Meet Amanda Brett, Stephanie Leonard, and Roger Meek, candidates for Greenville County Schools Board of Trustees for Area 26. 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, 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 0:34
On November eighth, 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, 6,000 teachers and 10,000 employees. Candidates will be interviewed by Catherine Schumacher, President and CEO of Public Education Partners. Today we introduce you to the candidates for area 26 which is generally southern Greenville County and the far west side. Amanda Brett, Stephanie Leonard and incumbent Roger Meek. 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 SC votes.gov. First up alphabetically is Amanda Brett.
Catherine Schumacher, Public Education Partners 1:57
I’m happy to be here with Amanda Brett who is running in area 26. So Amanda, why don’t we start with you telling us a little bit about yourself and why you decided to run to be a Greenville County Schools trustee.
Amanda Brett, Area 26 2:09
Awesome. Thank you, Catherine and I appreciate you guys having us all come out to introduce ourself on here. My name is Amanda Brett, and I am running for the district 26 Greenville County School Board Seat. I’m an upstate native. I was born in Greenville General Hospital, and I was raised in Powdersville. I stayed in the upstate of South Carolina because I love our land and our conservative way of life. I was Miss Easley in 1996 and I competed in the Miss South Carolina pageant. During my time as Miss Easley, I implemented a program for the Pickens and Anderson County schools that was called CASEY, which stood for confidence and self esteem in youth. I was a ventriloquist, and Casey was my dolls name. So Casey and I visited quite a few schools that year and it was a lot of fun. I enjoyed it so much. I began my career as a traffic reporter on several local radio stations in the late 1990s through 2004. Now I’m a wellness warrior. And I work for an infusion clinic where we heal and maintain people’s health with natural therapies like vitamins, nutrition, and ozone. I’m a single mom of two incredible boys. My oldest son is a knob at the Citadel which, if you’re not familiar with the Citadel, freshman there are called knobs because their bald heads like doorknobs. My youngest son is a junior at Greenville High School, and he is thoroughly enjoying spirit week this week and raising money for Meals on Wheels. I’m running for school board for many reasons. Like a lot of people, I realized a few years ago that I needed to pay better attention to who was implementing policies, the process of these new policies and participate in the discussion of decisions being made on my on my family’s behalf. I’ve been actively attending our school board meetings and I’ve spoken in front of the school board. I’m running to be a conservative decision maker and voice. I’m running because I want to be the Open dialog that parents, teachers and students of district 26 are totally missing right now. I will have an open door policy. And I will be happy to talk to anyone about their concerns with anything going on in their school. And I will make visiting the 11 schools and child development centers that I represent a priority on my weekly schedule. I’m running for school board because I love Greenville. I love our conservative way of life and I love our children. I believe transparency, communication and involvement are the keys to being a good Greenville County School Board member.
Catherine Schumacher, Public Education Partners 4:57
Well how does your professional and personal experience make you a good candidate for the school board?
Amanda Brett, Area 26 5:03
Well, I believe that your heart and your willingness to truly serve your constituents makes you a good candidate. I’ve always been active in both of my boys education. I was room mom for several years, I participated in the PTA and volunteered every opportunity that I was available for both boys teachers, schools, and sports teams. I’m a good listener, and a good communicator. I look forward to updating the 11 schools and two child development centers, their PTAs and the community on Greenville County School Board meetings and the goings on within the board. I will be responsive when contacted by any teacher, any parent, child or even any citizen of Greenville County, and we’ll be sure their needs are met. I believe that our teachers deserve our support, and our classrooms should be a safe haven for non bias learning and education. I have the time, I have the desire, and I want to serve the people of Greenville County and that makes me a good conservative candidate.
Catherine Schumacher, Public Education Partners 6:10
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?
Amanda Brett, Area 26 6:19
Well, Catherine, I believe that we’re fortunate to be in Greenville County, South Carolina, where our family values are strong, and our education system is excellent. As far as challenges are concerned, we are not sheltered from the same challenges that the nation is experiencing. It’s time to remove any political bias from our classrooms, including teachers who are more focused on indoctrination than education. We need to be sure our teachers are teaching curriculum without prejudice, and that we are cultivating a love and respect for our great country and our awesome state. There are specific issues that should be addressed only by the family, and not by the schools. We need to be sure that sexually explicit books are not available in our school libraries and classrooms. The federal government should have little say to the education of our South Carolina children and Greenville County children, and we need to take back our education system locally. Quoting from the School Board of Trustees website, the school board mission is to ensure excellence in the governance of a quality educational program by analyzing needs, establishing policies, allocating resources, and monitoring progress. The board has numerous avenues for directing and governing the school district. Policymaking, budgeting, student assignment, strategic planning, the hearing of appeals by both students and employees, and through conversation at board meetings and formal motions that give direction to the administration. So, addressing challenges is the power of the school board. We need to focus on workforce readiness and life skills. As a Greenville County School Board member, I will be a defender of the unbiased education of our children in reading, writing, math, the sciences, and history, while protecting parental rights and the innocence of childhood.
Catherine Schumacher, Public Education Partners 8:21
Well, thanks, Amanda. We have a little bit of time left. So is there anything else that you would like to share with our listeners?
Amanda Brett, Area 26 8:28
Sure thing, Catherine. Thank you. So district 26 is Northwest Crescent Child Development Center, Lakewood, I’m sorry, Lakeview Middle School, Mountain View Elementary, Westcliffe Elementary, Alexander Elementary, Tanglewood Middle, Grove Elementary, Sue Cleveland Elementary, Woodmont Middle, Ellen Woodside Elementary, Riley Child Development Center, Ralph Chandler Middle, and Fork Shoals Elementary School. And if you want to look for me, I am @Amandafor26 on Instagram, that’s Amanda for 26 on Instagram. On the web, I’m AmandaforGreenvilleSchools.medium.com. On LinkedIn. I’m Amanda Brett. And my email address is AmandaforGreenvilleSchools@protonmail.com. Again, that’s AmandaforGreenvilleSchools@protonmail.com. I appreciate you having me. Thank you.
Catherine Schumacher, Public Education Partners 9:26
Well, thank you so much, Amanda Brett, and we will look forward to seeing you on the ballot on November 8.
Amanda Brett, Area 26 9:31
Katy Smith 9:32
Next up is Stephanie Leonard.
Catherine Schumacher, Public Education Partners 9:34
I’m happy to be here with Stephanie Leonard who is running for Greenville County Schools trustee in area 26 of the county. So Stephanie, why don’t you tell us about yourself and why you decided to run to be a Greenville County Schools trustee.
Stephanie Leonard, Area 26 9:48
Sure. So I am a native of South Carolina. I’ve lived in the upstate my entire life. I went to public education in Anderson County. I went through school district one for the entire time I was in public education, I am a mom of four kids. I have two that are currently in Greenville County schools, their fourth and sixth graders. And then I have three-year-old twins. So we have a lot of time left in Greenville County schools, we are not going anywhere. We have loved our experience in Greenville County and have no plans of ever leaving or leaving our public school system at all. I am a product of public education. I’m a first generation high school graduate on either side of my family. And my experience that I had as a child through public education, and then the much different experience than my own children get really has given me more of a full circle approach to what our kids struggle with. They, my.. my children have much different struggles than what I had as a child, although they also have their own struggles. Part of my public education, I didn’t have mentors at home and success in my family did not include high school graduation necessarily. And it most definitely did not include anything after high school that in regards to college or anything. So the mentors that I had 100% were my teachers. And I could give a very long list of names of those teachers that I will never forget, many of them still teach, I’ve recently found out. When I was in early school, even elementary school, I happened to be smart and make good grades. That was it. It was.. I was lucky. And I had a couple of teachers very early on, I can remember back at as early as first and second grade, to where those teachers really gravitated towards that and encouraged it. And they lifted and elevated me up and challenged me. And I mean, I was one of those kids who would get bored because I did my work fast. And I would get fussed at because I was making noises with my mouth or my pencil or whatever. And they were able to see, well, she’s not being bad, she is bored. So they would give me tasks or extra work or I can even remember making cards for one of my second grade teachers mother was in a nursing home. So once I finished my work, she would pull me aside and give me that busy work. And it as an adult, it’s made me so grateful that they saw in me what I did not know that I had at that time. And it’s made me realize what.. how much different my life would have been had I not had those specific people placed in my life at the time that I did. And I went to a very small school. So it wasn’t like they were very resource heavy or anything like that. But their teachers stayed and their teachers were part of the community and they loved and understood the community. So all of that to say that is why I decided to run for school board. I believe strongly that we have those same teachers in our classrooms today. But over the last several years, it feels like our public has started to lose trust in our teachers. There’s a lot of things that have happened across the country, some of it even here, to where we’re starting to lose that focus, or it really feels like we’re losing the focus towards the student, the teachers and our community in regards to education. And I feel a duty to help protect that. It is a precious thing to protect, and I feel an obligation. I have means, I’m a huge advocate for people. And based on that advocacy, I truly feel like I can help keep the focus on the student, on the educator, and help bridge that gap of lost trust that we’ve had in our educators. So with all of that, I have looked at a lot of different trends, a lot of different factors that have contributed to that. And there are problems out there. You know, we’re not, we’re not able to keep our teachers and that that’s a big loss. So how do we prevent that? So that is why I’m here.
Catherine Schumacher, Public Education Partners 14:20
Great. Well, how does your professional and personal experience make you a good candidate for the school board?
Stephanie Leonard, Area 26 14:26
Sure. So I am a nurse by training. I have worked in my same job for close to 20 years now. And over time, I’ve moved positions. I am now a healthcare leader. I work in a public health organization. And the things that I’ve learned as a nurse and working in healthcare is that they’re not so different than education in many ways. We have compassion.. has to be there in both teaching and as a nurse. And there is just simply not such a thing as being too compassionate towards others. So learning those skills, how to handle very stressful, high risk situations, being collaborative is huge in my training. I also have had lots of experience with managing crisis and COVIDs an example. When COVID came and hit, nobody knew what to do. From one day to the next, as a world, we did not know what we were going to expect the next day. Working in healthcare, we were facing that in a in a way that often is very similar to that of a school. And because you are responsible for other people’s lives. So that experience of my collaborating, leading others, be considerate of all that is involved in whatever the particular problem is. And the one the most valuable thing that I think I’ve actually learned working in healthcare, is that 100% of the time, every decision that we make, there’s a patient on the other end of that. And not only is there a patient, but they have opinions, and they have experiences. So in my job, we actually pull the patient in and say, before we make this big extraordinary change, what do you think about it as a patient? And there are times to where we thought we’ve had the best idea ever and the patient’s like, why would you do that? So from that very valuable lesson that I’ve learned, we need to take that same approach in education and not make decisions alone. You know, we think we know what’s happening in the schools, it’s oftentimes not really what’s happening in the schools. So how can we better collaborate with the administrators, the students, the teachers, and the parents, and the school prior to making really large decisions?
Catherine Schumacher, Public Education Partners 17:01
Great. 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?
Stephanie Leonard, Area 26 17:09
Sure. So there are three main issues that I see. The first being teacher retention and recruitment. And the immediate answer that everybody jumps to is we need to pay teachers more. Of course, I would never say that we should not pay teachers more. But it’s a lot more than that. As I have met with school leaders and teachers and had conversations with them, it’s actually not what they cite in their top five issues. So how do we address what their issues really are, some of the things are free, they are of no cost. Giving teachers time back in the classroom is is not a very expensive thing to do. We just need to be creative. Greenville County Schools, being so large, comes with a lot of advantages. But one thing that I’ve noticed is that it also allows a lot of autonomy back at this individual school level, which is fantastic in most cases. But I also feel like it’s harmed us in a little bit of a way, because I found that there’s some school leaders who are doing a fantastic job, and how can we learn from them and spread it across to the other schools. So as a school board leader, or trustee, I would take feedback from all of those people, and help identify what our weakest links are and problems and how can we help address them. Another issue that we have, particularly in district 26, where I live, is growth. We have schools that are popping up. I mean, I’m sorry neighborhoods that are popping up much faster than schools. How can we better work with county county councils and the developers to help ensure that we’re staying ahead of target for the schools? And then finally, is the mental and social social health and well being of both the teacher and the student. And, and I don’t mean turn teachers in the psychologists. But when teachers are frontline, they are our first line support, and they notice things in children. So how can we better support them? When they see children experiencing certain issues or anxiety or whatever it is? How can we help them identify and then B, have follow up for that student? There are some programs, there’s a great program in Greenville County that some of our schools are lucky enough to participate with called I Rise. They have a fantastic approach. So how do we take things that we know are working well and allow all of our students to to really experience that and appreciate the help that we can give.
Catherine Schumacher, Public Education Partners 19:44
Great. Well, Stephanie Leonard, thank you so much for joining us today, and we look forward to seeing your name on the ballot in November.
Stephanie Leonard, Area 26 19:51
Katy Smith 19:52
Last up is Roger Meek.
Catherine Schumacher, Public Education Partners 19:54
Well, I’m happy to be here today with Roger Meek who is on the ballot for area 26 for Greenville County Schools trustee. Roger, why don’t you start by telling us about yourself and why you decided to run to be a Greenville County Schools trustee.
Roger Meek, Area 26 20:08
My name is Roger Meek and I currently represent district 26 of the Greenville County School Board. I am married. I have two children, three grandchildren. And both of my children graduated from Greenville County Schools. Two of my grandchildren are currently in the sixth grade and the other child is not old enough to be in public schools. Although she is going to to a four year old kindergarten, she can’t wait to get get into the system with the rest of us. The original reason I decided to run for the position to be a Greenville County trustee was when my daughter was in Tanglewood middle school, I started looking at where she was going to go to high school, which was Carolina high school. I checked out the test scores from Carolina and other high schools and discussed them with many parents that are at Tanglewood. And we realized that Carolina was not the top performing school. And we either had the decision of staying and fighting for where we lived or or moving somewhere else in the district. So we decided to stay and fight. And we talked about what we could do. And it was decided that somebody needed to get on the school board and try to do something. And so I got selected for that, or volunteered or whatever, after many sleepless nights. And it has been very interesting. We have, I think, accomplished quite a lot in the years that that I have served on the school board. My daughter was in high school at the time I got elected. And now I have two grandchildren that are in the middle school. So that was my reasoning to run.
Catherine Schumacher, Public Education Partners 22:02
Okay, well, how does your professional and personal experience make you a good candidate for the school board?
Roger Meek, Area 26 22:09
Well, I have been interested in education all my life, I am the 12th of 12 children, and the only one of us that ever went to college, graduate from college. And so it’s been very important. But before I got got to that position to be on as a school board trustee, I worked and got a degree in accounting and worked as a controller for several years up in Pennsylvania and moved here to Greenville in 1986, and have been the owner and operator of the Brentwood insurance agency here in Greenville. Until recently, which time I sold the agency and now I’m semi retired. And my official title with them is that I’m the director of sales. But with my accounting background, I’m able to understand budgets and work through them for for many, many years. And I’m a people person, I get out and understand what people are talking about the issues that they have. And and with my experience over several years I have served as I said many years as a trustee. Seven of those I have been chairman of the board. And I’ve been able to chair many meetings and listen and listen to to a lot of things that’s going on in education. And I think well, I know that I fully understand education.
Catherine Schumacher, Public Education Partners 23:48
Great. 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?
Roger Meek, Area 26 24:01
I, along with it several other trustees, think that although we’re pulling out of the pandemic era, we’ve still got several different years that that we’re going to have to work on that. So I think it’s a very challenging thing that that we will need to keep addressing. I think that also that the budget seems to be getting tighter each year with inflation. I think challenging situation is going to get more teachers involved in the education and not leaving education. I just left Carolina high school a few minutes ago talking with a retired teacher. Now she is substituting in Greenville County and the situation is not great. In her situation, because the money that she is making is not covering the bills. And so we talked about that quite a lot this morning. So I think it’s going to be a challenge. And I’m also sure that as more teachers, parents becoming this woke situation that is out there that more people are wanting to get involved, it’s going to be more engagements with parents who want to help, but sometimes are directed in a different situation.
Catherine Schumacher, Public Education Partners 25:41
Okay, well, great. We have a little bit of time left. So is there anything else that you’d like to share with listeners?
Roger Meek, Area 26 25:51
Really, I think it’s up to the listener to get acquainted with every person out there that’s running for office, not only for school board. Tthey need to listen to what they say. They need to look at what they’re doing, what they have done, and make sure that they are picking the right person for that office and and not regret it later.
Catherine Schumacher, Public Education Partners 26:19
Well, thank you, Roger Meek, on the ballot for area 26 on November 8. We’ll look forward to seeing you on the ballot this fall.
Roger Meek, Area 26 26:27
Thank you. I’ll be there.
Catherine Puckett 26:30
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.