Meet the Lexington 1 school board candidates

There are three open seats on the Lexington 1 School Board to be filled in the Nov. 6 election. Five candidates are running: Jada Boatwright Garris, Richard Kyle Guyton, Reese Lassiter McCurdy, Timothy Franklin Oswald and Robert Christopher Rice.

Lexington 1 School District contains Carolina Springs Elementary, Carolina Springs Middle, Deerfield Elementary, Forts Pond Elementary, Gilbert Elementary, Gilbert High School, Gilbert Middle, Gilbert Primary, Lake Murray Elementary, Lexington Elementary, Lexington High School, Lexington Middle, Lexington Technology Center, Meadow Glen Elementary, Meadow Glen Middle, Midway Elementary, New Providence Elementary, Oak Grove Elementary, Pelion Elementary, Pelion High School, Pelion Middle, Pleasant Hill Elementary, Pleasant Hill Middle, Red Bank Elementary, River Bluff High School, Rocky Creek Elementary, Saxe Gotha Elementary, White Knoll Elementary, White Knoll High School and White Knoll Middle.

The State sent the same questionnaire to all candidates here are their answers:

Jada Boatwright Garris

Occupation: Certified Court Reporter

Education: Associate degree in elementary education

Why are you running for the school board?

I think that our educators are being asked to do more and more and they are being given less and less. I want to see our district empower educators with professional development opportunities and commit to seeing funds being dispersed to the classrooms. Why does our budget include over $360,000 for Executive Leadership development but our educators are left buying their own supplies? Currently, we have a top-down approach to everything that happens in our schools; the people with the least amount of front-line experience are given the most amount of power.

I have been attending meetings for several years. I am familiar with how the board operates. I have also educated myself about school board processes. I have an in-depth understanding of what is supposed to happen in public and what can legally take place behind closed doors. I would like to see our school board make decisions publicly, have open discussions, invite dissent and respond individually to its constituents.

As a graduate of Lexington One, former school bus driver and now a parent and volunteer of children attending Gilbert schools, I have had the opportunity to experience and serve our district in different capacities. At this point in my life I have plenty of time to dedicate to this position. I want to be the eyes, ears and voice of the community. I want to ensure that our taxpayer money is well-spent and our children are well-served.

What are the school district’s strengths?

We have high-quality teachers, award-winning bands, choral and string programs and athletic programs. Our bus drivers and support staff members are skilled professionals. With the introduction of Project HOPE, we are placing a stronger emphasis on our students’ social, emotional and academic well-being. Lexington Technology Center is one of our biggest assets. By offering hands-on opportunities in specialized career development courses, students are prepared to enter the workforce when they graduate.

What are the district’s biggest opportunities for improvement?

Transparency, fiscal responsibility and equitable funding. Because of inequitable funding, we have significant disparities in school facilities’ conditions that need to be addressed. Public trust has been eroded over the years and this was magnified with the recent Pelion land deal. Instead of addressing the problem, the district launched a campaign to polish its image. They showed that they are more concerned with their public image than hearing people’s outrage about a very poor decision. Without openness, communication and accountability the public’s trust cannot be regained.

Richard Kyle Guyton

Occupation: Pediatrician and co-owner of SouthernMED Pediatrics

Education: Bachelor’s degree in psychology from the Honors College at the College of Charleston; Doctor of Medicine from the Medical University of South Carolina

Why are you running for school board?

Because I owe this community and I am committed to the well-being of the children of our Lexington 1 community. Having grown up and graduated from Lexington 1 schools, I am keenly aware of what our schools and community have done for me to prepare for life.

After finishing medical school, the decision to return home was very clear for me and my wife, a Lexington girl, to begin our family. After residency, I came to the Lexington community and asked them to trust and support our newly established pediatric practice and they did. Every day, we do everything within our power and ability to care for the families of this community and I hope to do the same on a different front — the school board. I feel it is my duty to continue to serve the families of our Lexington 1 community and without question, it is my honor.

What are the school district’s strengths?

First, you cannot say enough good things about the teachers, staff and administrators of Lexington 1 schools. Having three children in Lexington 1 schools, we have seen firsthand the commitment and focus on education and character development. Professionally, I work in tandem with these same teachers and administrators almost daily to address the medical, educational and psychological needs of our students and patients.

Secondly, we have a community of families, business-owners and leaders that are attentive to the needs of our children. Historically, the Lexington 1 community has done what is needed to provide for these needs. Lastly, we enjoy the benefits of a growing and thriving district and community. I meet people every day who chose our community solely based on the strength of our schools. You cannot deny that our school district is the economic engine that drives this community.

What are the district’s biggest opportunities for improvement?

So just as growth can be a strength, it can also provide a source of pain. Having opened six pediatric practices and one counseling center, I can say that I have experienced this pain head-on. However, when confronted with this pain of growth, it can give you an exceptional opportunity to communicate, collaborate and challenge the people of your organization or school district, in our case. Communication is oftentimes the biggest obstacle to climb but when done well, it can collect input from everyone involved, most importantly your community.

Reese McCurdy

Occupation: Director of sales at Alpine Agency

Education: Bachelor’s degree in economics, Troy University

Why are you running for the school board?

I have four young children in the district and want to ensure we remain a viable and effective school district. My goal is to put our children as our first priority, our teachers our second and our taxpayers as our third priority. I would bring a business sense to our current board, managing expenses to achieve results. My experience in business planning would allow me to challenge the strategic plan to ensure we have sound reasoning in our decision-making process.

What are the school district’s strengths?

We have a really good district. We recently regained our standing at no. 12 in South Carolina with end-of-grade testing after a two-year decline, according to Our teachers drive these results. They are the best at providing unconditional support to our students. As a district, we offer many alternative opportunities that allow all of our students to grow. This ensures that our students have an opportunity to leave high school prepared for their next step in life.

What are the district’s biggest opportunities for improvement?

Our district spends 52.5 percent of its $262 million budget on instruction (page 20), which includes teachers and teacher assistants. All districts across SC average 54.9 percent. The national average is 61 percent. If we achieved the SC average results, we would have an additional $6.3 million to hire an additional 80 or so teachers to support our students.

Buildings don’t educate our children, teachers educate our children. That doesn’t mean we don’t need some new schools. The strategic plan calls for five schools in the next five years. The plan indicates each elementary school will hold 1,000 students each and the middle school 1,500. That equates to 6,000 new students in the next five years.

Our growth rate in 2018 was 615 new students. Based upon our current growth rate, the new schools wouldn’t be at capacity for another 10 years. I believe we need a more measured approach, as we should also expect revenue to increase if our community continues to grow. We need financial responsibility and accountability on our school board.

Tim Oswald

Occupation: Retired educator and farmer

Education: Newberry College; bachelor’s degree in instrumental music education from the University of South Carolina; graduate degrees in secondary and elementary educational administration

Why are you running for the school board?

I’ve served in public education for 41 years — 34 in Lexington 1 — as a high school band director, assistant principal and principal. I would like to continue being an advocate for the children of our district by supporting and encouraging a great education. The health, economy and well-being of communities in our district are directly affected by how we care for and deliver a productive and successful educational system for our youth. The successful future that we all want for our children is in our hands today. We must proceed carefully and deliberately to ensure their success.

What are the school district’s strengths?

I believe that the district has planned well for the future. Through providing centers for learning at the secondary level, students are able to attend various campuses that fulfill their particular career interest: Center for Law and Global Policies, Center for Public Health and Advanced Medical Studies, Center for Advanced Agri-Business Research, Center for Media Arts and Design, Center for Advanced STEM Studies and the International Baccalaureate Diploma. This gives our students an edge when taking a career path that began in high school. Our foreign language programs and Immersion of Foreign Language is also proving to be a great opportunity for students.

What are the district’s biggest opportunities for improvement?

While our focus is mainly on post-secondary education, I believe that additional attention needs to be placed on vocational careers. Also, additional plans to expand 4-K programs, adult education and post-secondary education are opportunities for improvement within our district.

Chris Rice

Occupation: Mechanical engineer

Education: Bachelor’s degree in mechanical engineering from Georgia Institute of Technology

Why are you running for the school board?

Being on the school board is an opportunity to unselfishly serve the Lexington District 1 community in an effort to strengthen and continually improve our school district. Having grown up as the son of two public school teachers, I understand that the school board’s decisions affect everyone: our students, parents, teachers, staff and our community.

As a parent of a middle school student and a college student that graduated from the district last year, I have a vested interest in making sure our district is empowering our children for current success as they progress through our schools and for future success once they leave the Lexington District 1 School System.

What are the school district’s strengths?

Lexington School District 1 is very strong at evaluating the needs of our students and coming up with innovative ways to provide the resources and support to meet those needs. Also, our district provides a wide variety of opportunities at each school for our students to demonstrate leadership and to showcase their respective gifts and talents. In addition, our district puts a priority on recognizing and celebrating the positive achievements of our students, teachers, staff members, administrators and schools.

What are the district’s biggest opportunities for improvement?

There are some opportunities for improvement concerning how our district communicates with citizens regarding changes under consideration and decisions being made. Also, we have room for improvement in the area of keeping our students safe and secure while attending our schools.

Responses have been lightly edited for clarity and style.

Cueto can be reached at 803-771-8621, @isabellacueto