Meet Dr. Gene Beckner and Dr. Anne Pressley, candidates for Greenville County Schools Board of Trustees for Area 24. 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.
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, informed sc.org makes it easy to find the information you need to understand the issues and advocate for students, teachers and schools. Visit onformedsc.org. Informing influencers, advancing public schools.
Katy Smith 0:32
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 to you the candidates for area 24, which is generally the Augusta Street area and Mauldin. Gene Beckner and Anne Pressley. 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 Gene Beckner.
Catherine Schumacher, Public Education Partners 1:57
Well, I’m happy to be here with Gene Beckner, who is running for school board, for school board trustee in area 24. And Gene, why don’t you start by telling us a little bit about yourself and why you decided to run to be a Greenville County Schools trustee.
Gene Beckner, Area 24 2:10
Absolutely. Thank you for the opportunity to be on the podcast and tell everyone a little bit about myself and why I decided to run to be a Greenville County Schools trustee. As you said, my name is Dr. Gene Beckner. I have been a resident of the upstate for going on 30 years, married to my wife Tracy and we have three children. We have two grandchildren and we have three cats. Although I do like dogs as well. I know that sometimes people hear I’m a cat person. They think I don’t like dogs but I like both. My educational background started, I got a bachelor of arts degree in secondary education with a focus in English from the University of South Carolina. Go cocks. But I also earned a Master of Education in counselor education from Clemson so go Tigers. And then finally I earned a Doctorate of Philosophy in educational psychology from Walden University and I don’t think they play any sports. Along the way. I also became credentialed as a licensed professional counselor supervisor in South Carolina. And really what that means is, I supervise those who would like to become licensed as professional counselors in South Carolina, and I’ve been doing that for about 10 years. Currently, I serve on Mauldin High School’s School Improvement Council, which I’ve been doing for.. this is the beginning of my fifth year. I also helped coordinate the backpack program at Mauldin High. That provides food for students who are coded as homeless in the system that attend Mauldin High. I decided to run for the Greenville County School Board in district 24 because I see so much untapped potential in our community as a whole, especially our children, our students. Stakeholders, including parents, grandparents, siblings, teachers, administrators, counselors, mentors, business owners, community leaders, I think all of these stakeholders desire to have a unifying voice to help come alongside our present and future leaders, our kids, to not just survive their lives, but to thrive. And I’m eager to be a part of that unifying voice. Because I think that our children, our students need help in building resiliency as they go through their educational journey in Greenville County. The last few years have been difficult to say the least. And I believe we need strong able leaders who can carve a path out of where we were to a brighter and more successful future.
Catherine Schumacher, Public Education Partners 4:49
Great. Well, how does your professional and personal experience make you a good candidate for the school board?
Gene Beckner, Area 24 4:54
So great question. My professional and personal experience makes me a good candidate for School Board because I’ve spent many years in the school system striving to make a positive difference in the lives of children lives of students. I taught English, public speaking, and journalism on both the junior high and the high school level, as well as coaching basketball and football. And all of those experiences gave me access to not only students but their families on a regular basis. Fostering mutually respectful relationships gave me what I would say permission to teach these bright minds to think critically. And as one of my mentors said to me to learn how to think versus what to think. And that was an exciting experience for me to be a part of whether that was in the classroom, or whether that was on a basketball court or on a football field. Another example of my professional experience that makes me a good candidate for the school board is that I was involved in mentoring first and second year teachers for several years. And this was an honor to help someone navigate the challenges of the start of a teaching career. A famous saying of how to successfully navigate a minefield, you follow the footprints of someone who has successfully navigated it before you. And so I was able to share what I had learned as both a young teacher, the successes and the failures, and there were many of both. And then what I learned from both, you know, I thoroughly enjoy providing mentorship and leadership to those who in turn took those lessons and took them into their classroom. And then what we had was we had Win Win situations, because both the students and the teachers benefited from having a mentor. And if elected to represent district 24, I would be eager to be involved in whatever way the schools would utilize my expertise. The schools in in district 24, Bethel Elementary, Blythe Academy, Greenbrier Elementary, Augusta Circle, Sara Collins and Hughes Academy.
Catherine Schumacher, Public Education Partners 6:59
Well, so 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?
Gene Beckner, Area 24 7:07
That’s a That’s another great question. And that’s a that’s a very difficult question to answer, because there’s a lot going on. And I think a lot of the challenges that we are facing in our district, the country as a whole is facing as well. But one challenge I see that the Board of Trustees has the power to address is relationship building. And interesting enough, this takes no money. You know, the board has the opportunity to bring the stakeholders that I talked about before, together to create more sense of unity within our communities. And I think as a board member, our willingness as leaders to listen and to respond to the concerns that these stakeholders have, will go a long way in making Greenville County Schools Excellent. Within this relationship building. Another challenge I see is inspiring our educational community. As a parent and a grandparent and a former educator myself, I believe that students thrive and become successful learners when they are equipped with critical thinking skills. Making sure our students are taught how to think is vital. And teachers provide the skills when they, the teachers, are supported, and given adequate resources. Teachers desire to keep learning themselves and not just inspiring the students they teach. I’m convinced that the classroom experience between the teacher and students is the most important ingredient to influence positive educational outcomes. The Board of Trustees has the power to allocate resources to the teachers and the classroom to facilitate this inspiration. And this includes a continued dedication to attracting and retaining highly qualified teachers as a priority. This includes giving teachers access to ongoing educational experiences within their chosen field. More than that, the board can communicate our belief in how important our teachers and administrators are. The board has the power to be the changes that they would like to see in our community. And as leaders we model this first. Our children’s school experiences are vital to a healthy start on their life path. Another challenge I see is support. I’m committed to ensuring that Greenville County Schools provide this learning environment to all students, teachers and staff. I’m also committed to ensuring that parents are empowered and informed to make the best decisions for and with their students. Parents entrust Greenville County Schools with the most precious gift they have – their children. The board needs to show support to parents that we see and that we hear them. And it does take time to build relationships. But it’s worth it. The board can provide resources to increase security measures that show our commitment to our children. This not only includes resources like school resource officers, but also communicating issues about the ever increasing online risks that would try to harm our children. Sharing that wisdom with parents sends a powerful message that we value you and your children. Our county, our state and our nation and the world benefits from students that are nurtured in an educational culture where they’re inspired, supported, and safe. And then lastly, I would say the challenge of being prepared. Our students should leave Greenville County Schools academically prepared for the next step in their life journey. Whether this is college, trade, school, a job the military, starting a business or any other opportunity. Their experience in Greenville County schools should set them up for the highest level of success possible. Continuing our commitment to use the best practices and teaching that are backed by empirical evidence is vital. Greenville County schools should educate students not only to survive, but to thrive. I do want to thank you for the opportunity to share these thoughts with you today. I invite you to visit my campaign website which is Beckner4education.com. And you can get more information as well on my Instagram, Twitter and Facebook pages.
Catherine Schumacher, Public Education Partners 11:11
Well, Gene, thank you so much for joining us this afternoon. And we look forward to seeing you on the ballot in November.
Gene Beckner, Area 24 11:17
Katy Smith 11:19
Next up is Anne Pressley.
Catherine Schumacher, Public Education Partners 11:21
I’m happy to be here with Anne Pressley who is on the ballot for area 24 Greenville County Schools trustee. And Ann, why don’t we start by you telling us a little bit about yourself and why you decided to run to be a Greenville County Schools trustee.
Anne Pressley, Area 24 11:34
Thank you. And thank you for allowing me to be here and to speak with you all today. First and foremost, I consider Greenville to be my home. I moved here in 1994, prior to beginning my career as a teacher in 1995. So I feel like Greenville County School District grew me as a professional. I spent the first 15 years of my career here, and I was a teacher and instructional coach, and finally an administrator all at the building level. Just as importantly, I’m the parent of a middle schooler at Youth Academy. So I’m watching my heart, move through our school system. And I’m living firsthand what it feels like as a parent. And that is a that that’s quite a lens. I decided to run because of all of those things. But most importantly, because of what a critical time this is an education. The decisions that are being made, every single decision, regarding what’s in the best interest of our nearly 77,000 students. We not only have to take into consideration where they’re headed, but what they’ve just come through. And I’m at that point in my career, where I felt like it was the right thing to do.
Catherine Schumacher, Public Education Partners 12:56
So talk a little bit about how your professional and personal experience make you a good candidate for the school board.
Anne Pressley, Area 24 13:03
As a former English teacher, I love an analogy. So I’ll start with one of those. If my 27 years was an amusement park, you could say that I’ve ridden most every ride in the park. Nine years at three different schools I was a teacher. That was Mann, Mauldin, and Eastside high school. I was an instructional coach for three years, and I was a building level administrator for three years at Berea High School. So a wide range of experiences there. I’ve worked in two school districts, Beaufort County School District and Greenville County School District, as a district level administrator supporting academics. And finally, I’ve spent the last seven years, time has flown, since 2015 working at the South Carolina Department of Education in the Division of college and career readiness. I have overseen the development and revision of standards and curriculum to support our districts across the state as well as professional development to support those districts. The reason I love the amusement park analogy is because every single opportunity I’ve had to lead and learn has been fun. But the most joy will always be in the classroom and the time that I spent face to face with students. That is pure energy right there.
Catherine Schumacher, Public Education Partners 14:30
So 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?
Anne Pressley, Area 24 14:38
Two of the most important parts of my platform involve safe and engaging learning environments. And I use the word safe and engaging as descriptors for what we’ve got to return to post COVID. You know, we don’t like to say the C word anymore. But we are coming out of that and we have got to as, quickly as possible, and I think our schools, I think our teachers are doing a phenomenal job. But moving back to that sense of normalcy. Well, one of the, one of the things that we have to reclaim for our students is that face to face collaboration, and communication and interaction. Now I want to stress, being technologically savvy, is extremely important. Our devices, our ability to utilize those, I was real thankful that my daughter was able to do my palm cards for my campaign, because she has that understanding. But there’s a balance there. And whether you call them soft skills, whether you call them the four C’s, or what whatever you call those, our children’s ability to collaborate, to communicate, to to articulate their their thoughts, with people is is extremely important. The safety part, we can never, we can never avoid that. Because when you turn on the news, it’s not avoidable. I think we’ve got to continue not only to be reactive, but to be as proactive as possible. That whole concept of hear something, say something, is so critical, because the data bears out, that that’s how things get stopped before they start in a lot of situations. So school safety is it hinges on that. Our guidance counselors, and that level of support, to be equipped and to have their time protected, to be able to do that is extremely important. And we know that our cadre of counselors are often tasked with all kinds of things. So we need to be very, very protective of their time. So So getting back to where we were but making it even better. I think we’ve come away from and I was in a meeting this morning, and somebody just put it to me, they said “how do you, how do you think things are looking?” And I said, “Well, I said as as horrible as what we’ve come through has been, there’s a silver lining,” because there is there is this intensity now over getting it right and hitting our marks that I haven’t seen in quite some time. So if we can capitalize on that, if we can maximize that, if we can maintain it, in moving forward to make sure that we that we create the best learning environments for our students. So safe and engaging. The second.. the second big ticket, and this won’t be any surprise to y’all, is teacher recruitment and retention. You know, we say the words recruitment and retention, that you know, and they flow they start with Rs. But it’s not just about pay. Pay is extremely important. Now having been on the receiving end of a teacher salary, I can say that I always wanted more money. I mean, who doesn’t? I think it is it is definitely critical that we stay competitive regionally and nationally. I think Greenville County schools school district is, is doing a good job of of trying to do that. And we need to continue to do that. Because that will draw them but we have to keep them. And that. That is… I’m trying to find the words for what a teacher needs in a building. And I’ve heard this anecdotally I’ve read the research. But teachers require a level of, of being valued, respect and supported. And when I say support, the professional development that we offer our teachers has got to be on point more so now than ever. It needs to be over their lived experience in their classroom happening in real time. It needs to occur over time. I’ve been the recipient of some of those one stop shopping, you spend an hour and you roll on and there’s really no time for application of new knowledge. There’s no time for even seeing, seeing if there’s student impact. Some of the best professional learning involves that type of of authentic student focused learning for our teachers. And also we’ve got to do all that we can to protect their time. As much as we can move out of their way so that they can plan to create learning opportunities and go back to that safe and engaging learning environment. They’re so interconnected. We’ve got to do everything that we can to protect their time to try and not bog them down in things that that are not directly associated with what is in the best interests of their students. If it doesn’t have students, we need to try to find a way to minimize that for our educators. As far as what our school board can do, to to help with this, our district leaders, our school level leaders, they can tell you what we need. As a board it’s the board’s job to approve those things that are necessary and to support what the research is bearing out and to provide that oversight and guidance to move to continue to move us forward.
Catherine Schumacher, Public Education Partners 21:22
Great. Well, Anne Pressley, thank you so much for joining us this afternoon, and we’ll look forward to seeing you on the ballot in November.
Anne Pressley, Area 24 21:28
Thank you so much.
Catherine Puckett 21:31
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.