City council to address BOE seat Thursday

The Demopolis City Council is set to reconvene Thursday night with an awaiting agenda that is highlighted by an open seat on the Demopolis City Schools Board of Education.

The vacancy opened when Ronnie O’Neal’s first term expired and he informed the council that he would not accept a nomination for an ensuing five-year term.

When the council met April 1, it nominated six individuals for the vacancy and proceeded to leave the nomination process open while tabling the matter.

Councilman Charles Jones Jr. nominated Hunter Compton while Harris Nelson nominated Gary Brown and Lucy Chu. Mayor Mike Grayson nominated Lee Pritchett, Chuck Smith and Chris Stewart.

Barring further nominations, an appointment, or at the very least, a paring down of that list should take place at Thursday’s council meeting.

With the seat at forefront of the mind of many community members, The Watchman caught up with the six nominees in view of attaching personalities to a figuratively faceless list and highlighting the quality community members interested in serving on the local school system.

Lee Pritchett, employed by Robertson Banking Company, grew up in Thomaston. With two sons in Demopolis City Schools — Trey at U.S. Jones and Jack at Westside — he has a vested interest in making sure the school system provides the best educational opportunities for the city’s youth.

“The most important part of economic growth and for Demopolis to thrive is to have a strong school system,” Pritchett said.

Threats to public schools, such as charter or private schools, are out there, he continued, but if Demopolis continues to maintain a strong school system, those challenges will be minimized.

“I want to make (Demopolis schools) a system that everyone wants to attend,” he said.

Born in Demopolis, attorney Hunter Compton moved back to Marengo County three years ago with his wife Lisa and son Banks, a freshman at Demopolis High School. While living in Mobile, he served on the school board for St. Mary’s Catholic School.

“I want to try to make a difference in the community,” Compton said. “We live here. We’re invested in the community.”

While he believes Demopolis schools are good, “Everyone wants to see something better.” The city is strengthened when its residents “make sure our kids are getting an education, getting good jobs.”

He doesn’t play down the importance of athletics in that they promote school pride and pulls the community together.

Chris Stewart, who has previously served on the city’s Parks and Recreation Board, is a Process Control Engineer at Georgia Pacific’s Naheola Mill. He holds a degree in Electrical Engineering from Auburn University and has lived in Demopolis for some 26 years.

“Having two children products of Demopolis City School System, I’m aware of many of the challenges associated with educating our children. In addition, working in industry I see the importance of a strong education. The DCS sits at a crossroad as it prepares to add a Board member and Superintendent. The education of our children has never been as important as it is today,” Stewart said. “Serving as a mentor for DMS Robotics, I see the need to expand upon STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics) programs, Dual Enrollment, and Trade programs. I would hope that with my experience I could assist the board as they forge a path into the future.”

Lucy Chu holds bachelor’s degrees in finance and business administration and currently owns and operates LuLu’s in addition to owning and managing the Chu Clinic locations in Demopolis and Linden.

She has two sons in the Demopolis City Schools system and maintains close involvement and investment in the activities and opportunities.

Chu cites her desire to see Demopolis City Schools continue toward diverse educational offerings that include both top-notch Advanced Placement and standardized test prep courses in addition to a wide array of technical courses designed to prepare students for entering the workforce. That vision includes a strong variety of foreign language offerings and the inherent knowledge that the strength of the school system is paramount for economic development for the city.

“This would allow students of all tastes and interests to attend this school feeling a sense of comfort and motivation to represent it in the best way possible,” Chu said. “Demopolis and the surrounding area are represented by a varied population that covers a broad spectrum of students. I see a system that will offer everything a student could ever want or need regardless of backgrounds. In doing this, the students will return and bring with them their families and industries as the town expands into a city not only known for its underdog (football) championship in 2009, but for its unmatchable education and opportunity.”

Gary Brown is a graduate of Geneva County High School and holds a Bachelor of Chemical Engineering degree from Auburn University. He is currently a Company/Pulp, Utilities and Environmental Senior Engineer at RockTenn in Demopolis.
He has lived in Demopolis for more than 26 years and has two daughters in Demopolis City Schools – an 8th grader and a 10th grader. He is also vice president of the DHS Softball Booster Club.

Brown said hiring and retaining highly qualified administrators and teachers is one of the greatest opportunities facing the system in the coming years.

He added that his vision for the system is “improved education of all students by optimizing resources, focusing talent, adopting best practices, and pursuing appropriate system reforms.”

Brown said he would seek to ensure financial stability, academic performance, preparing students for college, and the health/safety of students if chosen for the Board of Education.

Chuck Smith declined to comment, indicating he would prefer to “let the council’s (selection) process work.”