Joe Barnette has seen all aspects of education as a teacher, assistant principal and principal over three decades in Whitfield County Schools – and recently while working with education students at Lee University – and as a parent of four graduates of schools in the system, experiences he believes have prepared him for a spot on the Whitfield County Board of Education.
Barnette is one of three candidates – along with Amber McMahan, a nurse practitioner, and Greg Williams, who is in inventory control – in the Republican Party primary for the District 4 seat on the school board currently held by Republican Joseph Farmer, who is not seeking reelection. No Democrat qualified. School board elections are countywide. The term is for four years.
“As a teacher, parent and administrator, I know we need to remember how policies impact classrooms and school buildings,” said Barnette, who moved to Whitfield County in 1989 when he began teaching at Northwest Whitfield High School. “I also have relationships with so many schools and communities” from his decades as a teacher, administrator and parent.
As a school board member, Barnette would prioritize student learning, as well as stewardship and innovation for student opportunities, he said. School board “is a government body,” so good stewardship of tax dollars is important.
That’s one reason he’s such “a big cheerleader for ESPLOST (Education Special Purpose Local Option Sales Tax),” said Barnette, who spent 33 years in education. “What I’ve seen happen with projects (funded by) ESPLOST has been amazing and really transformative for schools and school communities.”
A SPLOST is a 1% sales tax on most goods sold in a county. School systems typically use their version to finance capital improvements – like renovating schools and building new ones – technology, safety and security improvements, and buses, but not operating expenses.
Though he retired from Whitfield County Schools full-time work four years ago, education has always been his “calling,” so he remained involved through his alma mater, Lee University, including supervising student teachers, he said. Doing so has allowed him to see other school systems and compare them with Whitfield County Schools
“We could do better supporting extracurricular programs,” from fine arts like drama to agriculture and FFA, which seeks to prepare members for leadership and careers in science, business and the technology of agriculture, said Barnette, who was assistant principal at North Whitfield Middle. School, then principal at Beaverdale Elementary School, New Hope Middle School and Valley Point Middle School. “I’ve seen that (support) in other systems, and those students feel valued, because those programs are valued.”
Recruiting, retaining and developing teachers is also crucial, particularly with a nationwide teacher shortage, said Barnette, who has a master’s, education specialist degree and leadership certificate from the University of Alabama. “How can we make Whitfield County Schools more attractive for young professionals?”
Voting on Tuesday, May 24, for the primary will be in the regular locations for elections in Whitfield County, with polls open from 7 am to 7 pm
There is also early voting through Friday, May 20, from 8 am to 5 pm weekdays in the county Board of Elections office, as well as today from 9 am to 5 pm, according to the Whitfield County Board of Elections and Registrar.