A dozen candidates running for seats on the Greenville County School Board participated in a forum this past Monday at J L Mann High School.
Although school board races are officially non-partisan, the event was sponsored by the Greenville County Republican Women's Club.
Six of the board's total of twelve seats are up for reelection this year. They are the even-numbered districts – 18, 20, 22, 24, 26, and 28.
Incumbent Pat Sudduth of Area 18 is being challenged by Ann Marie Middleton, who was not in attendance. Area 20 is a two-man race between long-term incumbent Chuck Saylors and his opponent Tim Schuyler.
Area 22 also has two candidates – incumbent Lynda Leventis-Wells and Lura Godfrey. Gene Beckner and Anne Pressley are mixing it up in Area 24.
Voters in Area 26 will have three individuals from whom to choose – long-term incumbent Roger Meek, Amanda Brett, who was not in attendance, and Stephanie Leonard. Area 28 also offers three choices – Jeff Cochran, Brittany Hilbert and Steven Watterson.
The twelve candidates were each given two minutes for opening statements and a minute to respond to each of the four questions that were posed to them by the moderator, Dianne Mitchell, the president of the club.
As expected in any school board race, all of the candidates spoke in generalities expressing their support for teachers and wanting students to have the best education possible.
Several of the candidates have experience in the field of education. Several of them attended Greenville County Public Schools and now have children or grandchildren in the schools.
Two of the questions dealt specifically with teachers – how to solicit feedback from them and a two-part question asking why there is a teacher shortage and what is the cause of teacher burnout. Several of the panelists cited excessive state and federally-mandated paperwork and testing as a prime cause for their frustration, as well as all the extra time that they have to spend on such matters.
Some of the candidates, addressing the shortage of educators, touted partnerships between the school district and colleges and universities. Pressley said that such higher education pipelines are dwindling and that alternative certification should be pursued.
Cochran said that teachers should not be micromanaged and that teaching should be made fun again. Godfrey said that teachers need mental health support.
Several candidates said that the board needs to listen to teachers. Meek said that he visits schools in his area every month. Godfrey said that she would visit schools as well if she is elected.
“Teachers are our boots on the ground,” said Pressley, adding that teachers need to be involved in decision-making. Beckner said that the board needs to support teacher-led innovations. Schuyler said that schools need to get back to a basic core curriculum.
Hilbert said that in order to be competitive, pay must be increased in order to recruit new teachers. Starting pay for new teachers in the school district is $45,000 a year.
Mitchell, the moderator, said that a survey of teachers indicated that the biggest frustration is disrespectful, unruly, and unaccountable students.
Referring to former Virginia Governor Terry McAuliffe's infamous statement during last year's gubernatorial race that parents should not be involved in public education, Mitchell asked the candidates what role parents should play in their children's education.
All of the candidates expressed support for the idea of parents being involved in education. Sudduth said that parents should be able to speak their minds at school board meetings, perhaps in reference to such meetings in other states in which parents were lambasted for speaking up.
Schuyler was emphatic, saying, “Parents are much more important than teachers.” He said that parents should have full involvement and that they, not the schools, should make medical decisions for their children.
Godfrey said that parents should certainly speak up but that she has a lot of faith in what the teachers are doing in the classroom. “I trust that they (teachers and administrators) know what is best to make sure that our kids are learning the curriculum.” Beckner said that schools need to be more transparent.
“Parental involvement is absolutely critical,” said Pressley, adding that parents have a right to know the curriculum and that parents should be able to ask for alternative assignments if they find a particular assignment objectionable.
Cochran said that parents play a huge role in their children's education. He said that school boards should not keep secrets from the parents and that there should be transparency in the curriculum. Hilbert said that Greenville County does a good job involving parents and that parents need to get engaged.
Watterson, who lived in Japan for a time and had children in the schools there, said that not only parents but also grandparents are heavily involved in their children's education. By contrast, he lamented that parental involvement here is very low.
The final question dealt with a hot topic in education these days – gender identity. Several of the panelists said that parents, not schools, should be the ones who deal with their children about such a sensitive subject.
Some were more definitive in expressing their viewpoint. Schuyler said that gender identity should be taught as man is man and woman is woman. He said to just say 'No' to gender ID. Cochran said that teachers should not be burdened with personal pronouns.
Although no candidate out-and-out expressed explicit support for the faddish 'transgender' pronouns such as 'them' replacing the traditional pronouns 'he' and 'she,' especially in a conservative-leaning forum, a couple of candidates were more nebulous in how they responded. Godfrey said that the kids need to be “supported.” Hilbert said that all students need to be safe.
Each candidate was given one minute for closing statements. Schulyer said that transparency and accountability is needed on the school board and that he would not be afraid to “step on toes.”
Cochran, who said in his opening statement that he is a born-again Christian, said, in closing, that what is taught in schools will have a tremendous impact on society.
“It's important what we allow and what we don't allow,” he said, adding that children should not be part of a “left-wing social experiment.”