27-year-old Everton Blair talks Education, Locality and his Homecoming
27-year-old Everton Blair talks education, locality and his homecoming
Updated: August 22, 2019; 3:22 p.m.
Normally when you interview an elected official, you don’t conduct it in a tiny storage AC room of a community building. Most would even change their minds and cancel the interview–but not 27-year-old Everton Blair. He walked in with the demeanor and presence that echoed one of his own inspirations: former President Barack Obama. He smiled, ready to start.
Blair was 26 when he won the District 4 seat on the Gwinnett County Board of Education. In 2009, he graduated salutatorian and senior class president of his high school, moved on to Harvard for his Bachelor of Arts (applied mathematics) and Stanford for his master’s (policy, organizations and leadership). Blair’s passion for education began when he student-taught a section of AP calculus BC to his fellow peers at Shiloh High–which makes sense as to why he ran for a seat in his hometown’s board of education.
“That year of teaching sparked my passion [for] helping students learn from the front of the classroom, deepened my love for math, and allowed me to understand the complexity of teaching,” Blair said on his website.
Blair ran on the platform “to provide more opportunities to students through resource equity and making teachers a priority,” and he elaborates on his plans during our interview.
Inequality in education resource in Gwinnett County [or any county for that matter] is not immediately apparent, nor obvious to many because there is a formula that computes how much each county receives based on the number of students enrolled. To add, some counties may receive more of a particular kind of grant because the funding was allocated for a specific purpose (school food, Title I [students from a lower economic class], etc.).
However, and as Blair explains, it is during the distribution stage where the inequality manifests: After the county collects all its money from the state, federal government and local sources, it becomes the board of education’s job to redistribute what is collected. In distribution, a large portion of the funding (74.1% to be exact) goes to salaries and benefits–”and the teachers are, where they are,” Blair said. So when one takes a closer look as to where the money is actually going for each district, the unequal investments become clear as districts with more veteran teachers receive more.
Breakdown of Gwinnett County Board of Education budget for 2020.
Nicole Colon-Rivera | Avant-Youth
For Blair, “a lot of the conversation has revolved around money, and I’ve been really pressed to shift,” he snaps his fingers, “the conversation to what we’re doing with what we already have,” he said. Simply emphasizing the evaluation of everything they have, instead of just increasing costs, is the gist of Blair’s plans. “Doing low-cost or free things in any system” to help teachers is the crux of his sustainability mindset while enacting the vision he promised.
He also touches on what a board of education is, what a board member does, and why it is that people don’t pay attention despite their direct effect on people’s lives. Blair discusses the need to teach more career-prepping or societal skills, like how to practically exercise one’s voice as opposed to memorizing the constitution, as well as how he’d measure and standardize what to teach in the curriculum. “We silence students for essentially their whole life and then they go, and then we wonder why they don’t vote and aren’t actively engaged,” Blair said, “And it’s because they turn 18 and we didn’t prepare them.”
The precocious board member describes what it was like working for the Obama administration, noting he “was a little discouraged that the federal government’s really removed” from the day-to-day life of a student or teacher, learning quickly there’s not a whole lot one can do from a cubicle in the Department of Education. Nonetheless, he found the experience to be “incredibly enlightening because [he] got way more out of it than [he thought he would], definitely more than [he] was able to contribute as a 24-year-old” at the time.
As Blair succinctly suggests, 21st century problems maybe should be solved with at least one 21st century leader at the table.
“If anybody is gonna represent the now, and the people that we have in the system, it should be the people who are gonna live with the ramifications of these decisions, which [is] our generation,” said Blair.
Listen to the full deal here: