RINCON — Effingham County Board of Education Vice Chairman Troy Alford believes that team chemistry is a major reason that the Effingham County School District is a perennial winner.
“We are not individual board members,” said Alford, who is seeking his fifth opportunity to hold the board’s District 2 seat. “I think the description I would use is ‘a complete team.’”
Alford said that all the board members — including Chairman Lamar Allen, Lynn Anderson, Ben Johnson and Vickie Decker — communicate well and are united in purpose.
“Here’s what I love about these board members,” Alford said. “When we are done in the board room and executive session is done for the night, regardless of the votes that we had to provide, we have good friendships together. We don’t hang out together but we know that the people put us in these elected positions together and we work together as a team.”
Differences that arise don’t create permanent schisms, Alford said.
“For the most part, we try to be on the same page and agree to agree,” he said. “It doesn’t always work out that way but at the end of the evening when we go home we can rest assured that we have cast our votes for the kids of this county.
“That means a whole lot.”
In each of the past two years, the Effingham County Board of Education was a finalist for the Georgia School Boards Association Governance Team of the Year Award. Graduation rates and test scores figure in the competition.
“I know we are not going to satisfy everybody but I am so proud to be part of the board of education and an Effingham County resident,” Alford said. “People move here for our school system. I hear that all time.
“Without good leadership and a team like we have on the board, it won’t happen. You’ve got to work together for the betterment of the kids.”
According to Alford, the board has a good mix of members. He and Allen, the chairman, are the most of experienced, having served since 2004. Decker joined in 2008 and Anderson and Johnson are in their first terms.
Alford is proud of the improvements in student achievement since he won his first term. He has been vice chairman since 2006.
“I’ve seen some dramatic changes,” he said.
The district’s graduation rate has increased from 77.1 percent to 90.5 percent.
“Let me tell you a statistic that really attracted me,” Alford said. “The students-with-disabilities subgroup (graduation rate) in 2005-06 jumped was 29.7 percent. In 2018-19, it was up to 77.2 percent.
“I get emotional sometimes when I talk about it.”
Alford credited Superintendent Dr. Randy Shearouse, Superintendent-elect Dr. Yancy Ford and teachers for the increase. He called them “dynamic leaders.”
“We have the best set of people to take care of our children with disabilities that I have ever witnessed in my life,” he said.
Alford said the board appreciates its teachers and works diligently to support them. It starts each school year by spending a day cooking a meal for new teachers.
“We like to be involved,” he said. “We love cooking for our new teachers. We are blessed to be a team that can do that.
“We love to fellowship with our newcomers who are coming in to help educate our children. That’s pretty special.”
Alford said the district’s greatest challenge is accommodating enrollment growth. It currently has approximately 12,300 students, up from 10,800 when he was initially elected.
The board is currently search for land to build an elementary school in the next three years. Another middle school is needed in the next five years.
“There is work to be done and there always will be but I feel the best I have about the system in my 15 years (on the board),” Alford said.
Alford applauded Effingham College & Career Academy.
“It’s been a big asset with the STEM program,” he said. “I feel like it is giving our kids a better pathway to life. I feel strongly that we’ve come a long way with that.”
School safety in the district has been greatly enhanced by altering the entrances to several schools. Several resource officers have been added, too.
“Yes, we want our kids to be educated but — first things first — we want to keep them all safe,” he said.
Alford said a long-term district goal is to build an auditorium — possibly in conjunction with the Effingham County Board of Commissioners — that could be used for band concerts and other events. He thinks such a building would enhance educational opportunities for children and the quality of life for other residents.