After longtime Beaufort County school board member Laura Bush decided not to seek re-election in 2016, four political newcomers competed for her seat. When the dust settled Nov. 8, Christina Gwozdz emerged as the victor.
For the next four years, Gwozdz will represent District 9, which spans Bluffton, Pritchardville and Daufuskie Island. The 58-year-old ear, nose and throat doctor has lived in Beaufort County for 27 years. She and her husband have three sons. She is a founding owner of the Outpatient Surgery Center of Hilton Head, president of the S.C. Society of Otolaryngology Head and Neck Surgery, and a representative on the S.C. Medical Association’s House of Delegates. She can now add Beaufort County Board of Education member to her list of accomplishments.
Here are some of her views on what needs to be done to improve public education in Beaufort County:
Question: What are your top three priorities as a school board member?
Answer: Put more value on community input, provide responsible stewardship of taxpayer money, and make academic performance the primary focus.
Q: How should the school district address the high number of suspensions and expulsions of minority students when compared to white students?
A: The school district must investigate and determine if all students are being treated equally for similar infractions regardless of their race, gender, socioeconomic status or which school they attend in the district. If a subgroup of students is being singled out and treated more harshly or leniently than the others, that is a problem and needs to be corrected. Misbehavior cannot be tolerated because it negatively impacts learning for all students.
Q: What steps should the school board take to improve its community relations?
A: First and foremost, the board members need to listen to the electorate. The board needs to proactively seek input from the community to better problem-solve and address issues. Restructuring board leadership and the public comment sections at board meetings would be beneficial. Board members should stay engaged with their constituents via social media and quarterly town hall meetings. The formation of advisory committees in each district would improve transparency and trust.
Q: How should the school district pay for its future building needs?
A: The school district’s current capital project list, totaling $217 million, needs to be trimmed and prioritized. The anticipated maintenance and operational expenses associated with each project need to be disclosed to voters. Trust and transparency need to be established with the community by the board before another attempt is made to gain capital funding through bond or sales tax referenda.
Q: What changes should be made to the school board's relationship with the superintendent?
A: The school board needs to provide stronger oversight of the superintendent; it is his employer. Unfortunately, the current board majority continues to support, defend and reward the superintendent, despite his obvious failings. Taxpayers and students would be better served if the board demanded accountability from the superintendent and had the confidence to ask the tough questions and provide viable solutions.