Frances Berry, a former board member of the Clarke County Board of Education, poses for a portrait before her swearing in ceremony at the H.T. Edwards Building in Athens, Georgia on Thursday, March 7, 2019. Berry was filling the vacant position after Vernon Payne stepped down in January. (Photo/Caroline Barnes, http://carolinembarnes.wixsite.com/photography)

Twelve hours after she was elected to the Clarke County Board of Education, Frances Berry was already on the job.

Berry was elected to the position at a Clarke-County School District board meeting on Feb. 21. The meeting ended around 9 p.m., and at 9 a.m. the next morning, Berry went with a couple of board members to tour special education classes in three CCSD schools.

Berry, a business manager at Southern Historical Association, now fills the vacant board seat for District 2, a position she will hold until December 2020.

The resignation of previous District 2 board member, Vernon Payne, was announced by the board on Jan. 10. Payne, who had served in the position since 1979, stopped attending board meetings while he was in office due to health issues.

Berry has lived in Athens since 2007. She has a 12-year-old son who attends school in the district. Berry said she loves Athens and has made it their home.

“It’s become a very important community to me over the last 11 years,” Berry said.

Berry is a manager for the Southern Historical Association, a small nonprofit organization for historians who study or live in the South. Berry said she runs the office and organizes the annual meeting.

“I’m feeling pretty sure that the experience that I have managing the budget of a nonprofit is going to help me with some of the budgeting that I think the board is involved in,” Berry said.

Berry said she considers herself a lifelong learner. Her educational background includes counseling, working with adolescents in her undergraduate and graduate schooling. Berry said her variety of experiences provide her with a number of viewpoints she can apply while on the board.

During the board meeting in which Berry was elected, the school board talked about the achievement gap. Berry said the achievement gap is a major point of interest for her and believes it's a systemic issue that America is currently facing.

“I know that my child, just because of his socioeconomic status, could very well have advantages that kids who don’t come from the same socioeconomic background has, and I think that’s really unfair,” Berry said.

Berry hopes that as a board, they will gain a great understanding of the reasons behind the achievement gap and develop solutions to solve the issue.

“I am voting for change because the status quo, those who have been in positions of political power for a long time just didn’t get the job done."

— Greg Davis, Board of Education member

In light of two other challengers, former mayoral candidate Harry Sims and Mary Bagby, Berry was elected to the seat by a 6-2 vote.

“I am voting for change because the status quo, those who have been in positions of political power for a long time, just didn’t get the job done,” CCSD District 1 representative Greg Davis said.

Tawana Mattox, District 9 representative, said she believes Berry is truly committed to young people, social justice and eradicating poverty.

“She doesn’t just talk it. She walks it, in all the volunteerism that she does in the community,” Mattox said.

Although a majority of the board members were in favor of Berry, a couple of members had doubt. Charles Worthy for District 6 and Linda Davis for District 3 voted against Berry.

Davis said she doesn’t support Berry’s nomination because she believes it is a problem to have people who don’t look like the majority of students in District 2 representing their interests.

“It’s one thing to have theories about how life is and what happens and what impacts children; it’s a whole ‘nother thing to live that world and to be a part of the world,” Linda Davis said.

At the Feb. 21 meeting, Berry said her top three goals in office would be to continue to address academic achievement of the social and emotional needs of the children and eliminating the achievement gap, as well as recruiting, supporting and retaining excellent teachers.

“What I really hope is at the end of two years, that I feel like I’ve been able to really make a difference,” Berry said.

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