SAVANNAH, GA (WTOC) -Savannah Chatham County School Board President Joe Buck isn’t a stranger to taking a new leadership role in the middle of a controversy. When he first took over as school board president 12 years ago, the district was just ending accreditation probation. The circumstances are different now, but he thinks the outcomes will be the same - an end to the AdvancED investigation and a board that works as a team.
Efficiency is something accreditation agency AdvancED said the previous board lacked and a reason Buck hoped to be elected as its new president.
"I was concerned about some things that appeared at least to be going on," he said. "I wanted to make certain the board was working well as an honest board that has integrity with each other and with the public. It just seemed like something had gone awry, and so for me, it was a means of trying to get back working with them."
When he clocked his first board meeting lasting about 63 minutes, he hoped it was a sign of things to come.
"The board members were high-fiving each other when the board meeting was over because it was the shortest in history I think," Buck said.
He and the board needed to create a communication protocol. He's already set an expectation to be a mediator for board members and thinks being elected to represent the county, not a specific district, sets him up to do so.
"That gives me some freedom on trying to work for peacemaking in the district itself," Buck said.
The other area for major improvement is what Buck calls the biggest difference between his first two terms and this one.
"Social media and the difference in visibility from last time is very evident," Buck said. "Everything we do is being broadcast even as we're doing it on social media, and you spend your life if you watch trying to defend something someone perceived that you said in a different way."
Board members signed off on a new policy stating they are always acting as elected officials when posting online, but Buck says he's not adjusted yet to the immediacy of social media.
"For me, it's an amazing experience. They hooked my phone up at the beginning of the board meeting Wednesday so that I could get emails from the district email, and by the end of the board meeting, I had 90 emails," he said laughing. "I wasn't really accustomed to that."
AdvancED also required board training to build trust and respect among the members. After individual meetings with each, Buck said that's already apparent.
“All talked about working together and learning to work together for the good of the children,” Buck said of the other board members. “You can’t ask for anything better than that. To have eight other people who feel that same way, even if you disagree, even if you have some bad times, you’re going to be able [to work it out]. I mean, if you’re starting from the same premise of working for all the children, then we’re going to work it out. I really believe that this board should be the best board in town in terms of the way it works. It seems to me that a board that represents 38,000 children should be the example for everyone else.”
Buck hopes AdvancED returns reports showing the district has made great progress by September or October. After that, he wants to focus on making schools safer and improving academic success at the turnaround and lower performing schools.