Charleston County School Board — North Area (One seat)
Cindy Bohn Coats (Incumbent)
Linda Mosley Lucas
Vivian Sheppard Pettigrew
Incumbent school board member Cindy Bohn Coats knows a lot is up in the air on the school board, which has experienced significant personal and professional clashes as members pull district priorities in different directions. Coats says she’s hearing most about fostering student growth amid controversies over quantitative proficiency. “Growth is not proficiency,” she says, “education just doesn’t work that way anymore.”
To counteract the spread of partial magnets and specialized schools, Coats says that any changes to attendance zones and school assignment need to make sure that students across the district have access to a specialized focus area regardless of where they live.
Coats is part of the slate that has been endorsed by the newly created Charleston Coalition for Kids, a bipartisan group of establishment local power brokers including former Charleston Mayor Joe Riley, North Charleston Mayor Keith Summey, businesswoman Anita Zucker, and others pushing back on the so-called “Flip the Board” wing of education activists pushing for a new regime on Calhoun Street.
Linda Mosley Lucas describes her candidacy as a move to make “a school board for the children.” A career education professional who’s nominally retired now (but you wouldn’t know it with all the community activities she rattles off when discussing how she spends her time) Lucas has a soft spot for nurturing students overlooked by standard district policies.
Lucas says she views her run as more of “an assignment” to help lift up young people and fill in the gaps in the system. She hopes to further reform the district disciplinary policy to equalize treatment of students regardless of their resources by expanding a “restorative practice” pilot program first pitched by the Charleston Area Justice Ministry, a group Lucas says she’s active with. Lucas also wants to strengthen teacher support as opposed to a top-down approach to build buy-in from educators and close the opportunity gap that exists in and outside of the classroom to expose local kids to cultural and life experiences.
Vivian Sheppard Pettigrew, the only other candidate challenging Coats for the North Charleston seat, is also retired from the Charleston County School District where she taught for more than 30 years. Pettigrew says she hopes to empower struggling schools to be accountable for raising test scores and student achievement. Pettigrew believes more transparency is needed in overseeing the district budget to ensure that funds are allocated equitably across the area.
Coats’ experience shows with a breadth of knowledge about timely local issues that surpasses her opponents’. She will continue to be an energetic and assertive representative on the school board.
Charleston County School Board — East Cooper (Two seats)
Kate Darby (Incumbent)
Sarah Shad Johnson
In what is definitely one of the most interesting and competitive local races this election, four candidates are vying for two seats to represent the East Cooper area on Charleston County School Board.
A former principal at James B. Edwards Elementary, Jake Rambo grabbed headlines last year when he publicly resigned rather than go along with the district’s plan to transfer him and other fellow administrators to different schools. Now looking to change the district from the inside, Rambo says he is running as both a parent and an educator who will bring much needed classroom experience to the board.
Hoping to serve as a voice for teachers, Rambo says there is a great deal of mistrust between his fellow educators and district-level officials. Citing his experience as a teacher and principal, Rambo plans to promote greater communication between the board and those in the classrooms, as well as the greater public through increased transparency. Rambo argues that misspending on behalf of district officials has led to frustration among teachers who find themselves spending their own money on supplies. One aspect of this is mirroring Mt. Pleasant Town Council’s online livestreaming of public meetings.
In agreement with Rambo is fellow candidate Sarah Shad Johnson, who calls for greater transparency and focus on the classroom to develop solutions to educational problems. Johnson says that class sizes need to be reduced, while reading intervention programs and special needs services are bolstered so that students and parents aren’t relegated to a waiting list.
As a part of her online education group, Charleston Area Community Voice for Education, which boasts nearly 4,000 members, Johnson has experience fielding concerns from teachers, who she says often feel too intimidated to speak out publicly. With her legal background in finance, Johnson hopes to bring that experience to the school board to help oversee budgetary matters and maintain order during lengthy public meetings that can often wander off topic.
Candidate Joyce Green lists as her top priority ensuring that students all across the county have access to a quality education regardless of their zip code. Like Rambo, she believes more money should go into the classroom, while holding the board fiscally accountable. Green plans to bring her past experience on boards and committees so that she can serve as a catalyst to bring members to the school board together and do away with any in-fighting among the group. In Green’s words, Charleston County doesn’t need “nine superintendents,” suggesting that a clearer understanding of the roles and responsibilities held by the board and superintendent will help simplify their work.
According to Green, parents are most concerned about school safety and having a respectable variety of options when it comes to school choice. While a concern over student safety is likely shared among all four candidates, Green is the only one who specifically mentions safety as a top priority. Looking outside of Mt. Pleasant, Green intends to work to close the achievement gap that many parents have described. Combining her compassion for students and their futures with her business sense, Green sees herself as a candidate who would help guide her fellow board members and keep them in their lane.
In addition to Green, incumbent board member Kate Darby is the second candidate in the East Cooper race to gain the backing from the well-connected special interest group Charleston Coalition for Kids. Darby says her priority is, and has always been, improving student achievement. Citing the recent Clemson diversity study, Darby and fellow candidate Johnson recognize the need for greater integration and equity throughout the district. As a board member, Darby wants to acknowledge that different students and different schools have different needs and this should be reflected in the district’s budget.
Darby says class size remains a major concern that she hears from parents, as well as a growing awareness that more modern teaching methods and the incorporation of new technology are necessary to best educate students.
With major developments such as the new Lucy Beckham High School and new stadium coming to the East Cooper area, Darby hopes to increase the number of arts and world language courses for students at earlier ages. Looking back on her past experience as a education advocate, Darby recognizes that even though she is campaigning for the East Cooper district seat, board members must represent all of Charleston County. It’s this line of thinking that led Darby and her fellow board member to raise teacher wages and completely overhaul the county’s student discipline plans to significantly improve the high rates of student suspensions at some schools. If re-elected, Darby plans to keep her focus on the future and on building consensus among her fellow board members to improve education all across the district.
Endorsement: Darby, Rambo
Jake Rambo has been the most outspoken education advocate in Charleston for more than a year. And while we don’t think it’s time to “Flip the Board,” as his allies say, we believe Rambo will bring a necessary fresh approach and a focused voice to the board. Charleston voters should re-elect Kate Darby and choose Jake Rambo to represent them on the school board.
Charleston County School Board — West Area (One seat)
Eric Mack (Incumbent)
Francis Marion Beylotte III
The four-way race for a Charleston County School Board seat representing West Ashley can be a little confusing if you’re not an attentive follower of school board politics, so let’s detangle it. Eric Mack, the incumbent first elected to the board in 2010, is running against Paul Padron, Francis Marion Beylotte III, and Herbert Fielding.
Mack’s top priorities include closing the achievement gap, partly by increasing the professional development available to teachers within the classroom.
Padron, a former principal who just retired after 25 years in the school system, wants to focus on eliminating the “cookie cutter” approach to the school system and eliminating what he calls the current “punishment plan” for students by adding psychologists and guidance counselors to more schools.
Beylotte’s priorities lie on working to increase teacher pay by 30 percent “right out of the gate,” increasing the base teacher salary to $50,000 to help recruit better teachers, and lowering the student-teacher ratio in schools.
Fielding, who is also worried about the high student-teacher ratio, has his eyes set on recommending a study of security conditions in county schools. Parents, Fielding says, are most concerned about finding a quality education close to home.
Rev. Dr. Eric Mack has an even command of the issues sitting before the school board at a potentially volatile time. West Ashley voters re-elect him on Nov. 6.