“When I was sworn in to the board appointment I made a commitment to our community and especially to the families and children in our schools that I will do my best to represent them fairly and to keep their best interests at heart in every decision I make,” she said. “I made that commitment two more times: once when I was sworn in after winning the special election in July and again at our swearing-in ceremony on Dec. 31. My commitment to our schools and our community has not wavered.”
Sullivan was appointed to the Post 5 seat in February 2012 following the January resignation of Larry Parker. Since then, Sullivan and the board have been the center of a controversy questioning the legality of her appointment.
The 52-year-old mother of four said it was her own experiences that helped shape her desire to pursue the Post 5 position.
“I ran because I believe in our public schools, our teachers and the families we serve. Our schools provide the greatest opportunity for us to identify talent, foster creative thinking and nurture new ideas. Those are the things that help communities grow and ultimately lead to a higher quality of life for all of us,” she said. “… I want to use my experience to help others in our community succeed.”
Sullivan grew up in Adairsville, where she still lives with her husband of 29 years, Robert, and their children. A graduate of Adairsville High School, Sullivan attended Mercer University on a combined athletic-academic scholarship. She received her bachelor’s from Mercer and holds a Master of Education from Vanderbilt University, having completed coursework toward a Ph.D. in education and human development from Vanderbilt.
Sullivan, an avid reader, said people might be surprised to know she also was involved in 4-H as a youth.
“… I was an avid 4-H’er from fifth grade through 12th grade,” she said. “I credit that program with teaching me how to speak in front of a group, handle a business meeting and many other useful life skills. I owe Robbie Causby and the late Walter Culverhouse an enormous thank you for all they did to encourage me. Everyone should be that fortunate.”
She would go on to work in journalism and public relations, and college teaching. In late 2012, Sullivan joined the board of the Bartow-Polk Fellowship of Christian Athletes.
Calling it “an exciting time to be a part of the school board,” Sullivan said education is undergoing a period of unequaled change.
“While that poses some challenges ahead, I believe it is our strengths that will help us come out of this period with stronger schools. We have already seen improvements in test scores and we can continue to make gains in graduation rates,” she said. “If we agree as a community that we will work together to support our schools, it is possible for us to have one of the best systems in the state. I believe there is a growing will in our county to make that happen.”
Among the biggest challenges facing education at the local and national level is “communicating the truly extraordinary things that our students and teachers continue to achieve,” Sullivan said.
“There’s a difference in extraordinary versus sensational. Sensational things tend often to be negative, and it’s easy, and maybe more exciting, to focus on that. But when that’s our sole focus, we get lazy about one of the most important discussions we can have: the education of our future leaders,” she said. “The result is that we miss opportunities to really discuss how extraordinary it is that schools bring together the diverse talents and skills of children from such varied backgrounds in our state and country, offer a free education to every child who wants it, regardless of his or her physical and social challenges, yet graduate some of the most talented individuals in the world. I think we always need to be concerned with how we do that in a better way.
“We do need to address the social challenges of violence and other threats to our children’s well-being, but we cannot allow those things to overwhelm our every discussion. Always discussing issues in a hysteria-infused perspective keeps us from making sound educational policy. I think we have to find a more rational approach to solving our challenges.”
For Sullivan the schools’ ties to the community are just part of what makes the system and county special.
“With more than 14,000 students, Bartow County is among the largest school systems in the state. Yet the schools each maintain strong community ties and identities. That shared interest in achievement between our business community, the higher learning community and our schools is unique,” she said. “That’s one reason we have experienced such success with the College and Career Academy.
“Over the past few months I have been impressed many times over by the way our community not only supports the schools in general but also specific programs like Backpack Buddies, Pink Out, March of Dimes and other activities. In turn, those programs teach our children that it’s important for the community to be a part of the schools and also that our children have an obligation to give back when they can. I believe that’s how we build strong schools and strong communities.”