Meet the Lexington-Richland 5 school board candidates

There are four open seats — two in each county — on the Lexington-Richland 5 School Board to be filled in the Nov. 6 election. Seven candidates are running: In Lexington, Jan Hammond, Ellen Baumgardner and Kenneth Loveless. In Richland, Larry D. Haltiwanger, Jeff Herring, Nikki Gardner and Ed White.

Lexington-Richland 5 contains Ballentine Elementary, Center for Advanced Technical Studies, Chapin Elementary, Chapin High School, Chapin Intermediate, Chapin Middle, CrossRoads Intermediate, Dutch Fork Elementary, Dutch Fork High School, Dutch Fork Middle, H. E. Corley Elementary, Harbison West Elementary School, Irmo Elementary, Irmo High School, Irmo Middle, Lake Murray Elementary, Leaphart Elementary, Nursery Road Elementary, Oak Pointe Elementary, River Springs Elementary, Seven Oaks Elementary and Spring Hill High School.

Meet the candidates for Lexington-Richland 5 school board:

Ellen Baumgardner

Occupation: Retired, former South Carolina Vocational Rehabilitation Department disability specialist

Education: Bachelor’s degree in administration management from Clemson University

Why are you running for the school board?

As we begin a new era in our district with a new district superintendent this year, we need a stable board with experience, all with the same goal of providing an extraordinary educational experience for each student. My 14 years of experience includes superintendent transitions, promoting career and technical education, using common sense for budgets, listening to all sides of an issue and supporting excellence in our schools. This experience is needed for another successful superintendent transition and to continue the excellence in school district 5.

What are the school district’s strengths?

  • The laser focus on academic success for every student

  • An emphasis on safety for the past 20 years, including school resource officers in every school

  • 14 magnet programs and 16 schools of choice providing unique opportunities for a wide variety of learning styles

  • Responsible budgeting

  • An annual focus on maintaining and upgrading older schools while building new schools as needed

  • Dedicated teachers who are teacher-leaders and passionate about teaching

  • Devoted staff who go the extra mile

  • Students and their families who support and expect a high-quality education

  • Our District 5 Education Foundation which provides financial support for student research and teacher grants

  • Our community members who support public education and school building bond referendums, who serve as volunteers and business partners

What are the district’s biggest opportunities for improvement?

Children thrive in stable home environments, making it easier to succeed in school. Regardless of socioeconomic level, many children in our district experience instability at some point in their lives, often making it difficult to learn or creating behavioral problems in school. We need to support those children and our teachers by providing professional behavioral interventionists, academic interventionists, guidance counselors, trained school resource officers and full-time district public safety officers. We must ensure that the classroom and school environment is conducive to learning for all of our students and that behavioral problems don’t disrupt the classrooms or turn into public safety problems.

Nikki Gardner

Occupation: Stay-at-home mom of four

Education: Bachelor’s degree in Zoology from Brigham Young University

Why are you running for the school board?

As a mother of three School District 5 students and a 2018 graduate, I have firsthand current and relevant experience at numerous schools at the pre-K, elementary, intermediate, middle and high school levels. My children have participated in the magnet programs at Harbison West and Spring Hill High School and have attended all of the Chapin cluster schools including preschool.

In the support of my children at every level and at every school, I have served on various PTO, SIC and Booster Club boards as well as being PTO president, PTO treasurer, homeroom mom, fundraising chair and hospitality chair (teacher appreciation).

My current knowledge of the specific challenges and successes at each of these schools and organizations from a parent and student perspective gives me an essential understanding of the inner workings of our school district. I interact with administrators, teachers, businesses and the community on a daily basis. This relevant perspective of the working, on-the-ground knowledge of our school district will bring vital information and perspective to the board so that we can continue to make effective policies and use district funds most efficiently.

What are the school district’s strengths?

It is no secret that School District 5 of Lexington and Richland counties is phenomenal in every way. We have so many strengths, often it is easier to point out the weak areas, though they are few. We are a passionate and loyal community of students, teachers, administrators, families and business partners.

Our strength lies in our community in that all our stakeholders are involved in educating our young people. We have a myriad of programs and clubs to foster every way of learning and we find unique ways of funding them. With the statewide teacher shortage, we are a leader in recruiting and educating teachers and offering development at every turn.

Our students are encouraged to try new things, research, find meaning in their learning and direct their own educational paths. Our families are always involved and never turn down an opportunity to mentor or help out other students than their own. Our business partners understand the value of educating our youth.

What are the district’s biggest opportunities for improvement?

The district’s biggest opportunities for improvement are in teacher retention and recruitment, facilities utilization management and increasing community trust. Our school board needs to continue to make teacher compensation a top priority, but more importantly, be innovative in attracting quality teachers. Our school district is currently using a myriad of strategies, such as small class size, teacher development, partnering in higher education and community involvement to bring teachers and administrators to us.

We need to continually improve on these resources and continue to support the ventures we have in place. Our facilities utilization management has a big challenge ahead. We should be mindful of ensuring full utilization of existing facilities and the responsible funding and construction of new schools, of which Chapin is in need. And last of all, I want to encourage more communication between the board and the community with open dialogue and sharing of information to foster more trust and unity.

Larry D. Haltiwanger Sr.

Occupation: Retired from South Carolina Department of Disabilities and Special Needs; retail sales; independent insurance agent

Education: South Carolina State University; bachelor’s degree in biology from Benedict College

Why are you running for the school board?

To continue the excellence in education for our students and assist and provide support for our new superintendent, Christina Melton. I also want to continue as an advocate for teachers, continue putting students first and improving the safety of all District 5 schools.

What are the school district’s strengths?

The administrators, faculty, staff and students, as well as the community and parents that value education and are involved in the lives of our students. Excellence in academics, athletics and the arts sets us apart, too. ACT and SAT scores continue to be among the highest in the state and above the national average. has rated District 5 as the no. 1 district in the state for three out of the last five years.

What are the district’s biggest opportunities for improvement?

We must strive to maintain the excellence in education we’ve enjoyed over the years by being proactive in seeking ways to improve upon success. The community has an opportunity to return experienced and dedicated board members to assist our superintendent, Christina Melton, as she and her competent staff chart the course of action for the coming years.

Jan Hammond

Occupation: Teacher in Lexington School District Two

Education: BA from Winthrop University; Master in Teaching from University of South Carolina.

Why are you running for the school board?

I am running for school board to continue to be a voice for classroom teachers. School boards are responsible for policy and procedures that directly influence a teacher’s life. With the teacher shortage I believe it is essential that school boards be proactive in solving challenges our teachers face. As a current classroom teacher, I certainly know what these challenges are and my perspective is vital.

What are the school district’s strengths?

School District Five has a great number of strengths. We have dedicated teachers and involved parents as well as a large number of students who value a quality education. District Five has quality administrators and an exceptional reputation of excellence with a proven success record. We have dedicated employees in every aspect of our district. These factors contribute to our ability to attract high performing employees in all positions within a school district.

What are the district’s biggest opportunities for improvement?

We need to be more prudent in planning where property is purchased and where schools are built. We have neighborhoods of declining growth and areas of rapid growth. In order to ensure equity among schools, we must make tough decisions on how to best manage limited resources so that schools are located where all students across the district have equal opportunities and first class facilities. Procurement policies in the past have not always been followed and vital tax dollars have not always been spent wisely.

Jeff Herring

Occupation: Real estate abstractor

Education: Bachelor’s degree in economics from the University of South Carolina

Why are you running for the school board?

I have a daughter in this school district, so I have a vested interest. I also have a background in education, banking and finance, procurement and personnel decisions, so I believe I can be an asset to this board. I believe any school board should have representation from educators, parents and business people. I can provide all of this in one person. Critical business decisions are on the horizon in our district and I feel I have the ability to give constructive input from various levels.

What are the school district’s strengths?

Without a doubt, District 5’s biggest strength is its teachers, students, parents and community. For decades, District 5 has excelled academically. Our teachers have played a major role in its success. The guidance our teachers give the students is second to none. They are the backbone of this district.

Our students want to learn and be a part of the success. Their habits, academically and socially, enable our teachers to create a more positive learning environment. Parents from all over the country bring their children to District 5 because they want the best for their children. Most of the district parents are engaged in their children’s education and schools.

Finally, the District 5 community is a caring and giving community. Though the district covers a large area, the common goal in the entire area is to give our students the best education they can get.

What are the district’s biggest opportunities for improvement?

I believe District Five’s biggest opportunities for improvement are similar to most districts in the state. More resources should be focused inside the classrooms. It is vital that the interiors of all schools be given the resources to create the best environment for our teachers and the students. We must make our schools as safe as possible. Too many people I speak with are concerned about the safety of their children not only in the schools, but at school events. Communication with our community must always improve.

Kenneth B. Loveless

Occupation: Commercial/industrial building contractor

Education: Bachelor’s degree in building construction from Clemson University; master’s degree in business administration from the University of South Carolina

Why are you running for the school board?

First, I enjoy serving my community, and I feel I have something to offer. Having been a businessman employing more than 50 individuals locally for 32 years, I understand responsibility. We’ve constructed thousands of projects, including Riverbanks Zoo Botanical Garden, the UPS Columbia Airhub and most of the Michelin Lexington Plants. Large budgets and big ideas are routine.

I understand design, estimating, constructability, value engineering, scheduling, budgeting, contracts, bonding, audits, insurance, financial statements, employee review, job enrichment, motivational and retention techniques.

We think outside the box. My wife and I paid for a revamp of the curriculum for the LEAP magnet program at Leaphart Elementary. I formed a public-private partnership for the remedial Math Matters course, which served all district middle schools. We participated in Virtual Shadowing, an online shadowing program for students in areas where employers are few. We augmented teacher’s salaries through our apprenticeship program. My company partnered with Clemson University to use distance-learning to offer degrees to students employed locally.

Secondly, while we excel in many areas, we’re deficient in others, such as finance and construction-management. I’m running to address these shortcomings.

What are the school district’s strengths?

The district reflects a diverse populace consisting of highly motivated parents and well-prepared students. It has done a marvelous job creating opportunities for AP students. Its Center for Advanced Technical Studies is the envy of the Midlands. Test scores are high and class sizes are low. We attract top-tier teachers and staff. To continue the trend, we must address compensation.

What are the district’s biggest opportunities for improvement?

Our company employs district graduates. Our area’s most precious resource, our work ethic, is slipping. To reverse that trend, rigorous efforts to instill, nurture and stoke the drive to succeed must be redoubled. Inspiration can’t replace perspiration. SAT and ACT test scores are not the only measure of future success.

We must improve our finance and construction management practices. Transparency and oversight are needed. In some instances, we’ve paid for land which now sits unused, as with the Derrick Pond property. This could have been avoided with due diligence.

Student safety must be a priority. We must prioritize existing schools’ needs over new construction. Older schools in Lexington County are overlooked. Chapin’s stadium has fallen behind others in renovations.

Ed White

Occupation: Attorney and partner with Nelson, Mullins, Riley and Scarborough, L.L.P.

Education: Bachelor’s degree from the University of South Carolina, a J.D. from the University of South Carolina School of Law and a LL. M. Taxation degree from New York University Schoo

Why are you running for the school board?

White has served for 16 years on the District 5 School board and he has decided to run again to provide his knowledge, experience and insights on the board to assist in the transition to our new, first time superintendent, Christina Melton, to help her and the board continue the tradition of excellence in District 5.

What are the school district’s strengths?

Tradition of excellence in providing a top notch education to all of our students.

In District 5, SAT scores consistently have been above the national average; ACT scores have been among the highest in the State; we have many award-winning schools and programs including the Center for Advanced Technical Studies, which has drawn visitors from as far away as China, Japan and Russia, and; we provide expanded magnet and choice options for students.

Additionally, has rated the District as the No.1 district in S.C. for 3 of the last 5 years.

What are the district’s biggest opportunities for improvement?

District 5 currently has a staple of experienced board members who know how to empower a good superintendent to lead the District to higher levels of success. District 5 has a promising first time superintendent, Christina Melton, who has the

skills to lead District 5 to higher levels of success. As long as the voters return experienced board members (who know how to stay out of the superintendent’s job of running the schools) in the current election, then District 5 is poised to soar to even

higher levels of success.

Responses have been lightly edited for clarity and style.

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