Booher determined to renew system's commitment for students

By Thomas Wilson
star staff

  Rita Bullock Booher knows today's students are tomorrow's leaders. She also realizes the notion is not merely a slogan, but a major responsibility of teachers and parents.
  "People are always saying that our children are our future," Booher said, "but our children are our present."
  Booher, 305 West I St., is seeking one of three at large seats to the Elizabethton Board of Education in the Nov. 2 city election.
  An active member of the East Side Elementary School PTA, she is currently a stay-at-home mom to daughters Abbey and Maggie, who attend East Side. Booher said the attitude and example set forth by board members resonated throughout the entire school system.
   "I believe the School Board sets the tone," said Booher, who is making her first run at public office. "We have to be on the same team, and teachers need to feel respected."
  Booher said having children in the school system has made her aware of the effect policies made by the School Board have on students, parents and the school system. She says her decision to run for the position was motivated by the desire to have a positive influence on the decisions that affect the future of children in the system.
  Booher was one of several East Side Elementary parents who lobbied the School Board at its September meeting about overcrowded kindergarten classrooms at East Side Elementary.
  "I am very familiar with East Side's needs," said Booher. "You try to meet as many needs as possible and hopefully, some of the wants."
  The Elizabethton City School system has had three superintendents, saw the entire upper echelon administrative staff depart, and underwent a public dispute between former superintendent Dr. Judy Blevins and high school principal Edwin Alexander. Booher felt the board could leave the past behind provided they kept focus on the system's job of educating children.
  "I think you have to personally leave yourself out of it," Booher said of board decisions. "You are expected to represent the people that you serve."
  Despite the internal difficulties of the past 18 months, the system also met all federal benchmarks set forth under the controversial No Child Left Behind for the 2003-2004 school year. Booher said the system's success lay in large part with teachers who had dedicated themselves to students and staying in a community they loved.
  "We have great teachers and for a lot of teachers it is just pure loyalty that keeps them here," she said.
  The board voted 3-2 changing existing policy to require all requests for professional leave by central office administrators to be approved by the full school board. Central office personnel are frequently required by the state to attend various seminars if they are involved in administering special education or curriculum programs.
  "I think accountability is very important," Booher said of the board's oversight for travel policy. "I don't think there is anything wrong with letting people know where they are."
  At their September meeting, school board members discussed altering the system's existing nepotism policy on hiring the family members of the superintendent or board members into the school system. The board tentatively scheduled a discussion of the policy at its Oct. 21 meeting.
  Booher said teachers she had talked to had no problems with the existing policy prohibiting board and administration family members from being hired with the system.
  "I think it is a safeguard," she said. "I know the teachers are comfortable with it now."
  Booher's professional life led her to work in the human resources department at Bank of Tennessee and Carter County Bank. She also served as executive director of the Main Street Elizabethton when the Mountain Harvest Festival was held several years ago. She said the experience of coordinating -- and being accountable to a board of citizens -- gave her a perspective for the public's expectations of people tasked with a community event.
  An Elizabethton native, Booher graduated from Elizabethton High School in 1983. She earned her bachelor's degree in social work from East Tennessee State University in 1988. She is married to Curtis Booher, who is associate minister of CrossRoads Christian Church in Gray.
  Booher said regardless of the election outcome, her contributions as a parent and advocate at East Side Elementary and the Board of Education's public meetings would remain as strong as ever.
  "It starts with the kids," Booher said. "Whether I'm elected or not, I'll be there."