Questions for school board candidates – Coastal Observer


Questions for school board candidates

The candidates, clockwise from top left, Amanda Darden, Patti Hammel, Ronald Thompson, Lynne Ford and Vincent Davis.

There are five candidates seeking two seats on the Georgetown County School Board in districts that represent the Waccamaw Neck. The nine-member school board is nonpartisan, so people in District 1 and District 6 who are straight-ticket voters will have to scroll to the bottom of their ballot to find these races.

District 1: Amanda Darden and Patti Hammel

Amanda Darden, 3775 Brookside Dr.

Age: 44.

Born: Coeburn, Va.

Education: Bachelor’s and master’s degrees from Radford University. 

Family: Married with three children, two in school.

Career: Director of the Center for Excellence, Academic Advising at Student Services at Coastal Carolina University and director of the S.C. Teaching Fellows Program.

Patti Hammel, 4561 Firethorne Dr.

Age: 73.

Born: Williamson, W.Va.

Education: Bachelor’s degree, Milligan College, Tenn.; master’s degree, Marshall University, W.Va.; advanced studies, University of Virginia and Virginia Tech.

Family: Married with two grown children, seven grandchildren, one great-grandchild.

Career: Retired from Georgetown County School District as executive director for student performance and federal programs; previously a teacher, academic coach, assistant principal and director of professional development.

What would you expect to see when you walk into an excellent school?

Darden: An engaging place with happy students and happy employees. It’s really important to love what you’re doing. I think that when you have a teacher or an administrator, or even a custodian or janitor who is happy to be there, then the culture of the school is going to exhibit excellence. 

You’re going to see lots of scaffolding in the curriculum and you’re going to see teachers who are innovative, and teachers who are thinking outside the box and trying all kinds of different types of learning environments for our students. 

Teachers who are given the opportunity to develop themselves, that to me looks like an excellent school.

Hammel: A welcoming staff at the front of the school. I would expect to see them ask questions for safety.

I would expect to see teachers and children engaged. I would not expect to see a teacher necessarily in front of the class, but I would expect all the children to have work that they were able to do. I would expect to see examples of student work in classrooms.

I’d expect to see lots of reading materials. I wouldn’t expect it to be quiet, because learning isn’t quiet.

Perhaps technology, but you wouldn’t have to see that on an hourly basis.

Overall, I would expect to see a happy place. I would expect to see expressions from teachers to students of great things.

Beyond the COVID-19 pandemic, what is the most important issue facing the Georgetown County School District? How would you deal with it?

Darden: We need new partnerships and initiatives that strengthen options for all children and their families. I think we’ve gotten a little bit left behind.

We need to look at programs that can help students whether they want to go straight into college, or whether they want to go into a career. I think we need to work on developing students who graduate both college and career ready. 

We need to make sure we strengthen our partnerships with businesses. We could have more internships for our students who are juniors and seniors to help them really find what their passion is.

Hammel: I do see virtual education as something they’re facing. The transition from the face-to-face instruction to the virtual is huge. You’re going to see children that have lots of assistance and children that their parents work all day long so they’re going to have to have assistance in a day care facility or a YMCA facility.

Teachers are having a challenging time and the number of children that they are serving seems to be large in the virtual setting. 

As a board member, I would expect for us to have real conversation about that and how is that working and how can we better meet the needs of those teachers.

You’re going to have to look at the budget. If you’re going to continue virtual you’re going to have to place money in the number of teachers. You’re going to have to look at all of the costs.

The pandemic has shown the importance, as well as the limitations, of technology. What is the appropriate role of technology in the classroom in the future?

Darden: Technology is crucial, but I also do not think it should take the place of face-to-face instruction. I think students learn best face to face. Technology is a phenomenal tool and I tell my students all the time the more tools you can have in your toolbox the more successful that you’re going to be when you teach.

There are so many platforms of technology that can be used to strengthen the curriculum, but not to replace the actual lessons.

Hammel: I don’t think it is an end-all. I think it is a tool. An overused tool in any way can be damaging. We need to have the best technology and we certainly have a need now to be able to reach out to all of communities, and we don’t have that.

Basic technology taught to our children is important. Technology changes so quickly that if a person has the soft skills and has the basic technology, businesses are able to train them. 

One of the technologies, I think, is to offer to our high school students online courses while they have teachers in the classroom that guide them. When they go to college, they’re going to have many classes online.

District scores on the state’s standardized tests consistently show that low-income and minority students lag significantly behind other students. What needs to be done to close these gaps?

Darden: We need to look at targeted programs for those students. We need to see what those scores are a lot sooner and start looking at what can be done and not wait until a student is a junior and a senior to say “wow, you’re gonna really have a hard time making a score high enough on the ACT or SAT to get into a good university or a competitive university.” 

We need to back up the trajectory of students and start really, when they’re in middle school, of putting those students in targeted programs to help them catch up if they need to on those missing pieces. 

We need to make sure we have the resources to be able to do that. I think that looking at where the budget is and where the monies are being spent is crucial to make sure that those students are given those extra skills so that they can be successful. 

Hammel: Those gaps are real. I’m really concerned that the gaps have widened with the lack of interaction face to face in the classroom. Interventionists, early-childhood education, those are critical. Students don’t drop out in high school. They drop out before high school when they can’t read and don’t feel comfortable in the setting.

Mental health counselors are critical for children who come with needs. A child with needs can cause a whole classroom to be disrupted.

The reading coaches have made a difference. Having teachers involved in reading instruction has made a difference. Now, when you get to algebra, you’re going to see our scores have dipped. Here’s where we’re going to have a problem with the virtual, because hands-on math means hands-on math.

We’re really going to have to look at those mental health counselors and at those interventionists, and a quick return to face-to-face. Safety is important. If I as a parent don’t feel that my child is in a safe and secure environment, I can promise you that child is going to feel less safe going to school.

It’s really hard to separate it all, because one thing hinges on another thing.

The school board has talked about increasing teacher pay to be competitive with neighboring districts. At the same time, there is a limit on the district’s ability to raise taxes. How would you resolve this issue?

Darden: I’m going to take a concentrated look at what the budget is and where the monies are going and where we may be able to transfer some funding. I’m not going to say I know what the answer is, but I do think that I would do the research and find out where those funds can come from. 

I do have strong connections with the state Department of Education and I do serve on the CERRA [Center for Educator Recruitment, Retention and Advancement] board. I’m understanding, that they’re going to say, when the legislature comes out, that yes we do think teachers need a raise, but we’re also going to kick that back to the districts. 

It’s not a win-win. Teachers want to get a higher salary but then they’re going to get taxed more because they pay Georgetown County taxes.

Hammel: I’m not running for the board to see how much taxes I can raise. We have to look effectively at the money we have. We have to look at administrative costs across the board. We have to look at every line item in the budget.

We’re losing teachers. We have to think outside of the box.

Our teachers live in adjacent counties. They travel, and some of them have to be in school at 7 a.m. They can’t get their child in

a day care if they’re a young teacher.

The board needs to get partnerships with the business owners and provide for these teachers a place that they could perhaps bring their children for care. We could subsidize that. That’s better than a teacher raise.

Housing is a huge issue in our district. I visited a district in North Carolina. They actually built apartment housing right in the district and subsidized part of it. I think there are a lot of ways.

I think our other employees, our bus drivers, our cafeteria people, our aides in classrooms that are working with special needs and kindergarten children, our office professionals, we have to look at them.

Tell us about a teacher who influenced your life.

Darden: My kindergarten teacher, Miss O’Doul. My tests showed that I was on a remedial level of reading. 

Miss O’Doul called my mom and said “I don’t think Amanda needs to be in remedial reading. I think she just needs some hard love.” By the time I was through kindergarten I could read. I could read already, but it was just that the standardized testing really stressed me out. She really helped me see exactly the reason I want to be on the school board.

Hammel: I was in college. You began the first semester of your sophomore year doing experiences, and they were real experiences. Miss Gilbreath was an elderly lady. 

She really knew that I loved what I did. I got up one morning and I was not going to be able to get there on time for her class. I rolled up my pajamas and wore a trench coat and went to her class because she would say to me, “Patricia, I know that you can do that better.”

She showed me what a true teacher was.

District 6: Vincent Davis, Lynne Ford and Ronald Thompson

Vincent Fresh Davis, 442 Petigru Dr.

Age: 51.

Born: Rochester, N.Y., raised in Pawleys Island.

Education: Associates degree, Nielsen Electronics Institute, North Charleston.

Family: Married with two grown and two school-age children.

Work: Assistant chef, Drunken Jack’s restaurant.

Lynne B. Ford, 511 Petigru Dr.

Age: 55.

Born: Brooklyn, N.Y., raised in Pawleys Island.

Education: Bachelor’s degree, University of South Carolina; master’s degree, University of Florida.

Family: Married with two children, one in school.

Career: Communications manager at Holy Cross Faith Memorial Church; consultant with Arbonne International.

Rev. Ronald O. Thompson, 49 Kimba Lane.

Age: 46.

Born: Georgetown.

Education: Associate’s degree, Horry-Georgetown Tech; electronics certification and trucking certification, Nielsen Electronics Institute, North Charleston; studied theology at Liberty University and Luther Rice College.

Family: Married with three grown children.

Career: Owner of Wholesale Discount; pastor of Covenant Missionary Baptist Church.

What would you expect to see when you walk into an excellent school?

Davis: Let’s start with everybody’s getting paid for the job that they’re doing, getting paid adequately. We would see unity between staff and leadership; people able to have diverse communications. 

Ford: I would expect to see children thriving in an environment where there’s good interaction between the students and the teachers. I believe excellence comes, not so much from children sitting still at a desk and just receiving information, but there being an exchange where there’s a dialogue. Kids are asking questions, kids are talking and engaging in the learning process.

Thompson: An excellent school would have teachers that go far beyond. Their graduation rate would probably be 96 to 98 percent. A perfect school would offer more than just two foreign languages. A perfect school would have more science than anything, because that’s where the world is moving. A perfect school would consist of many things: a nice computer lab that’s willing to educate those that folks gave up on.

Beyond the COVID-19 pandemic, what is the most important issue facing the Georgetown County School District? How would you deal with it?

Davis: We need to strengthen our local economy so we can generate more funds.

I would bring that about the same way I was brought up. I didn’t have a mother who could pay for my college, but I went to school. The trade which I learned at the Georgetown High Career Center was culinary arts. I took that and got a job and paid my way through school.

We could put programs in place right now that could teach these kids, because everybody’s not going to go to college.

The more you know, the higher your pay goes. The higher your pay goes, the more tax we generate.

Ford: One of the most important issues is creating a path for success for every child. There’s a diverse population. Everyone doesn’t want to go to college. There needs to be a path for success and I don’t think we have that right now. 

At some point, and I don’t know what the key age is, but at some point the child needs to be guided. Not once they’re a junior or a senior, but earlier. Same thing with a young person who may be struggling academically and college is not an option for them. They need to know that they have some options that are viable. 

That’s why I talk about educate to elevate, because we want to make sure that all of our students receive the type of education that’s going to propel them to success. That’s challenging, so I think that’s one of the toughest issues the district faces.

Thompson: Transparency. Some folks feel that they’re not getting their questions answered. They’re not getting the best in their neighborhood.

The most important thing that you can do right now is to have transparency of where you’re trying to go and give them a road map of how you’re going to get there.

As a board member, you would have to sit down with everyone in the district and come up with fundamental ways of how. When things start to change, we bring it to the people on social media, we bring it to the school district, we bring it to the board. It would have to be a collective effort.

The pandemic has shown the importance, as well as the limitations, of technology. What is the appropriate role of technology in the classroom in the future?

Davis: We need to definitely strengthen our technology. I have two kids home right now that are virtual. You not only have the problem in some of the rural areas that do not have accessiblity to the internet, you have a system that can’t hold the load.

Ford: Technology can’t take the place of face-to-face interaction, but it can certainty enhance education. I think there’s a nice balance to where you have the exchange of information and ideas and then you have technology that helps to enhance and improve upon. We live in a global environment so that technology really helps to propel the student forward, especially in learning how to maneuver in that environment.

Thompson: The best technology in schools now is with the iPad on the web. Having more webinars, even when they’re not in school, like online college has.

We can do more in the district, but it also comes down to the parenting. That’s the most important point in a child’s education. Are the parents behind you? Are they pushing you?

We have to focus on the families out there that are illiterate that we can help, that we can empower. I know we’re concentrating on educating the kids, but we want to make sure the parents have the understanding.

District scores on the state’s standardized tests consistently show that low-income and minority students lag significantly behind other students. What needs to be done to close these gaps?

Davis: We need to make things accessible to all groups and make things reachable. You have to have leaders and educators that are versatile, that can have some interaction with the kids besides the classroom. It’s always best to try to get kids on a one-on-one basis.

Teach My People would be a good example of where we need to go to help out with programs which would give kids more classroom study after the classroom.

Ford: No. 1, acknowledge that those gaps exist, and then work out curriculum, work out plans that help address the individuals and make sure that they have the resources that they need and then the encouragement that they need. 

Then also have the training in place so that they’re not penalized for it, training for teachers and other staff members so that marginalized students don’t feel like they’re labeled or feel less than because of circumstances beyond their control. 

If a student has an encouraging teacher, if a student is in an environment that’s conducive to learning and they have tools and resources that are age appropriate and appropriate to them, I think that child can easily succeed. 

Thompson: It’s going to be more than just a school board getting involved. It’s going to be more Adult Ed situations, because I’m thinking that this lag comes from households. It’s hard to break that.

I don’t think enough funds come into the community to help half of these people that are stuck here. They can’t read. Their parents can’t read.

We would have to really consider sitting down at the table and figuring out what is really going on with the minority, talking with parents, having a town meeting where we might have to look at, for the last 10 years, our results. What are they lacking? Why are they not graduating?

The school board has talked about increasing teacher pay to be competitive with neighboring districts. At the same time, there is a limit on the district’s ability to raise taxes. How would you resolve this issue?

Davis: Local economy. The funds are going to come from there. That’s the plan that we need to have.

The local economy’s not going to turn around fast, so you can’t promise somebody that you’re going to pay them immediately when you don’t have any money to pay them. 

It might take a year or so to get that movement, but if you stick with me a year, I’ll make sure you get paid.

Ford: I would enthusiastically be in favor of increasing teacher pay to be competitive. To make the best decision on how, I would have to study the budget and seek to understand all that is involved. One of the first things that I’m eager to do is dig in and study the budget.

Thompson: We can try, if possible, to come up with a vote for a half-cent on the sales tax, if someone is willing to do that. But that would mostly come from the state representatives first, because you can’t just push that.

I believe if we’re more competitive, we’ll have better things going on in our schools and in our towns. I think if we can raise a half a cent of sales tax revenue, that will bring in enough money to pay our teachers. 

Tell us about a teacher who influenced your life.

Davis: Al Hutchinson saw the potential in me in culinary, because I was advancing in that class. He started creating programs so I could get into that. Learning that helped me survive in this world of Georgetown County. What I learned in his class at the career center, I’m still doing today to take care of my family. That means a lot.

Ford: Sharon Gordon  was my English teacher. She had a love of learning, a love of teaching. She challenged us. She was a tough teacher, but because of her teaching, when I went to college, my freshmen English year, it went by smoothly.

Thompson: I came up on a rough side of the road. I didn’t want to do that, didn’t want to do this. Single parent. I had this one teacher, Mrs. Pam Plexico, that always gave you an uplifting word. This lady was a lady that always believed in you. She gave you that push. She gave you that hope.



Georgetown County Board of Education: First and third Tuesdays, 5:30 p.m., Beck Education Center. For details, go to Georgetown County Council: Second and fourth Tuesdays, 5:30 p.m., Council Chambers, 129 Screven St., Georgetown. For details, go to Pawleys Island Town Council: Second Mondays, 5 p.m. Town Hall, 323 Myrtle Ave. For details, go to   , .