Rock Hill school board candidates agree on choice, diverge on iRock

Seven of the eight candidates for three Rock Hill school board seats addressed key issues Tuesday night for voters to consider when they go to the polls Nov. 4.

Winthrop University’s John C. West Forum hosted a candidates roundtable moderated by Winthrop professor Laura Ullrich.

A handful of Rock Hill school and district administrators were among several dozen people in the audience.

Steve DiNino and Rick Lee are each looking to unseat incumbent Jane Sharp in District 4, while Sarah Harper, Helena Miller and Leon Putman, who was unable to attend due to illness, are seeking to unseat incumbent Ginny Moe in District 2. Chairman Jim Vining is running unopposed for his at-large seat.

During the hourlong forum, the candidates answered questions about their position on issues such as state standards, schools of choice, charter schools and other challenges facing the district.

Two candidates, Miller and DiNino, emphasized the importance of having parent voices on the board. Both have three students in Rock Hill schools.

“It doesn’t take a village to educate a child, it takes a parent to raise a child,” DiNino said, disputing Harper’s position that it takes a village to raise and educate a child.

Miller cited communication as the biggest issue facing the district, saying from top-down and bottom-up, all levels at the school district don’t do well with talking to one another about problems and solutions.

On many issues, the candidates were in general agreement, especially on school choice and Common Core. All agreed schools of choice that offer special programs were a major asset in Rock Hill but that challenges exist in funding, transportation and attendance.

All candidates agreed that they were pleased South Carolina was no longer adopting Common Core state standards in favor of ones written in South Carolina, although Sharp pointed out that standards did not fall under board control and Vining said the board would support whatever the state adopted.

“I look forward to the new set of standards,” Lee said. “I’m glad that Common Core is not something I will have to wrestle with.”

Some of the candidates disagreed about the future of iRock, the district’s 1:1 technology initiative. The school board voted this summer not to expand the program beyond its current scope.

Vining defended the board’s decision, explaining that expected milestones in student achievement and funding had not been met.

“I believe that iRock is the solution to closing the socioeconomic gaps our district is facing, especially on the high school level,” Miller said. “Not moving forward was a mistake.”

When asked about the biggest issues facing the school district, Harper was the only candidate to say “funding” and went on to talk about the need for legislative reform at the state level to send more state dollars to school districts.

Sharp repeatedly emphasized her experience as a principal at Belleview Elementary School, where she was able to increase student achievement despite her school’s high poverty level. She argued her track record of improving achievement was evidence that she would continue to be an asset on the board.

On the topic of charter schools, most candidates said that while additional choice and competition could drive public schools to be better, some argued public charter schools needed more limits.

To be true public schools, charter schools should have attendance zones based on demographics, be held to the same standards as all traditional public schools and should have publicly elected boards, Moe said.