She rules the schools
State school board chairwoman Wanda Barrs has made a lifelong commitment to education in Georgia
There is a quiet intensity to Wanda Barrs’ voice as she discusses the need for change in Georgia’s K-12 curriculum.
“Our standards clearly haven’t been what they needed to be,” she says. “We need to align them with those at the national and international levels.”
As chair of the state Board of Education, Barrs (BSHE ’74) has been actively pursuing that goal, spending the past six years working with her board colleagues and the Georgia Department of Education to develop, review and adopt the Georgia Performance Standards.
“We’ve had some hard discussions, but we’re sticking with the process of making sure that our standards measure up,” Barrs says. “We have a curriculum that is viable and rigorous and a workforce that is growing in its capacity to deliver high quality instruction. As long as systems have great teachers, leaders and parents, that’s the bottom line to success in our schools.”
Barrs understands the real world faced by Georgia’s teachers. The Cochran resident was a teacher for eight years, a school board member for 12 years, a mentor, a 4-H volunteer, and the mother of two students who attended public schools in Bleckley County. She was appointed to the state BOE by Gov. Sonny Perdue in January 2003, was elected chair by her fellow board members a month later and has served in that position ever since. Her board member term ends in 2013.
Barrs describes herself as having been an average student. “I wasn’t in the top one or two percent of my class,” she says. “I had to work hard.” But an inspiring teacher and the opportunity to tutor younger students spurred her to pursue a teaching degree.
“Ms. Layfield was a dynamic, energetic teacher,” Barrs says of her sixth-grade reading teacher. “She had so much energy, was so solid on content, and loved reading so much that she showed me how exciting it could be.”
In seventh grade, Barrs had the opportunity to tutor younger students.
“That’s when I knew I was going to teach,” she says. “I saw what a powerful experience it was to be able to teach.”
In 1989, after Barrs left her teaching career to work in the timber consulting and real estate business she owns with her husband, she ran for the Bleckley County Board of Education, was elected and served until she was appointed to the state BOE.
Barrs and her husband Earl (BSFR ’74) also have been active in Project Learning Tree for close to 20 years, teaching educators and youth leaders how to use the K-12 environmental curriculum. And, they have hosted more than 6,000 students on their Gully Branch tree farm for activities that highlight natural resources.
—Denise Horton is the director of communications for the College of Family and Consumer Sciences.