July 25, 2008

So Far, School Board Race Draws Only One Candidate

By Jonathan Cribbs, The Beaufort Gazette, S.C.

Jul. 24--A teaching assistant and two-time challenger to former Beaufort County Board of Education member Margie Jenkins is taking her third stab at winning the board's District 8 seat in September.

Aleatha Williams, a kindergarten teaching assistant at Joseph S. Shanklin Elementary School, was the first to file Thursday for the seat Jenkins vacated last month, citing continued acute allergy complications. The special election is Sept. 23 for District 8, which represents Burton.

Williams, 61, said she wants to improve student achievement by encouraging stronger discipline in district schools, more nutritious food and more physical activity in the classroom -- keys, she claims, to better cognition. She said she served as an in-school suspension teacher and noticed more students were sent to her after lunch than before it.

"Stop feeding our children processed foods, foods with coloring in them," Williams said. "Different nutrition things make a difference as far as learning goes, and movement makes a difference as far as your learning goes. ... There are things that can be done within the classroom that would take only two or three minutes that would assist in their learning. I work in kindergarten classes, right, and rather than have the children, say, sit on the carpet for an hour... include in that planning some kind of movement for the children."

As far as other district issues, such as state funding, rapid enrollment growth, empty schools in the Beaufort area and the district's new embrace of technology education, Williams said she is unsure.

"They seem to be a pretty good board. But I haven't really done too many studies on what they are doing," she said. "My concern is more what's going on with the children than what the board is doing. Even if I'm on the board, I'm only one person. I only have one vote. To the best of my ability, whatever I'm going to do is going to be for the children of Beaufort County."

Sheila Wiley, a data specialist at Shanklin Elementary, said she has known Williams for several years. Williams worked on the school's wellness committee this year, which was dedicated to improving nutrition in the school and providing nutrition information to parents, Wiley said.

"She feels very passionate about the children eating healthy and them having less sugar, balanced meals," she said.

Williams ran unsuccessfully against Jenkins in 2002 and 2006 and called Jenkins a disengaged board member. Jenkins, who served two four-year terms, had a reputation for being quiet and non-combative and rarely addressed board and school district issues publicly.

"The only way that Mrs. Jenkins said anything while she was on the board was if someone specifically called out her name, and usually her response was, you know, no response," Williams said. "Always there was no response. When the newspaper asked her questions, there was always no response. But maybe behind closed doors she was doing something different. ... I just have faith that these parents are going to eventually realize that their children need someone that's going to actually represent them."

Agnes Garvin, county elections director, said she has heard of two other people gathering signatures to run for the seat. The filing period ends Monday at noon. Elections to the 11-member board are non-partisan and candidates in District 8 need to collect at least 80 signatures from registered voters on a petition in order to run.

Williams has worked as a substitute teacher and teaching assistant since 1989 throughout Beaufort County, according to her resume. She holds a master's degree in education from the University of South Carolina and two bachelor's degrees from Limestone College in Gaffney.

She said she plans to resign from her position at Shanklin Elementary if she wins the board seat.


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