Editor’s note: This is the first of two profiles for Bulloch County Board of Education District 5. Vernon D. Littles is featured today. Glennera Martin will be featured Wednesday.
Bulloch County Board of Education member Vernon D. Littles says he wants to continue to represent District 5 “to be an eye and a voice” for parents, students, teachers and the rest of the community.
Littles has held the seat since May 2010, when he was appointed to complete the unexpired term of Dr. Charles Bonds, who had retired from the board. An election that November launched Littles on his current four-year term. This year, nonpartisan seats including those on the school board are being decided along with the May 20 primary, and Littles faces a challenge from Glennera Martin, also his challenger in 2010.
A Bulloch County native, Littles, 48, is the director of retail dining and special services in Georgia Southern University’s food service. He was a teacher at Langston Chapel Middle School for 4½ years, concluding in 2005, and before that had worked in local industry.
His educational attainments include a Master of Science from Nova Southeastern University, a general studies bachelor’s degree with an emphasis on history and technology from Georgia Southern, an associate degree from East Georgia College and a marketing management diploma from Swainsboro Technical College.
His wife, Sheryl, is a teacher at Mattie Lively Elementary School. They have two sons, one a fifth-grader at Mattie Lively, the other a ninth-grader at Statesboro High School.
Asked to name the Board of Education’s greatest accomplishment during his tenure, Littles said, “I think being responsive and receptive to parents, staff, students, the community at large, and encouraging an open dialogue so people can know.”
On issues from the Common Core State Standards and new evaluation procedures for teachers to everyday concerns, board members must work together and with the community in open dialogue, he said. Littles mentioned December’s controversy surrounding religious expression by teachers as an example.
“Probably one of the biggest challenges of the board is coming together, continuously communicating, being up-front and being open to the public, and I think there were some misconceptions, but I think we got through it and people understand our views,” he said. “So I think now we can move forward and people in the community know that we’ll listen and that we’re open-minded and we’re willing to communicate with them.”
Asked his top priority for the next term, Littles said that, with the many changes taking place in education, the board needs to look at rewarding educators and all school system employees.
“This could mean by giving raises to all employees, funding for ways to reduce class sizes through using technology programs and increasing assistant staff … more teachers in the classroom, administrative staff, whatever it takes,” Littles said. “We just need to be open-minded, again.”
Bulloch County Schools are now completing their second year of implementing the Common Core State Standards, which have been adopted by Georgia and a majority of the states. The standards remain the same this year as last, but the system has adjusted the way they are being put into practice, Littles noted.
“I’ve read many articles on this, about the Common Core, and I feel they best sum it up by, ‘It’s like building a plane while trying to fly it,’” he said. “I really feel we don’t need to hand down the tasks to be instructed by teachers and performed by students. In other words, teachers need to play a big role in this. … I feel like we should give them the flexibility to implement these standards to meet the needs of different students.”
After five years of austerity, including state funding reductions, furlough days that cut into employees’ earnings and ¬ jobs eliminated through attrition, the school system is beginning to benefit from a recovering economy. For next school year, the state has partially restored its funding toward previous levels, and the Bulloch County Schools maintain a sizeable fund balance.
All BOE candidates were asked what the priorities should be for these financial resources.
“As a board we’re working with the superintendent and other staff to make sure that we’re trying to compensate our employees for their efforts,” Littles said. “Let’s be real. We can never actually pay them for all they do, but as a board we’re diligently working to make sure we’re doing everything we possibly can to give them some incentive, give them some increase in pay.”
The board and staff, he said, are making “a starting effort” by eliminating furlough days in the fiscal year 2015 budget.
Littles also works with young people as a volunteer. He has coached in Parks and Recreation Department programs for more than 25 years.
More recently, Littles has become a leading organizer in local Amateur Athletic Union programs. Affiliated with the national AAU, he and 10 other Statesboro area parent volunteers organize activities involving more than 60 boys, ages 9-16.
They compete as seven basketball teams and take field trips, including attending an Atlanta Hawks game each of the past two years. They also do community service work with Relay for Life, Habitat for Humanity and Keep Bulloch Beautiful.
“We use athletics as a tool to actually build the whole person,” Littles said.
Al Hackle may be reached at (912) 489-9454.