published Monday, May 17th, 2010

15-year teacher runs for school board seat


by Kelli Gauthier
Audio clip

Gary Potter

School board candidate Gary Potter believes his years of working as a classroom teacher and in the private sector give him valuable experience that sets him apart from his opponents.

"I have experience in the school system, and I know how the budget works," he said. "I'm an advocate for children first and for schoolteachers. I feel like I can be a real asset."

Along with five other candidates, Mr. Potter, 64, is seeking the District 9 spot on the Hamilton County Board of Education. Current District 9 representative Chester Bankston is running for a seat on the County Commission. The district includes 11 schools in the Ooltewah area.

After retiring from Combustion Engineering after 32 years of service, Mr. Potter decided to try his hand at substitute teaching in Sequoyah High School's welding program. A position came open at Harrison Bay Technology Center -- now Hamilton County High School -- where he taught until transferring to East Ridge High School.

After retiring from his second career as a high school teacher, Mr. Potter began teaching metal fabrication and welding at Chattanooga State Community College. In total, he's spent about 15 years in the classroom, he said.

About the candidate

* Name: Gary Potter, 64

* Family: Son, David; three granddaughters

* Occupation: Metal fabrication and welding teacher at Chattanooga State Community College

While a Hamilton County teacher, Mr. Potter also served as a representative for the Hamilton County Education Association, participating in contract negotiations for six years. He said this experience also helps him understand where school system administrators are coming from.

"They only have 'X' amount of dollars to negotiate with," he said.

Mr. Potter said the school system and teachers' association should start looking at giving teachers more paid time to plan in their classrooms.

"I think a lot of the time, teachers are taken advantage of," he said.

The school system needs another school, in addition to Washington Alternative School, for students with discipline problems, he said. Stronger discipline programs and in-school suspensions also should be used more, he said.

And though he thinks Tennessee probably will benefit from its $500 million winnings from the federal Race to the Top competition, he'd like to see less involvement from the federal government in local education.

Jerry Webb, who worked with Mr. Potter at Harrison Bay Technology Center, said he is confidant that the candidate would work toward providing the best possible education for his grandchildren and others across the district.

"(Mr. Potter) is calm and listens to understand all sides of an issue. When there is a need to address a problem, he is not hesitant to participate in the solution," he said. "His blend of experiences will help him represent the taxpayers and other stakeholders in providing educational services to our children."

School board members are elected to four-year terms. The election is Aug. 5.

Follow Kelli Gauthier on Twitter at twitter.com/gauthierkelli

Continue reading by following these links to related stories:

Article: School leaders, residents focus on improving Orchard Knob Middle

Article: Letter questions candidate's job skills

Article: Low turnout, big prospects

about Kelli Gauthier...

Kelli Gauthier covers K-12 education in Hamilton County for the Times Free Press. She started at the paper as an intern in 2006, crisscrossing the region writing feature stories from Pikeville, Tenn., to Lafayette, Ga. She also covered crime and courts before taking over the education beat in 2007. A native of Frederick, Md., Kelli came south to attend Southern Adventist University in Collegedale, where she earned a bachelor’s degree in print journalism. Before newspapers, ...

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