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Five seek school board seat; Orangeburg County District 2 candidates discuss priorities
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Five seek school board seat; Orangeburg County District 2 candidates discuss priorities

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Five candidates are running for the District 2 seat on the Orangeburg County School District board.

The candidates for the seat are Yolanda Hanton, Kenneth Hilliard, Jimmy Montgomery, Sylvia Bruce-Stephens and Kenita Pitts-Howard.

Only voters who live in District 2 can cast a ballot for the race in the Nov. 3 election.

Sylvia Bruce-Stephens

Bruce-Stephens obtained a bachelor’s degree in business management, a master’s degree in business education and management, and a doctorate in business management and decision sciences.

She retired from the Bamberg Job Corps, where she was over the education department. Bruce-Stephens also teaches theology/religion.

Bruce-Stephens detailed her experience relevant to the school board position.

“All my children graduated from school in the Bowman area. I do tutoring at the school. I’m very instrumental in working with the school and with the principal. I have taught the classes on etiquette in Holly Hill,” she said

Bruce-Stephens noted that she is involved in providing scholarships to students through the various organizations she belongs to.

She is seeking to be elected for many reasons.

“Our children need to know that you care. You can say you love me all you want, but if you don’t care, then I don’t know you care. Because they see things more than they hear things. We need to be available for the children,” Bruce-Stephens said.

“A school board member needs to go to the school, not announced, but unannounced. Go to the school, see what’s going on, to see what else needs to be done and what needs to be brought into the school,” Bruce-Stephens said.

Bruce-Stephens identified several goals she would work to accomplish if elected.

“I would help with the mentoring program. Not only would I help, I would be one of the mentors so that we could get the kids on the right track,” she said.

Bruce-Stephens also said she would work to be an advocate for the teachers.

“Our teachers are our greatest asset. We can’t expect to pay teachers chicken’s change and expect them to do 150-cent work. Classes are overcrowded, we need to work on that,” Bruce-Stephens said.

She expressed her views on how the district managed consolidation.

“Consolidation is a good thing, however, it should have been more thought out and planned because you’re looking at 100 miles of territory,” Bruce-Stephens said.

“Consolidation was much needed. We needed to do some things to get everybody together, but there should have been a time schedule and this is what we expect to happen during this time,” Bruce-Stephens said.

She also expressed her views on how the district managed the coronavirus.

“I think they have done well under the conditions,” Bruce-Stephens said. “It has caused a lot of hardship on parents.”

“The coronavirus has impacted quite a bit. If we do what we need to do, we put those masks on, if we follow the protocol or what they’re saying to control it, I think the schools will be OK,” Bruce-Stephens said.

Yolanda Hanton

Hanton works as a professional counselor, most recently with Orangeburg Area Mental Health. Hanton also owns an insurance agency.

She received a bachelor’s degree in sociology/criminal justice from Claflin University and a degree from South Carolina State University in professional counseling/rehab.

Hanton detailed her experience relevant to the school board position.

“I was the work-based learning coordinator with, and also a school-based counselor through Orangeburg Area Mental Health. Also, through my non-profit, I do advocacy mentorships through my non-profit, which is called CAM Awareness,” Hanton said.

She also noted that she has sponsored an annual back-to-school drive for the past decade.

Hanton is running for office because she is concerned about students’ educational achievement.

“I want to ensure that they obtain the best education possible to prepare them for the future,” Hanton said.

She says she wants to provide multiple pathways for children to achieve.

“We need to start looking at our kids in elementary schools to focus on them trying to find out their career paths while in middle school, then once they get to high school, they’re able to tap into that,” Hanton said.

“Start seeking certifications, getting apprenticeships or internships before they graduate,” she said.

Hanton said, if elected, she would work to accomplish her goals, which include, “providing multiple pathways for our students for them to fill their potentials through our CATEs programs; definitely increase spending on counseling services within schools to help our students with all the most recent gun violence that we’re having; to try to have specialists in the schools to support the students and their families, to help them through their grieving process, so they won’t resort to alcohol or drugs.”

She also stated that she would work to implement community school models, building community hubs that will serve the community. Hanton said she would also review the budget, and work to ensure open communication between the board and the community.

Hanton expressed her thoughts on how the district managed the consolidation of three districts into one.

“It was a struggle at the beginning, but I think they have improved now. I realized that we are one district and we need to come together as one,” Hanton said.

Hanton also expressed her views on how the district managed the coronavirus.

“I think they have handled it, for this being the first time we’ve ever been in the situation at hand, I think they handled it very well. Most recently with the students going back to school, and seeing how they have the shields up for the students, they’re giving the kids masks. I think they’ve done well to start the hybrid sessions for the students,” Hanton stated.

Hanton said that safety must come first.

Kenneth Hilliard

Hilliard is employed at the Food Lion facility in Elloree and has been working there for over two decades.

He served on the former Orangeburg Consolidated School District 3 school board.

Hilliard stated that he is seeking election for several reasons.

“I want to be a voice for our students. I feel every child should be treated equally. And with my voice being heard, I think I can help with that, or to kind of see to it that everyone is being treated equally. Every child has the right to the same rights,” Hilliard said.

Hilliard identified several goals he would work to accomplish if elected.

“I would look to accomplish making sure that safety is first among all students and teachers. And everything is spread equally across the board for both faculty and staff,” Hilliard said.

Hilliard expressed his views on how the district managed consolidation.

“As far as I’m seeing and what I’m hearing, I’m hearing that they’ve been managing pretty good,” Hilliard said.

Hilliard also expressed his thoughts on how the district handled coronavirus.

“I’m thinking they are handling it pretty well. I kind of expect it, where this is a rural area, but the district is pretty big, and with everybody trying to go virtual and online at the same time, I know that the internet would probably crash. That would probably be the biggest setback that they would have right now,” Hilliard said.

Jimmy Montgomery

Montgomery is currently employed at the South Carolina Department of Health and Human Services. He has also served as a teaching fellow at Scott’s Branch Middle-High School, and he was a teacher at Garden City Preparatory Academy.

Montgomery obtained an associate’s degree in public/human services from Orangeburg- Calhoun Technical College, and a bachelor’s degree in political science from South Carolina State University.

Montgomery detailed his experience relevant to the school board position.

“I am a former educator. I have taught for several years. Although I am not teaching anymore, I know the struggles and challenges teachers and students face in the classroom,” Montgomery said.

He is seeking election for several reasons.

“I decided to run for seat two because I wanted to use my voice to advocate for students, making sure they receive a high-quality education. Also, to advocate on behalf of all faculty and staff members, making sure they have all the necessary tools needed at their disposal to ensure that our children will achieve educational success,” Montgomery said.

If elected, Montgomery has several goals he would work to accomplish.

“My goals are to focus on student achievement, ensuring that every student achieves the highest academic performance possible; community/parental engagement, creating an environment of collaboration and transparency with the families of students and with our community as a whole; technology and making sure that technology is incorporated into all aspects of education,” Montgomery said.

Montgomery also said he would work to ensure the district develops a recruitment and retention program so the district hires and retains highly qualified and effective personnel.

“If elected, I would like to accomplish making sure every student is on a path to graduate and is educationally prepared to lead a successful life, bridging the gap between the community and school board, maintaining financial stability and securing competitive pay for classroom teachers,” Montgomery said.

Montgomery expressed his views on how the district managed the coronavirus.

“I would say the district was very effective in managing the coronavirus. The reason being the safety for students, faculty and staff was the top priority,” Montgomery said. Moving forward, the district should “clearly communicate the steps that are being taken to address concerns about COVID-19, remain flexible and make informed adjustments to communications and actions if new information becomes available.”

Montgomery also expressed his views on how the district has managed consolidation.

“The district has worked strenuously over the years to make sure every school is on equal footing with the necessary resources needed to strengthen academics and enrichment for our students. However, there is also room for improvement to make sure that even the smaller rural schools have their voices heard and needs met,” Montgomery said.

Kenita Pitts-Howard

Pitts-Howard is a graduate of Claflin University. She is employed as a branch banker with BB&T bank.

Pitts-Howard previously worked at South Carolina State University as the assistant director of admissions and student services program coordinator.

Pitts-Howard stated that she has experience relevant to the school board position, including serving on the South Carolina State University Board of Trustees.

“I’ve also been the vice president for Orangeburg Consolidated School District 5’s BootStraps Mentoring Foundation Board of Directors. I’ve also served on the board of directors for the Wesley Foundation,” Pitts-Howard stated.

Pitts-Howard is seeking to be elected for several reasons.

“I’m seeking election because I see the need for change. I ran for a seat two years ago, and the things that I talked about two years ago still have not come to pass,” Pitts-Howard said.

“Our students deserve better, our students deserve exposure and they deserve every opportunity possible. I think the children should be afforded these things no matter what district they live in, part of town they live in, what area they live in,” Pitts-Howard.

“We have great resources here in Orangeburg County we need to tap into,” Pitts-Howard stated.

She identified the goals she would work to accomplish if elected.

“My main goal would be exposure, mentorship, internship, shadowing programs,” Pitts-Howard said.

Also, she said “we really need to hold our county responsible for this broadband. We have a lot of families struggling because they don’t have internet access, or they have dial-up access, or they have to go to McDonald’s parking lot just to get Wi-Fi so that students can do their work.”

Pitts-Howard said that parents need to be educated as well.

“We need to get the community involved as a whole, and we need to learn and figure out how to bridge the gap between community and school,” Pitts-Howard said.

Pitts-Howard expressed her views on how the district managed consolidation.

“In the beginning, I was hopeful because I felt that if we consolidated all of the schools, that every school would get their fair share, and every child will be afforded the same opportunities as the bigger schools,” Pitts-Howard.

“Right now I’m really disappointed in the change because it just feels like it’s a struggle between the schools. I do understand that when you merge three districts it's always going to be a little pull and a little tug-o-war because they’re used to doing things their way in their district,” Pitts-Howard said.

Pitts-Howard believes there is a lot of room for improvement.

“It’s all about being educated, it’s all about being invested and vested into our children’s future. I think it could be a great thing,” Pitts-Howard.

She also expressed her views on how the district managed the coronavirus.

“I think that the communication could have been a little bit better,” Pitts-Howard said.

“It’s new for everybody, and everyone is trying to navigate through the new norm. Are there things that could be done better? Of course. But, we have to figure it out first, and I think everybody needs to give the administration and the teachers an opportunity to figure it out,” Pitts-Howard.

Pitts-Howard said that both parents and district officials must be engaged and work together to navigate the new normal.

Contact the writer: bharris@timesanddemocrat.com or 803-596-6530

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Staff Writer

Bradley Harris is a Government and Sports Reporter. The Irmo, SC native is a 2018 graduate of Claflin University and recipient of the 2018 South Carolina Press Association Collegiate Journalist of the Year Award.

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