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Q&A: Aiken County School Board members share goals for 2019

January 4, 2019

Editor’s note: This article is the fourth in the Aiken Standard’s four-part series highlighting goals for local government councils in Aiken County. Aiken City Council was featured Jan. 1, Aiken County Council was featured Jan. 2, North Augusta City Council was featured Jan. 3, and the Aiken County Board of Education is featured Jan. 4.

Discipline, school safety and teacher retention are among the goals for Aiken County School Board members for 2019.

Sandra Shealey, District 1

What are your top three goals for School Board for 2019?

It is a pleasure to serve as a board member of the Aiken County Public School District. I’m honored to represent the Wagener-Salley and Ridge Spring-Monetta areas.

Our goal is to keep working and striving to make Aiken County Public Schools the premier school district in South Carolina.

I want to see us expand our efforts to recruit and retain the best teachers, not only in the state, but the nation.

In addition, I want to see us continue to build new facilities, update existing facilities when needed and provide the best technology for our students and faculty. This will ensure that every child, regardless of the area, will be given the best opportunity to succeed.

I would also like to see us expand course offerings for our students district-wide so they will be college and workforce ready in this competitive society.

I encourage residents of Aiken County to be active and supportive in our schools. It truly takes a village to raise a child. When we work together, we can accomplish great things for our students.

For me, it is exciting to see the new additions at Ridge Spring-Monetta and throughout our district.

I’m looking forward to working with the board this year to help make Aiken County Public Schools the best and safest in the nation.

I’m looking forward to this new year and the opportunities and possibilities ahead.

Jason Crane, District 2

What are your top three goals for School Board for 2019?

My top three goals for the School Board in 2019 are simply what I campaigned to do: continue to increase security and safety on our campuses, ensure we are keeping the best interests of our students and educators as the chief priority when we begin planning next year’s budget and support our educators by focusing on a consistent and enforced approach to our discipline policy.

What is one issue you would like to see addressed in 2019?

Our board just voted to install cameras at all of our elementary schools, a step that will help bring a level of security our constituents and educators have sought.

Beyond that security, I would like to see the board directly address teacher morale. With the Retention and Recruitment Committee already working hard on bringing ideas to us directly from our educators, I am excited about the prospect of working toward ensuring the district’s educators are supported in every way so that we become the premier school district not only for our students’ educational experience but also so that we are the district where all teachers in our region are excited to go to work.

What issue do you think your constituents will be most concerned about in 2019?

My constituents were clear with me that they want to see the discipline problems addressed directly, and that has not changed.

I plan to work with the board and administration to continue working on being as transparent as possible in the discipline policy process, and working to ensure our classrooms are in an environment that is both safe and in which learning is fostered.

Brian Silas, District 3

What are your top three goals for School Board for 2019?

Renewed emphasis on applying strict code of conduct enforcement in the classroom without regard for statistics.

We must recognize the importance of teaching our students respect for authority as part of the educational process if we truly aim to prepare our students to be productive members of society.

A district-led survey sent to teachers at the end of the last school year clearly indicates by an overwhelming majority they believe the new discipline code is not working. They agree most school disturbances are caused by a small number of students.

We have an obligation to our students, parents and teachers to deal firmly with those few students, removing them from the general population when behavior correction attempts are unsuccessful.

Ensure our students are allowed the full benefit of our educators’ abilities by removing all unnecessary requirements that take away valuable instructional time. We must review district-mandated requirements and remove the non-value-added items and assist them where needed with help from the district.

Place a priority on retaining our teachers. We do a very good job of telling our teachers how much we value them and how important their job is to the success of our schools, but I do not believe our actions always support the words. We need to show them by giving them and our principals the support they need from the district.

What is one issue you would like to see addressed in 2019?

The one issue I would like to see addressed in 2019 has to be to calibrate our discipline compass and the importance of maintaining control of our classrooms and schools.

I believe if we make this our No. 1 priority in 2019, it will go a long way in improving teacher effectiveness and student performance, teacher morale and, undoubtedly, help keep our teachers from retiring before they would like to and keep young teachers from leaving our district or the profession altogether.

What issue do you think your constituents will be most concerned about in 2019?

At the risk of sounding like a broken record, the public has lost all confidence in our school board to ensure accountability at all levels for the performance of our schools.

While there are a number of new programs and initiatives implemented over the last few years that are very exciting, almost every person I have talked to during the campaign believes the foundation is crumbling. While I know it may not be as bad as it seems, perception is reality.

Over the last few years, there has been a definite shift away from holding our students accountable for their behavior, and it has had a tremendous negative effect in all of our schools. We seem to be more concerned with suspension and expulsion statistics than we are about learning.

Keith Liner, board chairman, District 4

What are your top three goals for School Board for 2019?

After school safety, first and foremost, continue the district’s focus on student achievement, which enables our students to be productive citizens upon graduation. In particular, I would like to see emphasis and improvement on achievement of the lower 20 percent of our students as defined by the South Carolina School Report Card.

Continue efforts on teacher recruitment, in particular, expanding our recruitment efforts at local colleges and universities. I believe that our local colleges and universities are a valuable resource for our staffing needs.

Continue construction efforts on the district’s 1 percent capital projects and commence construction on the capital projects within the 2018 bond referendum. The district’s construction efforts continue to show our community that we are good stewards of taxpayer money, while providing world-class facilities for our students and communities.

What is one issue you would like to see addressed in 2019?

Continue efforts directed towards teacher retention.

This may be the single most important issue in my opinion. In particular, the first phase that will involve completing a Job and Task Analysis of the teacher position.

I look forward to the analysis of the results, which may identify problematic teacher workload areas.

This initiative aligns with the South Carolina Teacher Bill of Rights legislation that was pre-filed in December 2018. Once these areas are identified, a corrective action plan can be developed for implementation in our schools.

In addition, I look forward to this effort being expanded to include our administrators.

What issue do you think your constituents will be most concerned about in 2019?

I believe our community is most concerned about school safety.

We all want our students, teachers and staff to feel safe in the school environment. We, as a community, owe it to these hard-working people to provide such a place.

The district continues its efforts on providing a safe learning environment by continuous review and enforcement of our discipline policy and capital improvements with emphasis on safety in our schools.

Some of the safety improvements approved in December 2018 include installation of cameras at all of our elementary schools – all middle and high schools have cameras already – and physical safety upgrades at some of our schools.

Barry Moulton, District 5

What are your top three goals for School Board for 2019?

Increase teacher instructional time with students by greatly reducing the standardized test requirements, especially discretionary district testing, and by allowing teachers to have no less than one uninterrupted planning period per day. Use of the planning periods for parent or administrative actions should be at the complete discretion of the teachers, not administrators.

Correct the disciplinary issues that have been increasing in an alarming fashion over the last six to eight years. Teachers must be in full control of their classrooms … period. Disrespectful students who do not respond to teacher disciplinary actions must be removed immediately in order for the remaining students to receive the necessary instructional time. This can be done if existing policies are followed strictly and consistently. Bottom line: teachers should have the final say regarding who is allowed to remain in their classrooms.

In the area of school safety, the current intruder (active shooter) drills and procedures need to be changed. The idea of having teachers take their students into classrooms, closets or restrooms is a pathetic response to an active shooter inside a school.

We need to provide door latches as developed from other school shootings and provide armed resource officers or highly trained and screened staff to carry firearms in order to defend and protect our innocent students, teachers and staff from an active shooter.

We also need to consider allowing teachers and staff to carry concealed weapons upon completion of the required state and federal training classes and completion of psychiatric screening.

I also recommend changing the drill procedures. These drill procedures, having students huddle in masses awaiting their possible execution, is having a tremendously negative psychological impact on many students.

What is one issue you would like to see addressed in 2019?

The one issue I would most like to see the board address in 2019 is to increase teacher instructional time with students by greatly reducing the standardized test requirements, as stated above.

What issue do you think your constituents will be most concerned about in 2019?

I unequivocally believe the most important issue for my constituents during 2019 is a combination of items correcting disciplinary issues and changing and improving school safety procedures, as I stated above.

Dwight Smith, board vice chairman, District 6

What are your top three goals for School Board for 2019?

To continue to grow, learn and get more familiar with all of the school district’s new programs and policies that have been introduced since I was on the board before.

To work with the other board members to create an environment in which our teachers and employees feel safe and our students know that they are safe, as well, and to put as much control over of what happens in school buildings back in the principals’ hands

To make sure that the facilities in our county – and for me personally at the new Graniteville Elementary and construction at Midland Valley High School in Area 3 – meet the needs of our students and teachers.

What is one issue you would like to see addressed in 2019?

Teacher retention and morale. I would say No. 1 is teacher and employee morale. I would love to see our teachers and employees get a raise if it is possible. I would like to see our State Legislature vote and approve the recommendation to bring our teachers’ salaries back to the Southeastern average. We as a board can contact our representatives in the State Legislature and let them know that is a priority.

Finally, I would like to see the State Legislature enact laws that would allow our retired teachers to come back to work after retirement in South Carolina and not be penalized. That might be my No. 1. We need good teachers, but the state penalizes them when they retire from the system. A person should be able to retire after 30 years, in my opinion, but if they feel like they can still make a different, then allow them to come back into the classroom. We have some very good teachers who would love to come back to work.

What is one issue you would like to see addressed in 2019?

I would say the majority of my constituents – and the board members – are interested in ensuring that our schools are run safely for our teachers and our students, and the discipline code is adhered to as it is expected to be adhered to, and I’m not sure that’s happening right now.

Rosemary English, District 7

Q&A responses for this article were not received by deadline.

Tad Barber, District 8

What are your top three goals for School Board for 2019?

Continue to work on teacher retention in order to reduce the need to recruit new teachers to replace those who have chosen to leave the teaching profession.

While this is not a problem that is limited to Aiken County, by being proactive, the district can do more to reduce turnover. This can be done by gaining an understanding of what classroom teachers are doing during the day that takes away from teaching time. We also need to see if there are ways to improve teacher pay while also providing a great work environment.

We need to continue to work to improve our school buildings by renovating and replacing old and overcrowded facilities and increase the level of safety features in all schools. Safety is a top priority, and we must make sure that adequate funding for better safety measures are in place.

The district must also continue to address the discipline in the schools. We must make sure that students and parents are aware of the student code of conduct and what the consequences of violating the code are.

We must also help the teachers with dealing with disruptions in the classroom by removing those students that cause the disruptions and suspend or expel them. Parental involvement is a must when it comes to dealing this school discipline, though.

What is one issue you would like to see addressed in 2019?

As stated above, I believe that we need to be more proactive in dealing with the retention of our teachers. It is much more cost effective to keep our teachers than to recruit and get new teachers to replace those who choose to leave. We already have begun this process, but much more has to be done to get a very good understanding of what the issues are.

What issue do you think your constituents will be most concerned about in 2019?

I think the most important issue is school safety. Parents need to know that all practical safety measures are in place at all the schools to ensure that their child or children will be safe. This includes resource officers in all the schools, cameras in all the schools and limited access to the school building and grounds. I am hopeful that we will see increased funding from the state for security.

Ahmed Samaha, District 9

What are your top goals for School Board for 2019?

Work to support statewide educational reforms that will have an impact locally such as reviewing teacher workload, reducing statewide assessments and supporting professional development as well as compensation issues.

Continue to oversee the renovations of schools through the 1 percent sales tax and the bond referendum to ensure all projects come under budget and meet the needs of our students, teachers and administrators for now and the next 20 years.

Work on ways to continue to improve the college and career readiness of our high school students.

Create better avenues to discuss and improve student discipline issues among all stakeholders.

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