The first-year board member, who represents East Cobb’s Post 6 (covering the and high school districts), opened by briefly discussing his thoughts on controversial topics such as the hiring of new superintendent Michael Hinojosa, the 2011-12 district budget process and the ongoing spirited debate regarding the board’s decision to return to a traditional calendar. Sweeney was one of the four board members to vote in February for of Aug. 15 for the upcoming school year.
A married father of two young boys, Sweeney said he heard a lot of people in the community complaining about this year’s balanced calendar and the frequency of weeklong breaks it had incorporated in it. He said some business officials told him they were having trouble offering vacation time to all the employees that sought time off during the school year. He said that they would prefer if the school district had more time off in the summer to alleviate the problem.
Sweeney also said that high school football coaches said ditching the balanced calendar was beneficial to them as well “because practices can’t start until Aug. 1.” This would keep players from being exposed to some of the area’s worst summer heat.
Sweeney, who is the school board vice chairman, also wanted to set the record straight on a belief that he was involved in the special interest group Georgians Need Summers, which proponents of the balanced calendar charge.
“My special interest is my two children and the children of Cobb County,” he said to the attentive crowd.
After noting that he would agree with the in going forward to not change the school calendar without 12 months notice, Sweeney then opened the floor to questions.
After a man who described himself as former neighbor of Sweeney’s asked about the quality of education Cobb County public school students were receiving, Sweeney said he wanted to cut down on the extensive testing Georgia students are currently required to do by state and federal education authorities.
“What can we do to help teachers teach because so much time is wasted administratively on testing,” said Sweeney, who graduated from UCLA in 1984 with a bachelor’s degree in economics.
Another community member asked Sweeney what he thought about the apparent contentious nature of the Cobb County School Board.
“I recognized this very early on and I have been very purposeful,” Sweeney said. “I do not attack other board members. I won’t do that. … I have been very critical of the board and communication because I don’t think the district has done enough to control its message. Yes, it’s contentious.”
Sweeney went on further to explain the importance of improving the district’s image in the media.
“It doesn’t need to be a slugfest in the media or in the blogs,” he said. “The bottom line, we have a great education system and that message needs to get out.”
He also reminded the crowd that despite the Cobb district being the 25th largest in the country and having a diverse and often transient student population, it has a lot to boast about. This includes having one of the nation’s top-ranked high schools in Walton, according to Newsweek magazine.
He illustrated the transient state of . Sweeney said that 80 percent of Brumby’s school population that begins the school year at the Powers Ferry Road school is not there when the school year ends in May. He also noted that 40-45 different languages are spoken by students there.
“The school is still able to achieve Adequate Yearly Progress (AYP) – that is remarkable,” said Sweeney, a financial consultant. “These are the challenges we face today. Cobb County is an urban school district. We have challenges of an urban school district.”
Sweeney closed the discussion by acknowledging the impact the district’s large number of volunteers has on each school and student He said some Cobb County schools have so many volunteers that they help at other nearby schools as well.
“The volunteerism in this community is incredible,” he said. “I would recommend you to do a volunteer effort and step out into these other communities as well."
Resident Lynn Rosenblatt, who moved to East Cobb County six months ago from Melbourne, Fla., said she heard a lot of the same concerns about education where she previously lived.
“I think a lot of school districts all over the country are teaching to testing because that’s a federal mandate,” Rosenblatt said in reference to AYP. “If they’re teaching to testing, then the subject matter is too narrow. They’re learning concrete things instead of more broad.”
Dave Hong, who has lived in Cobb County for 30 years and has two grown daughters who graduated from , came away from the discussion impressed with Sweeney.
“I thought it was very encouraging,” he said. “To me, it was a new image for the school board. We keep hearing about the faction and Scott belies that.”