Meet Jeff Cochran, Brittany Hilbert, and Steven Watterson, candidates for Greenville County Schools Board of Trustees for Area 28. 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 0:32
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 28, which is generally Fountain Inn, Simpsonville, and the area southwest of i385. Jeff Cochran, Brittany Hilbert and Steve Watterson. 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 Jeff Cochran.
Catherine Schumacher, Public Education Partners 2:04
We’re happy to be joined by Jeff Cochran who is running for Greenville County School Board in area 28. And Jeff, why don’t we start with you just telling us a little bit about yourself and why you decided to run to be a Greenville County Schools trustee.
Jeff Cochran, Area 28 2:19
All right. My name is Jeff Cochran. I’m a born again Bible believing Christian. I thank God that He has blessed me with a wonderful wife and a wonderful son. I have been highly involved at my church, where I’ve served as a deacon, a Sunday school teacher, and also on several other church committees, including the Finance Committee. I have lived in Simpsonville, in the Simpsonville area, now for 16 years after having lived in Beaufort County, South Carolina for almost 18 years. I taught students high school math for 31 years, the first 18 of those years at Battery Creek High School in Beaufort County, where I was selected as Battery Creek High Schools teacher of the year in the year 2000. The last 13 years I taught was at Wade Hampton High School here in Greenville County. I graduated from what is now the University of Virginia’s College at Wise, and I have a degree in secondary education administration from Clemson University. I decided to run to be a Greenville County Schools trustee because I believe our public schools systems in our country are heading in the wrong direction. This slide, the wrong direction, has been going on for some time. But recently it has been accelerating at a frightening speed. And so we now in many places, it seems we have an avalanche of bad educational policies. I believe we need to start taking our educational policy cues from Washington, DC, and other entities within our government centralized educational bureaucracy. And we need to start giving more input to our parents here in Greenville County, whose kids we are attempting to educate. We the People of Greenville County know a lot more about the educational needs of our own sons and daughters than some government bureaucrat in Washington, DC or Columbia. And that’s why I’m running for the school board.
Catherine Schumacher, Public Education Partners 4:15
Well, how does your professional and personal experience make you a good candidate for the school board?
Jeff Cochran, Area 28 4:21
Well, I think that having been a public school teacher myself for 31 years, gives me a lot of insight into many of the problems that are faced by our students, our teachers, our school administrators and our other school personnel. I also think I have a head start on finding solutions to those problems. Along with being a teacher, I also coached several sports over the course of my first 18 years as an educator. So I also have an understanding and an appreciation for the value of students being involved with sports teams and other curricular activities that are part of a complete well rounded education.
Catherine Schumacher, Public Education Partners 5:00
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?
Jeff Cochran, Area 28 5:08
I believe that one of our biggest issues we have in public education today is that far too often, many of our public schools are involved in spreading propaganda, and teaching kids what to think. I believe that we need to get back to focusing on teaching our students logical reasoning skills. We should present both sides of issues fairly, and let the students decide what they believe, as opposed to us telling them what they’re supposed to believe. As one example, I would point to the debate between intelligent design and the theory of evolution. In most of our public schools, the theory of evolution is taught almost exclusively, and often presented more as established scientific fact, than as a theory, despite the many flaws of the theory of evolution. If the theory of evolution cannot stand up to the scrutiny of comparison to intelligent design, then perhaps we need to rethink why we teach it at all. I don’t think that I evolved from a monkey. And deep down, I don’t think most other people believe that human beings evolved from monkeys or apes. And yet we teach that to our kids in the public schools without giving our students the chance to study other ideas and make up their own minds based on the evidence. I think that another one of our biggest challenges is related to gender issues. I believe that biological males should use the boys restroom, and biological females should use the girls restroom. I believe we should not be teaching sexual content to young children. I believe there should be absolutely no place in our schools for pornographic books and other pornographic materials. I also believe that critical race theory has absolutely no place in our schools. You don’t end racism by teaching racism. One of the goals of our public schools should be to help unify our community in our nation. You do not promote unity by constantly trying to divide people into different categories. According to the Bible, there is one race and that’s the human race. We were all created in the image of God, and we are all related to one another. I also believe that after teachers have been given the agreed upon curriculum to be taught, we need to give the teachers more freedom to be able to decide for themselves the best way to teach the material to their students. Far too often today, teachers are treated like robots, or like actors reading from the script, instead of being allowed to make full use of their God given abilities and creativity to best serve their students. Our school board trustees have both the ability and the responsibility to make policy decisions regarding all of the issues that I have just mentioned. By setting the overall policies and guidelines for the operation of our school district, our school board members can have a huge impact on what is taught what is allowed and what is not allowed in our school district.
Catherine Schumacher, Public Education Partners 8:03
Well, thank you, Jeff. We have a little bit of time left. So is there anything else that you’d like to share with our listeners?
Jeff Cochran, Area 28 8:11
Well, as I was saying a moment ago, through the policies our school board members implement, they have a huge impact on our schools. They are the gatekeepers who help decide what to allow into our schools, and what to keep out. I believe it is extremely important to have the right people in those positions. Thanks for listening, and I would appreciate your vote on November the eighth.
Catherine Schumacher, Public Education Partners 8:34
Thank you so much for joining us, and we look forward to seeing your name on the ballot on November the eighth. Thanks, Jeff.
Jeff Cochran, Area 28 8:40
Katy Smith 8:41
Next up is Brittany Hilbert.
Catherine Schumacher, Public Education Partners 8:44
Well, really excited to have Brittany Hilbert here who is running for Greenville County Schools trustee for area 28. Brittany, thank you for being here today.
Brittany Hilbert, Area 28 8:52
Thank you for having me.
Catherine Schumacher, Public Education Partners 8:53
Well, first, let’s start off just tell us about yourself and why you decided to run to be a Greenville County Schools trustee.
Brittany Hilbert, Area 28 9:00
Sure. So I have lived in the area for 12 years now. And grew up outside of Atlanta, went to UGA moved to South Carolina, with my husband, who we now have two children in the public school system. They are in kindergarten and in fifth grade. So we get one year together, which is exciting for them. But I have been a volunteer with junior achievement for a long time. I have been really passionate about financial literacy, and making sure that kids have access to that education to really make them workforce ready. And I have been a business banker in the area for 10 years. And right now I work for Pinnacle financial partners, and we also believe in education. So I get to do a lot of that with my job, which is really fun. So I spent a lot of time in the schools doing that.
Catherine Schumacher, Public Education Partners 9:52
Excellent. Well, how does your professional and personal experience make you a good candidate for the school board?
Brittany Hilbert, Area 28 9:57
I mean, first of all, I’m a mom so I have a vested interest in making sure that all of our children get the best education that they possibly can, you know. I believe that children should get a high quality education in an environment where they are physically and emotionally safe. And having worked with businesses in the community for over 10 years, I get to hear really firsthand what those businesses are wanting out of an employee. So I really feel like I can bring that to the school board and be able to partner that with all of the work that I’ve done around financial literacy, and help collaborate and bring some different ideas to the table.
Catherine Schumacher, Public Education Partners 10:35
Thank you, and 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?
Brittany Hilbert, Area 28 10:44
Sure. So I think one thing that is really on a lot of people’s minds is, you know, the teacher shortage. So we have a lot of schools that have vacancies that they’re struggling to fill. And we have a lot of teachers who are, have been in the field for a really long time, and are choosing to leave the profession. I know money is definitely a piece of that puzzle. And I do think that it’s important that we continue to elevate the pay of these professionals who are typically very educated and very, they’re masters of what they do. So we want to make sure that we’re rewarding that financially. But I also think that a lot of it comes down to what’s happening inside the four walls. So we know a few things like teachers do really well when they have strong peer networks. So I think that one thing that the board could be doing is helping to foster those connections with teachers. So helping build out mentor programs, making sure that first year teachers and veteran teachers are connected, whether that’s within the schools, or across different schools, that way, they have a support system, they can go back and forth with best practices, they feel like they have a community. I also think that we should be focusing on making sure that our kids are workforce ready, right. So whether that means they are leaving school and going into a career, going into a technical program, going to college, making sure that they are ready for whatever that next step is. So I really think that getting the business community involved in that is, is really something that we should be focusing on. So Greenville County Schools does an apprenticeship and internship program. And we had a chance to talk to a business member who has an intern. And she talked about the way that that really helped not only her business, but her personally, she got a lot of excuse me a lot of reward out of that. And I think that that’s one of those things that if we can get these kids exposure to jobs, making sure that they kind of know what’s out there. Sometimes eliminating a variable is as important, as you know, deciding what you want to do. Sometimes you get into something and you’re like, well, that’s not really the direction that I think that I should go. And so giving these kids exposure to those things, I think is really important. And then finally, you know, it, we’ve had a really tough past two years. So there’s a lot of challenges with that. So I think that looking for ways to expand access to mental health resources, not only for students, but also for children is important. We’re going to be speaking next week with a woman who has been advocating for increased recess time. And I think things like that are, you know, very relatively cheap options that we can do, that really do have a huge benefit, especially for that K through five education. Because, you know, Pickens County has been able to get an academic waiver to give them the ability to offer 60 minutes of unstructured, predominantly outdoor time for their elementary students. And there’s a lot of data out there that shows that this is helping with classroom management, because as you can imagine sitting still for six hours. It’s challenging for adults, which means it’s definitely challenging for children. So if we can find these little ways to help bring solutions to the table so that they are not so that they’re not trying to regulate on their own. We’re giving them that outlet. I think that has a huge payoff not only for the students, but also for the teachers as well.
Catherine Schumacher, Public Education Partners 14:33
Well, thank you. We have a little bit of time left. So is there anything else that you’d like to share with listeners?
Brittany Hilbert, Area 28 14:39
Sure, I would just say that, you know, I really think that school boards should be deliberative and thoughtful. I think that whoever holds the seat really needs to be focused on finding outcomes and collaborating with the community. So I think what we know for a fact is that when we build strong communities, we create places where businesses want to start, where people want to raise their families. And if we have businesses that are starting here, we have job opportunities, we have places for our kids to work, places for them to raise their families eventually. And so I really just want to say that I have a lot of experience in bringing people together, doing that with the businesses that I work for. Businesses do a lot of the same things, right, but they do it in a different way. And so one of the things that I have to do on a day to day basis is kind of help them problem solve, and think through some of these bigger issues. And I think that I can bring that skill set to the school board as well.
Catherine Schumacher, Public Education Partners 15:38
Okay. Well, Brittany Hilbert, thank you so much for joining us today. And we look forward to seeing you on the ballot on November 8.
Brittany Hilbert, Area 28 15:44
Katy Smith 15:46
Last up is Steven Watterson.
Catherine Schumacher, Public Education Partners 15:49
All right. Well, I’m happy to be here with Steven Watterson who is running in for school district area 28 as a trustee. So Steven, why don’t you tell us about yourself and why you decided to run to be a Greenville County Schools trustee?
Steven Watterson, Area 28 16:03
I certainly will. My name is Steven Watterson. I originally came to Greenville County back in 1966, when my dad was an electrical engineer and did a job over at LTV. So I was associated with Greenville County. But then I left Greenville County around 68. Of course, joined the Navy later on and was gone from the country for roughly 31 years. I did 19 years abroad, with my family and so forth, lived in Japan. And I’ll be honest with you, I was a high school dropout and joined the Navy. And the Navy said well, you need to get a degree but son, young man, so I did. I got my high school diploma from the state of Florida. Eventually went on and got a master’s degree in secondary education, but also have six other, excuse me, five other degrees during my time in the Navy. And when we was living in Japan, our three younger kids went to Japanese public school. And I really got hooked on the education because I’ve seen how education worked in other countries and not saying our country’s bad. I think our country is great. We have great pockets in this state. And what happened in 2004, I was supposed to retire and my wife wanted to keep our kids in Japanese school. So she found Atlanta, Greenville, Charlotte and Raleigh, Greenville had the least amount of crime. So I came to Greenville. And we moved here in 2004. I had to go to Iraq. So I had to I had to do a year over and Iraq because they wouldn’t let me retire. And during my time in the Navy, I got my first bachelor’s, got an associate, and got another bachelor’s and always want to be a teacher. So I applied to the Greenville County School System plus other systems. And Oconee County hired me as a CTE instructor in electronics. So I taught project lead away an engineering for three years. Then I got recruited by Greenville Tech to be an engineering instructor and I worked for them for about four and a half years. And then the state of South Carolina asked me to come down and help with their Mechatronics initiative in 2012. So I’ve been down there for the last 10 years and I went from doing two career clusters to now I do four career clusters, actually four and a half. So my background is I do architect construction. I do manufacturing. I do law and public safety. I also do government and public administration. And we’re getting ready to move JROTC over to the CTE program, which is career technical education. And the reason for that is because we have roughly about 19,000 students that basically – this a statewide – that basically get electives instead of getting a career readiness. And one thing about our superintendent, Molly Spearman, she wants us to have world skills. And world skills is a little bit of everything. And I tell people that you know, out of 10 people you need one doctor, two engineers and seven technicians. And I share this with people that I’ve always made more money as a technician. And here I am with multiple degrees. And I actually make more money off my retired salary from the military than I do working for the state of South Carolina. I do want people to understand that I will be retiring here in July when I finish up my FAA grant that I recently received, and I’m basically doing that grant for the rural districts because they don’t have the money that the other districts do. And one thing about Greenville County.. Greenville County is blessed that we have a good tax base. We have people that want to get involved. And so that’s one way I’m running for Greenville County is because not because I’m getting ready to retire is because I’ve always looked at Greenville County as the pinnacle of the state. A lot of people follow Greenville County and a lot of our administrators in Greenville County are in other districts now that are making them better. So I believe that’s what I can do for this county. You asked me why I’m running. I actually ran eight years ago. And Lisa Wells who currently holds the seat, she made a comment at public education partners over Mountain High School, that really opened my eyes, I was looking at just career technical education, but you have to look at the whole picture. I mean, we just recently got a report that our kids math dropped five points, reading dropped seven points. And so we need to recover that somehow. I mean, we do have the money out there. Because as you know, we got $2.1 billion from the federal government for this pandemic, and Greenville County got a substantial amount of that. And I think they’re working in the right direction to alleviate that shortfall for these young kids. And keep in mind, if you don’t grab them at the third grade, that’s when you’re going to lose them.
Catherine Schumacher, Public Education Partners 16:42
Well, thank you. Well, so how does your professional and personal experience make you a good candidate for the school board?
Steven Watterson, Area 28 19:34
Well, first of all, I don’t have a large learning curve. I served on the Greenville Tech charter school board years ago. I understand the budgets. You know, I understand that how we deal with people. One thing I do get upset about is that nobody ever comes to the school board unless they’re upset. Why don’t they come to the school board and say, you know, we’ve done a good job, you know, we’ve done a good job in this. Greenville County, in my opinion, has done some great things like trying to get teachers certified, they have their own certification program now. And, you know, when I first read that, I said, Well, they’re taking that away from the state. But then I started looking at it, and I said, You know what, this, they’re taking care of yourself. And, you know, we have good teachers that are coming out of that program. And so, you know, Greenville, Greenville County, actually should be the focus point for a lot of these counties in the state. And I travel around the state because I work for a state the Department of Education. So I’ve been to every district in this state. And I see good, I see bad.
Catherine Schumacher, Public Education Partners 22:13
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?
Steven Watterson, Area 28 22:21
Transparency. We get the we get the information out. If you look on the Greenville County School Board website, you can look at every one of the meetings. I don’t know how many hits they get. I mean, I would probably have to ask, you know, an IT administrator to show me that. But I would think it’s probably minimum, because what I do at the State Department of Education, we have a website, we have resources. I cannot tell you how many emails I get just asking me, where’s this? Where’s that? And it’s on our website. And one thing about search, you can find anything, but I’m more than happy to help them. Because the thing of it is, if we do not educate our young people today, we’re going to have some difficulties. As I said, I think I said I lived in Japan for almost eight years. And one thing about the Japanese and the Germans because I went to school in Germany, is that teachers are paid more than doctors and lawyers. And we don’t do that here. Do not get me wrong. Doctors need to be paid well, lawyers need to be paid well. But are teachers starting out I think roughly $42,000 a year now. That’s pretty low. I mean, when you think about apartment rents, house payments, and things such as that, because without the teachers, we’re not gonna get the population that’s going to benefit us.
Catherine Schumacher, Public Education Partners 23:43
We have a little bit of time left. And is there anything else that you would like listeners to know?
Steven Watterson, Area 28 23:48
Well, one thing is for sure, I don’t have a big learning curve. If I get elected, which there’s four of us running in this in this area. And of course, I will never go negative on anybody. As I said, I ran against Lisa Wells eight years ago, I actually voted for. And the reason I did is because after I got to know her and got to know what her philosophy was, and her vision, I said I don’t need to get in there. I mean, she needs to get in there. And now she’s no longer running. And I said, you know, I have an opportunity now I’m getting ready to retire because I’ll be honest with you school board for the other, the other school board members that work full time jobs. Thank you for doing that. But I think on the school board, you need to really dedicate your time to it and understand what’s going on. One thing about the school that I know are our schools. I mean we’re a large district, very large district, and we’re not going to know everything. It takes all the school board members to bring something to us to tell us what’s going on. Because I’m not I’m not gonna know what’s going on up and Travelers Rest. I’m not going to know what’s going over in Greer, I’m not going to know what’s going over in Greenville. I will know what’s going on in Simpsonville. Because that’s where my constituents are. But keep in mind, we have to look at the whole, not just little segments. And I believe that’s what I’m gonna bring to the school board is my broad knowledge about the whole. As they say, you’re not going to please everybody all the time, but you’re going to please some people some of the time.
Catherine Schumacher, Public Education Partners 25:23
Great. Well, thank you, Steven Watterson, who’s running for Greenville County Schools trustee in area 28. We appreciate you speaking with us today.
Steven Watterson, Area 28 25:30
Well, thank you for thank you so much for having me and I appreciate the time.
Catherine Puckett 25:34
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.