Editor's note: This is the first of two candidate profiles for Bulloch County Board of Education District 6. Jimmy "Jay" Cook Jr. is featured today. Anshul Jain will be featured Friday.
Jimmy "Jay" Cook Jr. says he wants to serve on the Bulloch County Board of Education because he has a passion for community service and wants to bring a fresh perspective.
Cook is challenging incumbent member Anshul Jain for the District 6 seat. Like the other BOE seats up for election, it's nonpartisan and will be decided Tuesday.
"I feel like there's a great need for a new perspective and dedicated new leadership," Cook said. "I feel like it's my duty to make sure that every child that attends school in Bulloch County receives a quality education that prepares them to be a productive citizen."
Cook, 49, is a community banking specialist with BB&T. He completed two separate degree programs, one in finance and the other in accounting with a public and governmental emphasis, to earn his Bachelor of Business Administration from Georgia Southern University.
Originally from Pembroke, he has lived in Statesboro since 1982. He and his wife, Candice C. Cook, a registered nurse, have a son and daughter, fraternal twins.
While his children were at Sallie Zetterower Elementary School, Cook served four years on the school's Parent Council and was a member of the Parent-Teacher Organization board, including terms as its president, vice president and treasurer.
Now that the twins are at Langston Chapel Middle School, he has served two years on the LCMS Parent Council and is treasurer of the LCMS Band, as well as treasurer of the PTO, again.
"It is also my desire to run for school board because I have a passion to serve our community," Cook said.
He wanted to run in the last election but had too many other responsibilities, he said. So he waited until his term on some organizational boards expired.
Cook is a United Way of Southeast Georgia director and an active member of the Statesboro Kiwanis Club. He participates in American Cancer Society and American Heart Association drives. He previously served on the Statesboro-Bulloch Chamber of Commerce board and completed the Leadership Bulloch program.
The Cooks attend Compassion Christian Church, where he serves on the leadership committee and as an usher.
In Cook's view, making oneself accessible and serving as an advocate are the most important aspects of being a Board of Education member.
"I want to be an advocate to all the students, teachers and staff in the school system while working as a team with the other board members," he said.
Board members, he asserts, should attend as many academic, sports and other school-sponsored events in their districts as possible.
"I feel like we need to make a conscious effort to be at these events because that is where you get to see the parents and the guardians," he said. "That way you can find out their thoughts and concerns."
Asked what his top priority would be, Cook said the board needs to be focused on the achievement of all students in the district.
"Students with severe gaps need more than just a computerized program to help catch them up," he said. "That can be part of the program, but they also need direct instruction in small groups from our best teachers."
The high-school dropout rate, he said, must be addressed much earlier than the high school level.
"For some students, there isn't much hope of graduating when they enter high school," Cook said. "They know they are far behind, get frustrated and give up. We must start with early learning, reading skills."
Research, he notes, has shown that students who are not reading on grade level by third grade will be at high risk for dropping out. "But we can't stop there," he said, suggesting that interventions must continue from third grade to high school to give at-risk students a fighting chance of graduating.
The school board also needs to provide more resources, involving community partnerships, to help low-income students, he said.
"These students often do not have someone to be an advocate for them," Cook said. "Educators didn't cause this problem, but are left to deal with it. We need to mentor these students and help them see the opportunities that are available to them."
All Board of Education candidates were asked to share their thoughts on the Common Core State Standards. The Bulloch County Schools are completing their second year of implementing the standards, which guide what students should learn at each grade level.
"We should move forward and support the board and superintendent's decision to continue with the implementation of the Common Core State Standards," Cook said. "With that, we have the ability to customize the lesson plans to meet and stay in line with the values of our community. With this in mind, I think we should give it a chance."
All candidates were also asked what the priorities should be for financial resources now that the state is restoring funding, partially, toward prerecession levels and since the system has a sizeable fund balance.
"My thoughts are that we do away with the furlough days. Let's restore the teachers' working calendar," Cook said. "But it's important to have a healthy reserve so that when times get tough, the system will survive. I think we should hire more teachers, which would lower the student-teacher ratios, which enhances the quality of education."
As with the other school board candidates in this series, Cook received the questions in advance. Most candidates used notes, and he gave some prepared responses.
"With education comes power, so we need to empower our students and give them the best education that we can," Cook added.
Al Hackle may be reached at (912) 489-9454.