Richland 2 School Board candidates speak out at forum

Eight of ten Richland 2 School Board candidates appeared in a Zoom forum Tuesday evening to talk about their platforms and priorities. James Mobley and Lawrence Terry did not participate. Below are what the candidates had to say.

(Please note that in the Thursday, Oct. 22 edition of The Voice of Blythewood, the first paragraph of candidate Dee Bell-Williams appears as the last paragraph of candidate Lindsay Agostini. The Voice regrets that error in printing which is corrected here online.)

Rhonda Meisner: I majored in Economics and Political Science at Emory University, I have attended for law school. The board is actually a policy creating entity, and I think that I have the business background to be an effective board member. One of the biggest issues that I’ve heard throughout campaigning is that teachers and students need to be put first in the district. And I believe that is absolutely the case in fact I built my platform around those things, my platform is students, number one; teachers, number two; fiscal responsibility, number $302 million. As most of you know our budget is $301 million plus. And it’s very important that we make sure that those funds from a policy standpoint, get to the teachers and to the student. I’ve talked to many teachers that are disappointed that they have not received a raise this year, while other people in the the district have received raises. I want to make sure those funds get to the right folks – the students and the teachers.

Marianne Wright: As a board member, I will focus on improving student achievement, implementing the most rigorous and robust curriculum and the highest educational standards and recruitment and retention of the most qualified faculty and staff. I see Richland Two as a district that allocates the resources so that every child receives an ethical and appropriate education. As we approach phase two, and eventually phase three, where students and school personnel can safely returned to in-person school, I will advocate for implementing creative and innovative ways to keep students in school, and to ensure a safe and diverse student population. I think that Richland Two as a district should not only educates the minds and socializes our students but one that is also concerned about their emotional and mental health I will advocate for the implementing of programs that address those particular issues. I’m a parent and an educator, and I think that gives me a unique perspective, I have experience that provides a certain relatability to two of the major players in educating our children – parents and the school community. So let’s work together to promote excellence in education in Richland School District Two.

What qualities of a leader, do you embody that will help you in serving as an effective school board member?

Lindsay Agostini:  I think it’s important to have a genuine and authentic interest in our schools and in the district, and I have proven that time and time again. As I mentioned in the introduction, through my involvement with the Student Education Foundation, School Improvement Council and PTOs. Having a strong interest and really being involved, not only with our students but also with teachers and administrators. I have a business background which I think it’s very important to being a leader and in dealing with budget issues. This year, we have no idea where we stand actually we’ll be getting a board briefing next week on our budget. Being accessible to families, to our student and teachers. It’s important to be open to questions so people can communicate with us and we can lead them in the right direction for resources. I’ve been a huge advocate for our students to get the schools back open for those who want to go to school, and also offer the virtual experience for those that want to stay at home. Finally, its important to be accountable for every action as a board member. I’m willing to take that on. A leader can’t be afraid to stand alone. Often there’s been a six to one vote, and I’ve been the one.

Dr. Dee Bell-Williams: Everything that we do as a leader of course we need to be accountable in our actions, we need to be accountable to those we’ve been called or elected to serve, and we need to be accountable to the thing that we say that we’re going to do when we are elected. We also need to be cooperative, it is important to work together with current board members as well as with our community members, teachers, students, parents and the greater body of the Richland Two community, and anything that you do as a leader, it’s important that you build people, so that’s why a transformative trait is definitely imperative for a leader.  You not only are building people, as you’re building people, you’re then building the organization. And that’s how you create a culture. And what I’ve observed over my past 11 years of living in the Richland Two School District community is that our board needs a culture of leadership. And so, the qualities that I would add again are accountable cooperation and transforming.

While re-opening schools during a pandemic, what is one issue you believe the Board of Trustees should address and why? How should the Board address that issue?

Lashonda McFadden: One of the issues is that I think the board should address is the new gap that we have in academic achievement. I have had questions from different sources that asked, what are we going to do about the students who have not been able to attend e-learning, or those who are having difficulties getting Wi Fi  or completing the assignment. There’s a lot of times where students are just not able to submit their work, or they’re just not doing it. And what are we going to do about that gap in their academic performance and their education that was missed during that time, I think it is something that we should definitely address and look at, but not in such a rigorous way to where we’re forcing a grade and the data in a timeline on students, but just seeing and analyzing where each student is and actually being able to focus on that. Some kids have thrived during e-learning. Some kids have struggled. Some kids have performed better in some classes, than others. And we need to take a look at each individual students as best that we can with the resources that we have, and try to see where each child is progressing. See where each child is getting better or where they’re struggling. Then assess that. Take the time to find it. This would be a good time when we’re hiring more people to come in, or we’re discussing that, we look at the people that we start to hire and the role that they need to play.

Dr. Monica Elkins: I want to say kudos to Dr. Davis, Superintendent, and his cabinet, to all of our teachers who are working countless hours to make sure that our teachers and our students receive the latest lesson plans, preparing themselves to make sure that they welcome kids back into the school. And just the virtual learning, just the great things that they’ve done and demonstrated with our students while they’re in virtual learning, who are not pleased by not being in the school, as well as meeting with those parents who are afraid, and first year teachers and their kids and they’ve never taught before going that extra mile. So first of all, I just want to say thank you to our teachers to our faculty and staff to our custodial staff preparing to get ready for reopening. The only concern that I would have is to just make sure that we have our PPE ready to go and debrief the students as they come and make sure that we are role models that when students come in and they’re not wearing a mask, instead of disciplining those students that we’re teaching them the proper way to come in and do what they need to do, making sure that the classrooms are clean, making sure that we have that open communication with our community keeping them updated on what’s going on with COVID, updating our parents, and most definitely showing compassion because this is something new to all of us. And as far as I’m concerned, we have done the best that we know how.

Richland Two celebrates diversity and inclusion. How will you as a board member, ensure that you know the needs of all partners in Richland School District Two?

James Shadd: We have to be available, and you have to make sure that you know the pulse of your community. We need to talk to different folks from all walks of life. What we do is stress our diversity and inclusion department, which is made by Dr. Helen Grant. I saw the district before I came with the board, and actually focused money on that, and as a board, we need to make sure that we fund that.  If allowed to come back, I’m looking to increase their budget so that they can be even more expensive in their role in teaching cultural relevance. Implicit bias, not only with all throughout the district, but especially in the classroom, so that our teachers know that the children that come in, they may have adverse childhood experiences. Know where this child is coming from so that she can know how to address the challenge, Which goes part and parcel to student behavior and trying to keep our kids at school. That is what equity is about. I championed the equity policy with the board, there was a unanimous vote on that. And now the district has taken that mantle and moving forward. I applaud Dr. Davis and the district with our premier 100 initiative, but we are seeking to recruit and retain men of color to come into the classroom. That will directly impact student achievement and also having that different voice in our schools, we’ll make sure that our teachers see things from a different perspective because we have the same lived experiences so that’s what I’m looking forward to continue to do.

Deon Jacobs: I will say this has three points : 1) have a town hall outside of just general meetings twice each month. Have a town hall with the board and the community, to find out how can we address, not just that we can address those needs and concerns for diversity. 2) I highly support the district’s initiative to hire 100 African American male teachers. Representation begins in the classroom and that’s something I learned in college, and had I not had an African American (female) show me, ‘Hey, this is something I can do, I can be professional in this field,’ I wouldn’t have known you know that was possible because that’s the first time I’ve ever had an African American faculty member but somebody that worked in education that I could mentor from. 3) Another part is surveys. They can send out surveys to the community at large to find out what programs are working and what can they address. The district in partnership with board can take surveys to the community to find out how can we address the needs of diversity. What would you need from us to help your community?