Meet Lura Godfrey and Lynda Leventis-Wells, candidates for Greenville County Schools Board of Trustees for Area 22. In this episode, each candidate has 10 minutes to introduce themselves to the voters. Your vote is so important! Please take a listen and share with your neighbors. Find your sample ballot at www.scvotes.gov.
Produced by The Greenville Podcast Company. Simple Civics: Greenville County is a project of Greater Good Greenville.
Catherine Schumacher, Public Education Partners 0:00
Simple Civics: Greenville County is sponsored by Public Education Partners and informedsc.org. Informedsc.org is an award winning data center that provides nonpartisan comprehensive information about all things public education in Greenville County and South Carolina. From student testing to teacher salaries to district budgets, informedsc.org makes it easy to find the information you need to understand the issues and advocate for students, teachers and schools. Visit informedsc.org. Informing influencers, advancing public schools.
Katy Smith 0:35
On November 8 voters across the country head to the polls to elect those who will represent us in local, state, and federal government. Some Greenville County voters will see choices for Greenville County Schools trustees on their ballots. Today we are pleased to have Public Education Partners join us in bringing you a six part series to introduce to you the Greenville County School Board candidates who are running to set policy and direction for the public school district that serves 77,000 students, 6000 teachers and 10,000 employees. Candidates will be interviewed by Catherine Schumacher, President and CEO of Public Education Partners. Today we introduce the candidates from Area 22, which is generally North Main, Wade Hampton Boulevard and Pelham Road, Lura Godfrey and Lynda Leventis-Wells. Here were our ground rules. Each candidate received the same questions at the time of their invitation to join us. Each was given 10 minutes for their interview. They were also allowed to bring along a companion such as a campaign manager, family member or friend and to record our session themselves. There were no edits made to the interviews with the candidates. You can see if they are on your ballot by looking up your sample ballot at SCvotes.gov. First up alphabetically is Lura Godfrey.
Catherine Schumacher, Public Education Partners 1:56
Well, I’m joined by Lura Godfrey, who is running for Greenville County Schools trustee for Area 22. And Lura, thanks for joining me today.
Lura Godfrey, Area 22 2:05
Thanks for having me.
Catherine Schumacher, Public Education Partners 2:06
So why don’t we start by… why don’t you tell us a little bit about yourself and why you decided to run to be a Greenville County Schools trustee.
Lura Godfrey, Area 22 2:14
Well, I appreciate the opportunity to be here. My full name is Laura de Antonio Godfrey. I’m a public school kid from Spartanburg District Six. I’ve lived in Greenville since 2006 with my husband Mark. We are both architects and we own our our, our own firm together – LNG architects. We have two boys, 14 and 11, who are students at Greenville County Schools.
Catherine Schumacher, Public Education Partners 2:36
So how does your professional and personal experience make you a good candidate for the school board?
Lura Godfrey, Area 22 2:44
As I mentioned earlier, I’m a trained architect and one of the skills I use daily in my profession is collaborative problem solving. Often in the design process, many different opinions and options are brought to the table. With that information, I work towards the most effective solution, keeping in mind the needs of the client, the budget and construction methods. I always tell my clients that I have no ego when I’m designing and I prefer to work as a team with the client, the builder or the interior designer to provide them with the most effective solution for their building. I will apply the same collaborative approach as I work through each issue the board needs to address. I know I don’t have all the answers. So I want to hear from folks that have the information needed to find the most effective solution for the district. I’ve also been heavily involved with volunteering at my son’s schools. Just completed my term as PTA president at Stone. In that role, I was able to work with many of the staff and parents at the school. I’ve also served as the health and safety committee chair, bookfair chair, and as vice president for the PTA for service and enrichment. In each of these roles I had to delegate responsibilities and work with many personality types. Working as a team, we created more opportunities for the kids to succeed and flourish. I have such gratitude for all the teachers, staff and parents who are doing their part to provide our kids with the best experience and I want to continue to help in that process on the board.
Catherine Schumacher, Public Education Partners 3:58
Well, what do you think are the biggest challenges facing the district and what is something that the Board of Trustees has the power to do to address them?
Lura Godfrey, Area 22 4:09
There’s several. First, I think a big issue is we have got to recruit the best teachers, and that includes adding more diversity in our staff. Greenville County has the benefit of wonderful education programs in the Upstate, especially Furman being so close and in Clemson with the Call Me MiSTER program to encourage black males to become teachers. We can work with these programs to encourage these future teachers to come to Greenville County Schools. Once we’ve hired the best teachers we have to support and retain them. One way we can work to do that is with increased salaries and they deserve salaries that reflect their important work. However, I don’t truly believe that most teachers go into teaching for the pay but rather for what they can contribute to our future and there are other ways we can support them and add value to their lives. We can advocate for better quality of life for our teachers and staff which includes affordable housing near their school so that the commute is minimal, and so that they are a part of the community in which they work. Teachers and staff also need mental and emotional support right now coming through the health crisis and coping with constant fear of school safety. The teachers see the kid struggling with many burdens, and then the teachers carry that weight to on top of their own struggles. I want to work towards expanding mental health resources for all the staff in the schools. Although I often think of teachers as superheroes, they are human and they need to be fully supported as they support our kids. I’ve heard from a friend that left teaching after being recertified that the amount of testing required of the teachers is affecting their ability to teach all the subject matter and puts too much emphasis on numbers showing success, rather than looking at the whole child. The board needs to work internally to determine which testing is truly necessary, as well as advocate at the state and national level to make these tests less frequent and more equitable in their format. School safety is a very important issue. We have school resource officers in place at our schools and the weapons detection system is rotating through the district. However, our kids are perceptive, and they are the first line of safety for a friend who may have a heavy burden that they need help with. If a student can recognize the need for a friend or themselves and share it with a trusted adult, this is the most important first step to keep our schools safe. This builds community and trust and these relational skills will serve our kids as students and citizens as they enter the real world. We need to continue provide our kids with mental health support by adding more school counselors especially at the elementary level, so that the ratio ratio of counselors to students continues to go down. Kids need to know the counselors are there and available to them. Greenville County Schools has embraced the amazing educational technology resources that have been created and refined over many years to be effective tools in the classrooms. But we need to maintain a healthy balance of technology and teaching and also ensure that each child has time for physical activity, to rest their brains and recharge their bodies, ready to tackle the rest of their school day. This is an easy way to provide a minimal amount of mental health support spending out time… time outside with friends. Lastly, I’d like to dig into equity and our schools. I know the district is working to provide more access to programming like the arms program by providing three locations across our big district. This is one example of expanding equity for all our kids. Another example is our virtual school program providing an option for our kids that aren’t comfortable in a traditional school setting, due to varied reasons. The virtual school provides these kids with a good public school education. I think it also applies to transportation for the kids that want to magnet to a different school and how the district provides that transportation. As we have a very large district, we have many types of communities with different needs. The schools that serve those areas need to reflect and embrace those specific needs so that each child has tools to succeed and graduate. This will not look equal, as some schools require more support staff or transportation, for instance, but it will provide an equitable starting point for all kids to succeed. Greenville County Schools is already doing many things well, and as I said, I’m so grateful for the education my boys have already received. But I believe we can always work on doing better for our kids so that Greenville County School sets the standard of quality for all public schools in our state and nation.
Catherine Schumacher, Public Education Partners 8:08
Well, thanks, Lura. We have a tiny little bit of time left. Is there anything else that you’d like to share with our listeners?
Lura Godfrey, Area 22 8:14
I actually didn’t mention why I’m running. I should have said that in the beginning. First and foremost, I’m running out of gratitude. I am very grateful for the experience my boys and our family had at Stone Academy during their elementary school years. The culture of that school embraces you the minute you walk in, they treat each other as family and they treat the kids as family too. We call it the stone bubble and I hope to find ways… ways to give all Greenville County school families an experience in their kids schools that they can be grateful for. Second, we need more parent representation on the school board. As the board doesn’t have term limits, many of the trustees no longer have kids in our schools. As a parent with two kids in Greenville County Schools, I have firsthand experience of what our kids are facing today in our culture and in the schools and can ensure that parents voices are heard. Third, even though the board is a nonpartisan entity, the board has been affected by the political climate of our world. I hope to bring some rational clarity and kindness and keep a listening ear and open heart. I don’t want to be right. I want to do what’s right.
Catherine Schumacher, Public Education Partners 9:14
Thank you, Lura. Thank you Lura Godfrey for joining us candidate in area 22 and we will look forward to seeing your name on the ballot in November.
Lura Godfrey, Area 22 9:22
Thank you. I appreciate the opportunity.
Katy Smith 9:24
Next up is incumbent Lynda Leventis-Wells.
Catherine Schumacher, Public Education Partners 9:28
Happy to be here with Lynda Leventis-Wells who’s on the ballot for Area 22 for Greenville County Schools trustees in November. So Lynda, why don’t you start by telling us about yourself and why you decided to run to be a Greenville County Schools trustee.
Lynda Leventis-Wells, Area 22 9:41
Thank you Catherine. Public education is at the heart of who I am. And my lifelong goal has been to teach, inspire, prepare and serve students. I have fulfilled this role in many different capacities. First, I equipped myself with the tools I needed to be a successful teacher, earning a Bachelors of Arts and Health and Physical Education from the University of South Carolina. And shortly thereafter a master’s degree in guidance and educational psychology from the University of Mississippi. I have instructed children in some capacities at all school levels, including the technical college. I have also taught abroad, in each role I’ve served, I found I found great fulfillment and a keen sense of purpose. Being a public educator has enriched my life and served as a great source of pride. I strongly believe there is no greater calling than to make a difference in the lives of our children. My service as your board member has allowed me to advocate and serve not only the children of area 22 but all the children in Greenville County. When elected, you can trust that I will continue to serve with great passion and joy.
Catherine Schumacher, Public Education Partners 11:11
Excellent. Well, how does your professional and personal experience make you a good candidate for the school board?
Lynda Leventis-Wells, Area 22 11:18
I bring a wide range of perspectives to the board which allows me to work on behalf of public education from a holistic viewpoint. I’m a parent and a grandparent. I have served as an educator at both the K through 12 and higher ed level. I have experience and connections with law enforcement agencies which have a commitment to safety and security. I have built strong relationships with businesses, nonprofit, and governmental entities within the community. And I have already served as a member of the school board for over 15 years and have served as board chairman, Vice Chair and secretary. Our school district is part of a symbiotic relationship with many other entities to ensure the current health and stronger future of our community.
Catherine Schumacher, Public Education Partners 12:17
Thank you. Well, what do you think are the biggest challenges facing the district and what is something that the Board of Trustees has the power to do to address them?
Lynda Leventis-Wells, Area 22 12:28
I believe one of the greatest challenges in our school district mirrors that of school districts across our nation. Recovering from the losses of the pandemic. The cumulative impact of COVID 19 has been tremendous for our students. Not only have they experienced large deficits in their learning, but there has been an increase in incidence, and the number of students experiencing anxiety, depression, and a host of other mental health challenges. As a Greenville County School Board member, I quickly joined efforts with our superintendent, and fellow board members to address these challenges for our children. You see, the well being of our students is the core of all of my decisions. We quickly implemented numerous programs to support the academic and emotional recovery of our students. These programs include summer learning, tutoring, after school programs, and the addition of intervention specialists in English Language Arts and mathematics. And that’s just to name a few. I would continue in this direction to ensure that all students will reach their grade level as well as exceed it. I also believe the recruitment and retention of educators is challenging. Our board is committed to elevating the profession, financially rewarding our teachers, seeking other incentives to benefit them, and keeping our district highly competitive so that we attract the absolute best for our students. These efforts also extend to other non classroom personnel who keep our district operating. We were the first in the state to pay starting teachers $40,000 a year. And today, their salaries, starting salaries, are 45,000. I’m always thinking of incentives for teachers. When I taught overseas, the contract teachers had a teacher’s compound where there was a minimal housing cost. I would look at implementing something similar for the first five years for teachers with educational loans. Another challenge in this is the safety and security of our schools. I am proud to report that our district takes the safety of our students, faculty and staff very seriously. And we have multiple procedures and measures in place to ensure our schools are safe. One of my goals is to build on our safety measures by increasing the number of metal detection systems in our schools as well as placing a full time resource officer at each school. Additional goals include increasing the use of specialized teams to conduct threat and risk assessments at each location and to determine proper procedures based on the findings. Also, to increase reviews of emergency protocol procedures at the school level, continually updating electronic safety equipment such as video surveillance, burglar alarms, and access control systems and to continue to build on our see something say something program. This is a protocol, which encourages students to report concerns to a trusted adult or they can go online. A last step is to ensure that our board policy, which prohibits all forms of bullying, discrimination, harassment, or intimidation by other students, employees of the district, and third parties involved in the school setting is implemented with fidelity. As your board member, I remain committed to fostering an environment for our students that both promote learning, prevents disruptions in the educational process, and ensures our students are safe, supported, and always protected.
Catherine Schumacher, Public Education Partners 17:07
Well, thank you, Lynda. We have a little bit of time left. So is there anything else that you would like to share with our listeners?
Lynda Leventis-Wells, Area 22 17:14
So some, some just information I could do – this has nothing to do with the questions – but just wanted people to know that, you know, my grandfather and his uncle, were the first to open the first Pete’s in 1921 on Pendleton. And he, both of my parents parents were from Greece. They came over, they learned English, they worked hard, and they were always about giving back to the community. They have instilled that in me. Also, my parents, for others, my husband, family, we’re all products of public education. I coach Girls Varsity Basketball, and girls varsity soccer at JL Mann High School. I coach Girls Varsity Basketball at Wade Hampton. I’ve been the Ways and Means chairman at Lake Forest Elementary. And I was the chairman of the after prom at Greenville High for two years. And so let me just tell you, when it comes to children, and being involved, that’s what I’m all about. I care. I love what I do. And I want the very best not only for certain group of children, but for all of our children. Because that’s what this is all about. I know. I know the effect of a great education, and we have to lay a strong foundation for every one of our students. So you know, I’m Lynda, Leventis-Wells, so make sure you vote for me. Thank you so much.
Catherine Schumacher, Public Education Partners 18:59
Well, thank you, Lynda. We really appreciate it and we look forward to seeing your name on the ballot in November.
Catherine Puckett 19:07
Simple Civics: Greenville County is a project of Greater Good Greenville. Greater Good Greenville was catalyzed by the merger of the Nonprofit Alliance and the Greenville Partnership for Philanthropy. You can learn more on our website at greatergoodgreenville.org This is a production of the Greenville Podcast Company.
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