, she explains, “It is an important battle because there is no parental representation of current Caldwell County System students on the board. I can’t see how a local School Board makes these big decisions without a parent representative as a school board member helping them. There are unique views from parents about what is going on in school.” She points to the importance of a current parent who is and whose children are living with and impacted by certain aspects of being in the Caldwell County School System, such as remote learning, youth mental health, and working through student Individualized Education Plans (IEPs) and the labyrinth of state and federal laws.
I can’t see how a local School Board makes these big decisions without a parent representative as a school board member helping them. There are unique views from parents about what is going on in school.” – Sarah Greer-Koenig
Greer-Koenig, 39, adds, “As a new candidate and one of the younger ones, I knew it would be an uphill battle for me. But a continued parental presence on the school board is essential. It’s good to have business people and former educators, but there has to be a parent there.” She is one of eight candidates vying for three seats on the seven-member board.
As a parent, she says her focus will be twofold — to advocate for students’ daily needs, and work to find ways to provide Caldwell County’s graduates with plenty of reasons to stay or return home after college. “I’ll do my best to represent the community based on the belief that all staff, students, and parents deserve and respond well to advocacy. I believe that it is our job to prepare our children to be able to function as well-prepared, moral, thoughtful citizens, and good neighbors in a free enterprise economy,” she says.
She continues, “The rapid transformation of Caldwell County’s economy in the past generation has created a tremendous concern to parents — that we will lose our children after graduation to places with more opportunities. This School Board must continue and improve our work with community stakeholders to develop a local, sustainable economy that will keep our children at home.”
There has already been at least one public attack piece in this race. Asked if she would pledge to run a campaign that does not attack other candidates, she says, “Yes. Yes I will pledge that! Absolutely and in fact, it’s very important to me to be able to show my own children the importance of running a clean and fair campaign and respect other candidates and the voters themselves. There is no need to go low. I always say that if everyone would come to the table to eat instead of to throw food, we’d all be happy and full. If you disagree, do it in a civil way. November 3 is the time to express your view. We can”t get caught up in personal attacks between the candidates and have to remember that our biggest stakeholders here are our children and those educators and staff in the school system.”
She asserts, “I don’t think there can be a better advocate and harder working school board member than a parent, especially me as a mother. I have dedicated my life to giving back and being a youth advocate.” The fifth generation Caldwellian is a Guardian ad Litem in the 25th Judicial District as a Trained Child Advocate. She is also highly involved in the North Carolina Parent-Teacher Association. She serves on the State Board of Directors, is Chair of the Children’s Advocacy Committee, Chair of the Special Education Committee, and previously served on the Governance Committee. She has served as a reviewer and a judge for selecting recipients of the North Carolina Department of Public Instruction Marvin R. Pittman Champions of Education Award Excellence.
She insists educators need an advocate as well. “Teachers,” observes Greer-Koenig, “definitely need the support of the School Board. That’s true at any time, but especially now as they, as well as parents and children, adapt to an entire paradigm shift on what school looks like and feels like. We absolutely must provide professional development opportunities for teachers and staff as they navigate the myriad of new platforms and applications required to do their jobs.” She cautions, though, “This cannot all be solved in one day, as we are all are aware, but we can do our best to support and care for our administrators, teachers, and support staff who are fighting the good fight each and every day.”
She says she could no longer wait to run for the School Board. “It’s time for my generation to step up and step forward, especially with the current climate. Those serving as children, family and parental advocates that have school-aged children certainly have a perspective that is of value to the public schools.” Yet, she asks rhetorically, “Who in their right mind would raise their hand to do this? The School Board the last few years has faced more insurmountable issues that I can remember and that’s with me living here all my life.” Still, she says, “I have a stake. I believe every child should have decisions made in their best interests, not on partisan politics.” Greer-Koenig adds, “It is so important that each voter looks at why a candidate is seeking office. I can’t speak for other candidates, but I have made my reasons clear — parental involvement is key to a highly functioning School Board.” She adds, “Voters should always expect a candidate for office to answer the fundamental question, ‘Why are you running?’”
She shares that she knows she has much to learn but observes, “Dedication is important. I will dedicate myself fulltime to the work on the School Board. I don’t get paid and wouldn’t want to for my advocacy work. I enjoy being a voice for others. I think we need to listen to each person in the community and listen to what they’re really telling you.”
The school system’s funding and budget woes over the past several years have become a campaign issue. However, the School Board can’t raise its own revenue. It’s dependent upon the state and county commission for funding. As a result, says Greer-Koenig, she knows the School Board is limited in what it can do to address funding disparities. Considering the contentious nature of the issue, she says that the School Board must do better at keeping the community informed. “Transparency is important, though some people aren’t fond of that word. We can’t be an island to ourselves as a School Board. We need to have input from stakeholders. Although the superintendent serves at the board’s pleasure, he was hired for the purpose of making these decisions. Sometimes, we have to look at things a lot closer, rather than go with the status quo. We need not always agree with him, but we have to look at every connection and resources we have. Children, educators and parents. Open communication is very, very important.”
She says the community also needs a School Board member that “ … believes in equity and fairness across the board. All working for the school system must be focused on every child first, but we must also acknowledge that every person in the school system is valuable. Support staff, associate staff, teachers, administrators and the School Board members must be recognized as equally important. No school is more important than any other, whether it’s K-8 or K-12 or Title I or not Title I.”
She returns repeatedly to her message of parental involvement on the School Board. “Child and youth advocacy is so near and dear to my heart as a mother. Nobody fights with a more determined fierceness for their own children than a parent. I not only hear them, I am them.”
© Michael M. Barrick, 2020