The contested races in the North Augusta, Graniteville and Silver Bluff/New Ellenton areas bring four political newcomers to the Aiken education limelight. The candidates seem to share similar platforms and goals that call for a more responsive and aggressive board.
Here are Tuesday's contests:
DISTRICT 2: Beech Island, New Ellenton, Windsor and Jackson
The outcome of one race will definitely bring a new face to board meetings. Levi Green and Vicki Simons are trying for a spot left by Valerie Towles.
Mrs. Simons has been keen on researching and questioning the current board on several issues, including budgetary efficiency. Her regular public addresses even influenced the board to change the public speaking policy at meetings to a more open forum.
Mr. Green serves as the Area 5 advisory council chairman, a position he has held for the past 25 years. All of his children have gone through the Aiken County school system.
Area residents showed concern last year when a facility study from the district mentioned closing New Ellenton Middle School because it was underenrolled. Both candidates are on a mission to make sure no school closings or area office consolidation happen.
"It is one of those things that we need to have good representation," Mrs. Simons said.
Mrs. Simons also pushes a platform of more openness and responsiveness from the school board to facilitate a better community relationship.
Mr. Green's focus is on reducing student-teacher ratios and attracting qualified teachers to the area.
"It's going to come down to getting the word out and being able to make personal visits to the citizens of District 2," Mr. Green said.
DISTRICT 3: Beech Island, Clearwater, Bath and Langley
Incumbent Larry Murphy faces competition from newcomer John Wesley Hightower.
Mr. Hightower, an educator at Savannah River Site, has three children who attended Aiken County public schools, with one still at Midland Valley High School.
Mr. Murphy served on the school board for the past eight years. His children also attended area public schools.
Mr. Murphy's campaign focuses on decreasing school expulsions by creating more single-gender classes, especially in sixth and ninth grade. He said most pupil appeals come from grades where the most transition happens.
Mr. Murphy said he felt this race would be close with Mr. Hightower, who also wants to close the gap between the community and the school board.
"Public education should receive the required funding. We should not take away money from public education to support other program. The only way I would support a voucher system was if the voucher supported public schools," Mr. Hightower said.
DISTRICT 5: Belvedere and North Augusta
Newcomer Ray Fleming challenges incumbent Tom Goforth for the District 5 seat.
Mr. Goforth was an Aiken-area administrator for 26 years before retiring and becoming a school board member eight years ago.
Mr. Fleming has served on school improvement councils for North Augusta-area schools and advisement councils on testing for the state.
Mr. Goforth said he wants the public to look at the experience factor when determining where to cast a vote.
"We've got to involve the stakeholders and everyone is a stake holder in student achievement," Mr. Goforth said. "I want people to be informed and knowledgeable."
Mr. Fleming wants to bring a fresh perspective to the board.
"I've knocked on over 1,500 doors so far and all (ideas) that come under are fresh approaches and new ways of looking at old problems," Mr. Fleming said.
He said he also would like to bridge gaps in the community to reach upcoming goals, which include a bond referendum for more new school facilities and increasing the graduation rate.
"The school system is facing complex challenges," Mr. Fleming said. "It's going to take the entire community to face those challenges."
District 6 and District 7 races are uncontested. Dr. Christine Sanders will fill the District 6 seat and Rosemary English will fill the District 7 seat.
Visit www.scvotes.org to find out more about voting districts and areas.
Reach Julia Sellers at (803) 648-1395, ext. 106, or email@example.com.