Editor's note: Ten candidates for three open seats on the Aiken County School Board will answer questions and present their platforms at a forum on Nov. 19. Sponsored by the Aiken Standard, the forum will begin at 6:30 p.m. in the Aiken Municipal Building at 214 Park Ave. S.W. Doors will open at 6 p.m. The forum is free and open to the public. Seating is limited to 150, so attendees must RSVP online at tickets.aikenstandard.com or call the Aiken Standard at 803-648-2311 during the hours of 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday through Friday. A special election to fill the seats will be Dec. 10. 

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George Grieve

Candidate for District 7

Hometown: Grew up in North Augusta, S.C. and has lived in Aiken District 7 since 1985 

Occupation: Purchasing coordinator for the City of Aiken

• Why are you seeking office?

I have a passion for education and wanting to see people succeed. My mother was an English teacher and guidance counsellor for over 43 years, and my wife has been a teacher and librarian for over 25 years. Our son is an assistant professor in Exercise Science.

I earned a Bachelor of Science degree in Industrial Management from Clemson University and a Master in Business Administration degree from Augusta University. I have over 36 years of experience in private manufacturing and municipal government which includes production analysis, logistics, plant scheduling, purchasing and materials management.

My background and experience will enable me to positively contribute to the team in the areas of efficiency, materials and human resource management, policies and procedures, and communication.

• What do you view as the priorities in your district and how will you address them as a member of the School Board?

The most important priority is to teach all students the knowledge and skills that will ensure their continued success after graduation.

Secondly, in order to have a top-notch organization, you must hire and retain top-notch people.

Finally, all established policies and procedures must be adequately communicated and enforced in a fair and consistent manner.

As a member of the school board, my focus will be to always encourage and maintain open communication channels. I will solicit and welcome input from teachers, administrators and constituency of the schools in my district on ways to improve the system and guarantee the best education possible for our students. This data will be continuously relayed to members of the board and appropriate personnel.

I will concentrate on making sure we always obtain and take care of our most important resource: our teachers and administrators. They need to be empowered and provided the necessary resources to do their job well.

• What do you view as priorities in the Aiken County school district as a whole?

The priorities of my district should also be the priorities of the Aiken County school district as a whole. In addition, each of the nine districts need to focus on working together harmoniously as a team. This includes constantly sharing beneficial information, building upon the successes of individual districts and schools and ensuring that policies and procedures are enforced consistently, equally, and fairly.

Between teachers, administrators, and the people of Aiken County, there is a wealth of available knowledge and experience. I want to make sure that we are utilizing this resource in the best way possible. Good open communication is essential to make this happen.

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Patrice Rhinehart-Jackson

Candidate for District 7

Occupation: Residential support person for Tri-Development

• Why are you seeking office?

I am running to offer my services and skills for the improvement of a good school system. I believe every child deserves and should be afforded every opportunity to the best education possible. I further believe each child should be challenged to reach for the sky in achieving his/her goals.

• What do you view as the priorities in your district and how will you address them as a member of the School Board?

Those priorities are: students, faculty (administrators, teachers, and staff), facilities, and a solid school board. I will be supportive of all programs, procedures, actions, etc. which increase student comprehension and performance.

• What do you view as priorities in the Aiken County school district as a whole?

As a whole, Aiken County needs board members who are genuinely concerned about the educational welfare and well-being of all students. There is a definite need for board members to desire, promote, and strive for a-better-than-average school system.

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Dr. Kristin Beard

Candidate for District 8

Hometown: Anderson, SC

Occupation: Homemaker and full-time mom of two boys

• Why are you seeking office?

Before becoming a full-time mom to my two boys, one of whom has special needs and attends Millbrook Elementary, I earned my Ph.D. and spent many years teaching at Clemson University. I believe my experiences – as a researcher, a college instructor, and a special needs mom – have taught me a lot and given me a unique and valuable perspective, which I want to bring to the school board. Most importantly, I have learned to never give up looking for the best answers. If elected, I will dedicate myself to finding tested, researched, and data-driven solutions to the challenges our district faces: solutions that work in our community and respect the developmental needs of all students.

• What do you view as the priorities in your district and how will you address them as a member of the School Board?

One of the major concerns is the transparency of the decision-making process of the School Board. The district makes extremely important decisions that affect thousands of families, but sometimes the information driving it is opaque. School board meetings can be very hard to follow; the board members often vote on issues with little public discussion having each studied the issue and asked questions of the administration before the meeting. If elected, I will work to ensure that the data, research, or other considerations behind my votes is readily available to my constituents. I will make sure that when we make hard decisions at meetings the hard questions get asked and answered in public.

• What do you view as priorities in the Aiken County school district as a whole?

I see a lot of overlap between the priorities of my district and the county at large. In addition to the importance of transparent data-driven decision-making, I want to prioritize discipline policies, expansion of the free-to-all school lunch program, and teacher recruitment and retention. I see all these issues as interconnected, and I do not under-estimate the difficulty in addressing these problems. When we work to ensure that every student has a safe school with proper facilities, fair effective discipline, a full tummy, adequate daily recess, and the special education and mental health support they need, our schools will become great schools to attend and great schools in which to work.

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Dr. John Bradley

John Bradley

Candidate for District 8

Hometown: Aiken

Occupation: Clinical psychologist

• Why are you seeking office?

I believe that education is the key to success and a good life for our children. I come from a background in which my mother, wife and numerous aunts and uncles were teachers. I played an active role in the Aiken School District for 37 years, 21 as an assistant superintendent and 16 as a member of the school board after retiring from the District. I served as chairman of the Board for 13 of these 16 years. The School District has recently experienced some trying times and I believe that my experience and understanding of the District can be of help in guiding the District forward. One of the major roles of the School Board is the hiring of a permanent superintendent, a process that I have been involved in several times, and I believe that my experience could prove helpful in this process. I am a team player and believe that I can work effectively with the other members of the Board, both old and new, to guide the District forward.

• What do you view as the priorities in your district and how will you address them as a member of the School Board?

The immediate need is to hire a superintendent. I can help with this by being familiar with the process and with having worked with and hired superintendents in the past. I have a knowledge of the traits and characteristics necessary one must have to effective a a superintendent.

A major function of the Board is to provide a safe, comfortable environment in which students can learn and teachers can teach. I will support efforts to continue to provide such an environment.

Teacher retention and attracting new teachers is becoming increasingly important. As a board member, I would work with the other board members to find incentives for teachers to stay in the Aiken District and to entice teachers from other locales to Aiken as needed.

• What do you view as priorities in the Aiken County school district as a whole?

A major priority is to improve student learning. I would encourage the staff and fellow board members to continue to look for ways of improving our instructional program. This would include teacher development, new and creative instructional methods, and continuous evaluation of student learning to insure that the district is meeting the needs of students.

The District’s instructional program should continue to strive to have programs for all students. The student body of our District varies widely in interests and abilities. The District needs to continue to develop programs that meet the educational needs of all of these students.

Another priority of the District should be to monitor and improve safety procedures to insure student safety.

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Timothy Govenettio

Candidate for District 8

Hometown: Aiken

Occupation: Registered professional nurse

• Why are you seeking office? 

We moved to Aiken 4 years ago. I have 2 special needs children, one had a successful start due to the programs they have in New York – a 5-star blue-ribbon school. He is now in the gifted and talented class. Our younger started in Aiken but has not done nearly as well. Over the past 4 years, I have learned a tremendous amount of information about how the school district works, its successes and failures. I have done extensive research and have supplied that to the Aiken school district that could not only assist the special needs students and teachers, but also improve the quality of education for all the students. Working as a parent with the teachers and administration, I only got so far. As a board member I can do much, much more. I had talked w/S. Alford several times over the years, as well as with the school board members at that time, I sought to address this with them, but... changes/improvement are needed.

• What do you view as the priorities in your district and how will you address them as a member of the School Board?

Improving the quality of education for our children, meeting standards is not enough. Accountability, meet the needs of the students, more special needs classes and staff, more specialized classes to nurture and promote student strengths and success, and help those that need help in weaker areas. In servicing classes for staff and administration to address the needs and concerns. More specialized training for teachers, staff and administrators. Recognize and act when there is a problem, or before there is one. Let the teachers and staff know that concerns/problems can be brought up without fear of reprisal. Zero tolerance for bullying – students, staff, administration. To improve the over all quality of education, adaptive learning/teaching techniques, and specialized classes prove highly successful, additional training for teachers and staff where needed.

• What do you view as priorities in the Aiken County school district as a whole? 

To improve the overall quality of education, the Aiken school district can be the premier school district in South Carolina. We need to focus on the children, a building does not teach – teachers do. We need to not rezone/redistrict, but address the concerns with a persons area school to make that also into a school you want your child to attend instead of having to go to a out of zone school. I have reservations concerning having a whole school dedicated to only one grade. We need to research best practice/blue ribbon schools, see how they do it, and do it here. A school board member has the responsibility to represent not just the district, but also the system as a whole. To take action when there is a concern and follow through, not pass the buck. Our children are our future.

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Bruce Wheelon

Candidate for District 8

Hometown: Aiken

Occupation: Retired educator

• Why are you seeking office?

I was asked by several groups to run for school board. I believe I have a unique perspective to offer. With my background of 40 years in education including elementary, middle, high school and as a college administrator, I feel I bring much experience to the table.

• What do you view as the priorities in your district and how will you address them as a member of the school board?

My first priority is to rezone or return the school zones back to the way they were. Secondly, I wish to put in place the climate and support to return discipline to the classroom so that teachers can teach. Thirdly, allow teachers to teach! This will entail revisiting the myriad of programs, testing and locally mandated distractions to accomplishing No. 3.

• What do you view as priorities in the Aiken County school district as a whole?

To make Aiken County School District a place of which teachers and administrators want to be a part. We have lost to many great teachers/ administrators to surrounding counties. We are not the district educators want to come to. I also want to be sure we as a district provide a safe environment for our students to continue to thrive, be challenged, and excel.

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Robert (Bob) T. Byrne

Candidate for District 9

Hometown: Cleveland, Ohio

Occupation: Retired: Ordained minister, Evangelical Lutheran Church in America / Operations controller, Engineered Motor Division - Reliance Electric Co.

• Why are you seeking office?

Aiken County schools have made positive strides toward excellence in recent years. I want to serve the students, teachers, administrators and citizens of this district to see that our positive trajectory is sustained. Excellence in any organization is matter of continuous improvements. Policies enacted by the school board going forward need to focus on continuously improving the performance of our schools. I am seeking to serve on the board in order to be positive collaborative influence to achieve that result.

• What do you view as the priorities in your district and how will you address them as a member of the School Board?

Policies initiated by the board deal with issues across district lines and as such need to be addressed by board members collaboratively and in that light. Discipline in the schools as it affects teachers' ability to be affective in the classroom is a priority concern that was raised to me by multiple parents as I was seeking petition signatures. Improvement in that area seems a priority. We need to find improvements in how our policies support teachers such that they may be more affective in the classroom to the benefit of the great majority of students. Millbrook Elementary renovation plans and completion is another priority. It is important to finalize the plans, to bid the project out, and to bring the project to completion in a timely and fiscally responsible manner.

• What do you view as priorities in the Aiken County school district as a whole?

Priority No. 1 is to continue the positive improvements that have taken place in recent years in our school system by focusing on positive results, maintaining fiscal discipline and extending innovation to schools who still need performance improvement while we undertake an open collaborative search for a new Superintendent capable of providing leadership to continue our positive trajectory. Teachers are the front line professionals who make good on our responsibility to give the opportunity of academic excellence to students. A continuing priority is to recruit, retain and support the best teachers available for our schools. As front line professionals they need to be encouraged and supported in making their opinions and needs known in order to deliver quality education opportunity. Last but certainly not least, the security of students and school employees in our schools is a daily priority. We need to be diligent to review, update and improve security policies in our schools.

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Pam Diaz

Candidate for District 9

Hometown: New Providence, N.J.

Occupation: Fitness instructor, homemaker, former financial analyst / accountant (15 years)

• Why are you seeking office?

I am seeking office because I have been a parent of children in the school system for 10 years and will continue to be for another seven. I have nine children who have made or are making their way through Aiken County Public Schools. Throughout this time, I have witnessed firsthand, through substitute teaching, as well as volunteering in the classrooms, numerous changes. Many of those changes have been positive; however, the professional environment at many of our schools is not. Teachers are suffering, for many different reasons, and if our teachers are suffering, then our children are, as well. I am running to evoke a culture change in our schools; one that does not rely on competition, but rather, on unity and transparency.

• What do you view as the priorities in your district and how will you address them as a member of the School Board?

Safety – ensure that children and teachers feel safe, both physically and emotionally. Physical safety represents the security of our buildings. I will assess the need for metal detectors, School Resource Officer presence, utilization of retired police or veterans and random searches. Emotional safety includes support of teachers by administrators, Executive Directors, Superintendent and Board of Education representatives. Teachers should not fear repercussions of reaching out to district resources. I will reevaluate class behaviors; violence should not occur in our classrooms.

Discipline – this encompasses a multitude of areas, but primarily I will focus on adhering to and enforcing the code of conduct, without pandering to disruptive people. I will also initiate a validation process of the Alternative Behavior Educator (ABE) discipline referral system to ensure accurate and authentic data.

Letting Teachers Teach – includes a comprehensive analysis of the amounts of mandatory vs. district testing to determine best practice. Teachers' planning and instructional time is of vital importance, not only to them but to the children. I will re-implement the Job & Task Analysis, only this time as a completely anonymous survey, where teachers cannot be identified, overseen by the Board of Education representatives. This data will help analyze where teachers’ time is spent.

• What do you view as priorities in the Aiken County school district as a whole?

I believe a shift to a positive perspective is necessary for change in Aiken County schools. Teachers feel compelled to compete with each other for administrative support, when they should be looking to each other for guidance and support. Administrators should be creating an environment of strong yet gracious leadership. A standard of culture and expectation should be set and defined for every single employee, even at the District level. I would like to develop a program that defines what three things – Respectful, Responsible, and Supportive – mean in each job position. What do those traits look like, in action, in each position? In each school? In each student? What starts at the top needs to permeate into every level of our District. Aiken County school district needs to move in a positive direction – a direction built on a new norm of integrity, accountability and care.

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Keith Harp 

Candidate for District 9

Hometown: Aiken

Occupation: Program manager for Savannah River Remediation

• Why are you seeking office?

I have two grandchildren in Aiken County Public Schools currently and a third will begin next year. I want to do all I can to ensure all three of them plus the other 24,000+ students in Aiken County have an opportunity to gain the best education in a safe and respectful setting.

• What do you view as the priorities in your district and how will you address them as a member of the School Board?

Not in any specific order: Accountability, Respect, Transparency and Safety.

Accountability on the parts of our parents, students and administrators is extremely important, and I will work to hold people accountable as well as ask the people in District 9 to hold me accountable;

Providing and requiring respect between parents, students and administrators is a necessity. People not showing respect to another person is inexcusable, and I will work with the other Board Members and Administrators to help facilitate respect across each school in our County;

Transparency is essential to every person voted into a position. Within the legal limits of the position I will hold, I will be as transparent as I can be with the parents, students and administrators in District 9; and,

Safety of the students and administrators in our public schools should be a Core Value to everyone in Aiken County. If there are safety concerns in our schools that could have or has had a negative impact on innocent students or administrators, I will work hard to resolve the issue in a positive way.

• What do you view as priorities in the Aiken County school district as a whole?

The priorities mentioned above are key across all 40-plus schools in Aiken County. The only thing I will add is to prioritize the unity of the school board members to ensure a common goal of desiring and providing Aiken County students with the best education possible and to develop the best leaders for the future Aiken County.

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Cameron Nuessle

Candidate for District 9

Hometown: Aiken

Occupation: Quality assurance manager at Savannah River National Laboratory

• Why are you seeking office?

My family is rooted in Aiken and invested in our public schools. I grew up in Aiken, my children attend Aiken County public schools, and I am proud to count many educators among my family, including my wife, Dawn. Over the past several years, I’ve regularly attended Aiken County School Board meetings to listen and observe as a concerned parent and citizen. I have seen great work from our educators, and I am excited about the progress our schools have made. But we can do more. Parents want to be informed and want to know their children are safe. Students want to achieve and find meaningful careers. Educators want to be valued and supported. I want to advocate for them: the parents, students and teachers of Aiken County. Only through working together can we find workable solutions that benefit the students of Aiken County.

• What do you view as the priorities in your district and how will you address them as a member of the School Board?

Safety: We need to ensure school security and consistent discipline, so all students can learn in a safe place. Infrastructure upgrades need to continue and include enhancements to security. I would advocate for funding to ensure an adequate number of school resource officers. The education of the vast majority of students in a classroom cannot be jeopardized by regularly disruptive students. An alternative setting needs to be available to get behaviors back on track. Behavioral resources need to be available to students in kindergarten through second grade, where they currently are not offered.

Collaboration: I will build trust and collaboration among the board, the district and the community. Transparency is a must – citizens have a right to know how and why decisions are made. I will provide updates to my district on a regular basis, hold quarterly feedback sessions in the district and, most importantly, be approachable and responsive when a community member contacts me. I also think it important for school board members to be present in schools to stay in touch. I will spend time monthly in district schools to stay grounded in the success and opportunities in our schools.

• What do you view as priorities in the Aiken County school district as a whole?

A top priority is valuing educators and their time by providing the tools and support they need. I will work to eliminate non-value-added tasks, including examining the amount of testing and assessment done by the district that goes beyond state required testing.

Investment in preschool has been shown to return dividends by preventing future problems. Preschool is offered to at-risk children in Aiken County; however, there is a waiting list. I will work to find additional funding, within our budget, to enroll more at-risk children in 4K. Additionally, children in kindergarten through second grade need intervention and support to address their unique set of academic and social-emotional needs. I will explore interventions at the early childhood level, rather than wait until they reach 3rd grade.

Aiken County has invested and made progress in career readiness. We must prepare students for an evolving job market. I will continue to support investment in vocational and technological training, foster partnerships with industry to gain experience for students and ensure curriculum is evolving with the future job market. It is critical that the administration is working on the curriculum of the future that instills necessary skills like creative thinking, collaboration and problem solving.