School board candidates reject top-down management

September 07 10:16 2018 Print This Article

Six challengers for the Charleston County School Board agreed that the Charleston County School District’s (CCSD) current top-down management practices will not help improve student achievement. The candidates, Paul Padron, Vivian Pettigrew, Jake Rambo, Sarah Johnson, Herbert Fielding, and Linda Lucas all participated in a forum for school board challengers Thursday, sponsored by the non-profit groups Quality Education Project and Flip the Board. Live 5 News anchor Michal Higdon moderated the round-robin forum. A follow-up forum including the three incumbents on the ballot will be held in October. Four school board seats are on the November 6 ballot.

The candidates also generally agreed about the need to give principals more leeway in managing their schools, providing more resources to help high-poverty schools improve, reducing spending on bureaucrats and consultants, and exercising the school board’s statutory role of setting school district policies. Here is a summary of the six challengers who participated:

Paul Padron. Padron is one of three candidates running for the open West Ashley seat. He served as a principal in three different schools in CCSD and also as an Associate Superintendent. He noted that as principal, he often got directives from bureaucrats who never visited his school. He was critical of how CCSD handled a 2014 incident in which child pornography was discovered on a school employee’s computer. The employee wound up getting a promotion and was later charged with child molestation. Padron said, “More heads should have rolled a long time ago.”

Herbert Fielding. Fielding is also running for the West Ashley seat. He is a retired state employee. One of his assignments was job placement for veterans. He observed that few South Carolina natives were qualified for the jobs at Boeing and other manufacturing companies. Fielding wants to see technology brought into the classroom to facilitate individual learning plans, based on student aptitude.

Jake Rambo. Rambo is running for one of the two East Cooper seats. He is the former principal at James B. Edwards Elementary. Rambo spoke out against the CCSD practice of issuing sole-source contracts and hiring too many high-priced consultants. He asked, “How does that benefit the students?” He said low-income students need greater access to pre-school and after school programs. He advocated for bringing back reading and math intervention programs that were eliminated after an $18 million shortfall was discovered in the CCSD budget several years ago.

Sarah Johnson. Johnson is also running for the East Cooper seats. She is currently the Chairwoman for the District 2 constituent school board, which handles suspension and expulsion hearings for students in East Cooper schools. Johnson cites her financial management expertise as one of her strengths. As a financial paralegal, Johnson reviewed bankruptcy cases and made criminal referrals to the U.S. Department of Justice when potential fraud was uncovered. She said, “I’m good at finding suspicious expenditures.” She also chided the CCSD disciplinary manual as a “secret plan” that had no input from the teachers, principals, parents or the community. She wants to have an inclusive process to re-write the manual.

Vivian Pettigrew. Pettigrew is running for the open North Area seat. She is a retired CCSD teacher and currently volunteers in multiple North Charleston schools. Pettigrew operates a tax service and has expertise in financial management. She once trained principals in financial accountability and currently advises small businesses and non-profits on budgeting and accounting. While supporting school choice, Pettigrew says the district’s top priority should be improving and meeting the needs of the neighborhood schools.

Linda Lucas. Lucas is also running for the North Area seat. She is a retired guidance counselor who has served gifted-and-talented and at-risk students. She spoke of the opportunity gap for low-income students and the fact that first-year teachers are often assigned to high-poverty schools. The teachers often don’t have connections to the neighborhoods they serve or understand the culture and speech patterns of their students. Lucas was the only challenger who spoke favorably about Superintendent Gerrita Postlewait.

None of the candidates referred to the recently released SC Ready test scores, which revealed that only 11.5% of CCSD black students in the 7th grade met or exceeded grade level standards. The scores also revealed that only seven neighborhood schools outside of East Cooper had more than half of their students scoring at or above grade level in English or math.