JOHNS CREEK, Ga. – Johns Creek resident Sharyl Dawes has been a teacher, a businesswoman and a lifelong Republican. Now, she is a candidate for state school superintendent among a field of 15 office-seekers.
Although Dawes worked only six years as a high school teacher before going the corporate route and later owning her own business, she says she grew up a fourth-generation teacher.
“My grandparents were teachers, my mother was a teacher and my grandfather was a school superintendent. I would listen to their stories as a child. I guess you could say teaching was the family business,” Dawes said.
Many teachers go on to get graduate degrees, but Dawes decided on a master’s of business administration degree in marketing. It was 1980, and women were just beginning to make strides in the corporate world.
She worked for the Monsanto Corp. in a number of departments where she gained a reputation as a “turnaround specialist.”
She said she would be given one “dud” department, get its performance up, and then go to the next one and raise its performance up. She said she was a pioneer for women at Monsanto.
“I was the first female administrator in an office of 2,700 people in Alabama,” she said.
Later, she steered herself into public relations, where she felt she really belonged.
In 1981, she went to work for John Portman at the Apparel Mart.
“It was an international experience. This job prepared me to work for diverse school systems. I don’t mind making the tough decisions, and I don’t mind telling a room full of people who don’t want to hear what I have to say,” Dawes said.
She got married and had a family, but she was always active. She served as chairwoman of the Gwinnett Republican Party. Later after moving to Johns Creek, Dawes became active in the local PTA and with the Georgia PTA.
“I bring a skill set that includes education, lobbying, business experience as well as having had kids in school,” she said.
Unlike some of the other candidates in the crowded field, she said she isn’t out to make the state superintendent’s job a “stepping stone.”
If elected, she will begin with a “top to bottom” audit of the department. She said she believes in transparency and also wants to know “what she is dealing with.”
“A lot of the state school budget is already earmarked,” she said. “So you have to be a good money manager of areas such as Title I free lunch programs and special education.
“As superintendent, you have all the responsibility and none of the authority. That is the price of local control,” Dawes said.
Ultimately, the job is to work for the students. Organizationally, Dawes sees the job as a member of the governor’s cabinet. That doesn’t mean being a “yes man,” but it should be a team.
“And the governor is the governor,” Dawes said. “But as an administrator, my job is to enable teachers. I am results-oriented. I don’t want an ‘edu-crat’ in charge.”
Perhaps her most controversial position is to make Georgia schools “English only,” which means English as a second language (ESOL) students get a full immersion into mainstream classes as quickly as possible.
All tests will be in English under a Dawes administration. She says this not to be punitive, but to prepare all students for real-world experiences.
“Students won’t be self-sufficient if they are not fluent speakers,” she said. “This is tough love. You don’t do a student a favor by holding him or her back.”
Dawes recalled a student she had in an ESOL class. She talked to her and found the child could speak English fine, she was just shy.
Dawes also is no believer in “social promotions.” Making students fluent in English is perhaps the best single thing schools can do for them if they are to be competitive in American society.
SHARYL DAWES FILE
FAMILY: Husband Ted Dawes; two daughters
OCCUPATION: Businesswoman; six years as a high school teacher
EDUCATION: Purdue University, B.S. in Textile Chemistry 1970-74; New York University 1978-1980, M.B.A. in Marketing
POLITICAL EXPERIENCE: Former chairwoman of Gwinnett Republican Party; officer in Fulton Republican Party; 18 years as liaison in Georgia PTA