New school board members in both Richland County school districts say closing the “achievement gap” between high- and low-performing students is their priority.
Lila Anna Sauls will take on the task of helping lead Richland 1 after topping a field of six candidates vying for a pair of at-large seats on the seven-member board. The race for the second available seat was too close to call, with Darrell Black leading Avni Gupta-Kagan by the slimmest of margins. The winner might not be declared until sometime on Wednesday, if then.
In neighboring Richland 2, newcomer Lindsay Agostini joins a returning Monica Elkins-Johnson on the seven-member board. The third available at-large seat was a toss-up between former longtime board member Bill McCracken, teacher Shelley Williams and lawyer James “Jamie” Shadd.
For a district that traditionally has stood out statewide for its high academic performance, Richland 2 has experienced rapid growth and changing demographics, including more students living in poverty.
Agostini says the district continues to excel in its time of growth but has room for improvement.
“Kids are still thriving,” Agostini said. “It’s just getting those other kids up to a level playing field, or getting them on the playing field.”
That task includes making sure children are reading well by third grade, providing strong social services to meet needs beyond the classroom and drawing parents into their children’s educations, she said.
Elkins-Johnson returns to the board seat she first won in 2012. She lost a bid for S.C. House District 79 in this summer’s primary election before deciding to run for school board re-election.
In Richland 1, district leaders’ task is not only to make sure students are getting the learning resources they need in the classroom, but also to address factors outside of school that affect education, Sauls said.
The district deals with a high rate of poverty among its students, with 78 percent qualifying for Medicaid, SNAP or TANF benefits or living in homelessness, foster care or a migrant situation.
“You can’t get around the fact (low achievement) is tied somewhat to poverty,” Sauls said. As president of the Homeless No More nonprofit group, she has experience working with impoverished populations and managing grant money. “We’ve got to get into our mindset that this is about all the kids. It cannot be about the haves and the have nots.”
See the results for all Richland County races here.
Reach Ellis at (803) 771-8307.
89 of 93 precincts. Two at-large winners.
Lila Anna Sauls, 15,907
Darrell Black, 13,646
Avni Gupta-Kagan, 13,565
Otha Dillihay, 7,362
Donna Mack, 6,683
(Germon) Mama G. Miller, 3,407
44 of 48 precincts. Three at-large winners.
Lindsay Agostini, 13,179
Monica Elkins-Johnson (i), 11,326
Shelley Williams, 6,235
Bill McCracken, 6,176
James “Jamie” Shadd, 6,071
Evangelina Hemphill, 5,056
Keith R. Powell, 4,168
Anthony “A.J.” Bracy, 3,550
James Mobley, 3,181
Kay Harvey, 2,521
Milton Wright, 2,508
Henry Counts, 2,431
(i) = incumbent