Clark Menard and Erica Williams, both from Woodstock, will face off in the Republican Primary on May 20, when a total of four school board seats will be up for grabs. The winner faces no Democratic opposition in November.
Menard, 42, said in his mission statement he wants to be a voice for children in the district by reducing the student-to-teacher ratio, emphasizing vocational learning and increasing access to technology.
Williams, 41, said in her mission statement she wants to advocate for community involvement based on her “three C’s” for children: community, culture and communication.
When the candidates were asked about what they saw as the most beneficial action taken by the school board for students was in the past year, both Menard and Williams said they appreciated the return to a 180-day calendar.
Williams said she was most happy to see the elimination of furlough days.
“While the school board had done many wonderful things in the past year, the most beneficial would be the removal of furlough days. It is wonderful to see the students back for all 180 days,” Williams said.
Menard also thought the restored calendar was the most beneficial action taken for students by the board during the last year.
“The most beneficial act the school board has performed for our students this year is the return to the full 180-day school calendar,” Menard said. “The Cherokee County School District faced nearly $25 million in state austerity cuts for the 2013-14 school year, a stagnant tax digest and increased health care costs, but was able to make tough budgeting decisions that allowed the return to a full year of education.”
However, Menard pointed out, in tough financial times, the school board had to make difficult decisions.
“These cuts did not come without a cost, as the privatization of the custodial services was mentioned as one of the hardest decisions made by the members of the board,” he said.
When it came to pressing issues in the district, Williams said parent engagement needs to be a top priority.
“Education in general faces apathy from the community, a lack of engagement from parents and families, and too many burdensome rules and regulations that hinder teachers from teaching. I believe we need to develop a culture that encourages parental engagement and allows parents and stakeholders to feel safe when openly communicating,” Williams said. “We also need to engage the wider community in our schools by focusing our community on prioritizing the classroom.”
Menard said the most pressing issue for the school system was large class sizes.
“The most pressing issue faced by the board is the student to teacher ratio. Cherokee County has been blessed with high SAT and AP scores, but these were built on students who had a much lower ratio while attending kindergarten through fifth-grade,” he said.
“My daughter, who is in fourth-grade, has 32 students in her class. As a board member, I would designate any additional revenues received through reductions in the state austerity cuts or increases in the tax digest to hiring teachers. The hiring should target the critical learning years of kindergarten through fifth grade to ensure a proper educational foundation for each student.”
When the candidates were asked what qualities a new superintendent should have, if they were on the board when a new superintendent is hired, Menard said he would look for many characteristics.
“The selection of a new superintendent is one of the most important roles of a school board member. I would look for leadership, passion and innovation in a new superintendent. The next superintendent must be a proven leader and understand how to run an organization as complex as the school district,” Menard said. “He or she must also be passionate about students, educational issues and the desire to provide a quality education to each student. Finally, the next superintendent must embrace innovation and offer unique learning opportunities that result in a true choice in education for the students of Cherokee County.”
Williams took a different approach to the question.
“I would like to see the new superintendent have a background in education as well as private business. I also believe it would be wonderful to have someone from our local community,” Williams said. “I believe the hiring process should be as follows: one, hold public town hall meetings and survey the community about the qualities that should be looked for in a superintendent; two, hire a national search firm, which I will propose when elected, to find the best candidates with those identified qualities; and three, hire the best candidate from the list provided by the firm.”