Twelve candidates have filed to run for November’s election to fill four school board seats in Fort Mill, according to filings on the state election website.
They include several parents, a retired teacher, a former school nurse, a local worship leader and a former professional basketball player. (See profiles below.)
Three incumbents are seeking re-election to their seats, including Wayne Bouldin, Michele Branning and Celia McCarter. Trustee Brian Murphy, a local attorney, did not file to run again for the seat he has held for the last four years.
The incumbents are joined by two candidates making their second attempt to join the Fort Mill School District’s Board of Trustees, including Dr. Nichell Newton and Desareta Jones.
Among the new candidates: Lipi Pratt, Rachele Julian, Joe Helms, Connie Cullen, Kevin Glover, Eric Mann and Brandi Jansen.
The non-partisan election will be held Nov. 8. The three remaining board seats will be up for re-election in 2024.
(What are your questions for Fort Mill’s 12 school board candidates. Email them to [email protected], and we will try to feature the answers they are willing to give in upcoming stories.)
Here is what we know about those running:
Incumbent Wayne Bouldin said he is excited to seek re-election to another term. During his tenure on the board, enrollment has doubled to 18,000 students while the district has ushered in a staff increase to 2,5000 employees. The school system has added the Nation Ford High School stadium, the district office, maintenance and bus lots as well as a satellite bus lot.
The district has also “significantly increased AP and dual enrollment offerings,” maintained the recommended fund balance affecting credit rating and refinanced multiple bonds, saving taxpayers millions of dollars, he said. The board also addressed major revenue cuts in 2010.
“FMSD has a long history of excellence in education, but there’s always room to improve which one thing both the staff and the board work towards in all that they do,” he said.
In another term, he plans to focus on teacher recruitment and retention, insuring effective and efficient use of operational revenue, and managing the district’s continued growth, infrastructure and programs. Bouldin also aims to maintain the small community feel in individual schools while increasing vocational learning opportunities with possible internships and adding dual enrollment opportunities
Bouldin, a product engineering manager, has been married to his wife Harriett for 36 years while living in Fort Mill for 32 of those years. The couple has two children that graduated from the district and both have returned to live in Fort Mill. Their daughter and daughter-in-law teach in the district, and the Bouldins have two grandchildren “benefitting from the great education offered here.”
Incumbent Michele Branning posted this on Facebook on Aug. 1: “I have filed for Re-election to the Fort Mill School Board of Trustees. It is an honor and a privilege to help guide the future of our school district. I have spent the last eight years doing so and believe that I still have the commitment and vision to continue the greatness of our school district.”
Branning is the secretary treasurer of the S.C. School Boards Association and has been nominated and has been selected by the nominating committee of that organization to be the president elect starting December 2022. She will then be the president of the S.C. School Boards Association beginning December 2023.
“I am also a Level 6 boardsmanship which is the highest level of continuing education a school board trustee can achieve in the state of South Carolina,” she said.
Branning has also served the Fort Mill Board of Trustees as the chair for the policy committee, vice chairman and member of the Strategic Planning Committee.
Branning is also a Rotarian with the Fort Mill Rotary Club, a Rotary board member, a Paul Harris Fellow and the 2016 & 2017 Rotarian of the Year. She was the club President for the 2017-18 Rotary year.
“She was instrumental in the monthly service projects impacting our community locally and abroad always using #ServiceAboveSelf, a motto she lives,” her district bio says.
Branning is a licensed real estate professional in both North and South Carolina working with Keller Williams Fort Mill, is a co-owner of a Power Sports business and is the former co-owner of several mobility facilities, according to her bio. She has mother of two children who graduated from Fort Mill schools.
Incumbent Celia McCarter is running for a second term to help manage concerns with limited funding sources and challenges during a nationwide teacher shortage.
“I will continue adding to our rich history of success by supporting our top-notch teachers as they prepare all our students for success after high school,” she said.
Phillip, her husband, and she moved to Fort Mill in 2003 where they raise their five children. The oldest two graduated from Clemson University, their middle son attends Cornell University while her youngest two attend high school and middle school here.
McCarter earned a bachelor’s degree in Mathematics/Actuarial Sciences and a minor in Spanish from the University of Maryland System. In 2008, she became a small business franchisee. In 2014, she founded and continues to operate Classic Cotillion, LLC where she teaches etiquette, soft skills, social graces, interviewing skills, formal dining and character education to students.
Since 2003, McCarter continues to volunteer in her children’s schools and other schools. She worked to help fund middle school sports, serving as a Co-Chair for Dancing with the Stars Fort Mill. In addition, she represented parents on the Strategic Planning Committee and on the Coordinated School Health Advisory Council. She is also on the Foundation for Fort Mill Schools.
When McCarter ran for her first term, she was focused on maintaining the high quality of education here.
“In those four years, we managed exponential growth while preserving our educational excellence by attracting and retaining outstanding teachers,” she said. “We safeguarded teacher salary scale to be one of the highest in the state while reducing property taxes by 57 mills. We built in more unencumbered planning time for teachers, allowed them to use up to 5 personal days a year and added support positions like Behavioral Interventionalists, School Psychologists, Elementary ELA Coordinator, a K-12 Science Coordinator and Safety officers. Together, we continued to hire elite teachers while opening four new schools and facing two academic years of Covid challenges. Although there is a nationwide teacher shortage, our FMSD opened the 2022-2023 academic year fully staffed.”
McCarter has earned Level 4 of SCSBA (South Carolina’s School Board Association’s) Boardmanship Institute, requiring over 200 hours of training.
“I will continue to support teachers and staff in the classroom by giving them tools to provide an opportunity for each child to dream big, envision his/her goals and to design a path so every child finds success,” she said.
Connie Cullen and her husband have children in the 5th and 8th grades. They have been back in the Carolinas for six years.
“Like most parents, there are values that we strive to maintain and ingrain in our family,” she said. “It is these values that I am energized to contribute and share on the board.”
These include safety for children, teachers and parents; clarity and transparency of educational content, including a focus on all children’s growth and opportunity for achievement, and an unwavering support for teachers while attracting the best, recognizing excellence, and retaining the talent.
“I look forward to listening to your input and ideas, and my commitment is an unwavering attention to ethics and values that represent the very best of the Carolinas,” she said.
Kevin Glover is a father of three who moved to Fort Mill from Cabarrus County N.C., in September 2020 to take advantage of in-person learning offered here during the pandemic. Glover and his wife Natalie have two children in Fort Mill Schools and a daughter in pre-school.
“We’ve been thrilled with the community and the quality of the schools, and I hope to return the favor by bringing a new perspective, representing parents on the school board,” said Glover, a self-employed engineer with additional degrees in Finance and an MBA.
He said he has a “Parents First” point of view because he understands that “parents hire us by electing us to serve and entrust us with the education of their children.”
One current problem Glover sees is the lack of after-school care for middle school children. He said it’s a challenge for single parents and couples who both work.
“I intend to collaborate with providers in the community to make sure middle school parents have care options,” he said.
He also wants to explore ways to enhance and promote STEM subjects to all students, listen to parents regarding their priorities and work with all stakeholders collaboratively to implement practical solutions.
Joe Helms announced his run on Facebook on Aug. 5, describing himself as happily married to Julianna Helms and a father of four children. He’s been a resident of Fort Mill for 15 years and serves as a local worship leader in Tega Cay. Helms is also a “real estate investor, entrepreneur, and account executive at a top financial education company.”
Helms said his wife is product of Fort Mill Schools and a former teacher in Fairfield County and Clover school districts.
He said the heart behind his campaign is “prioritizing children over politics” and “giving a voice to parents.”
Brandi Jansen says she is running to “bring perspective, not politics” to the Fort Mill School District.
She grew up in the lower-state of South Carolina and attended Clemson University, earning a BA in English with an additional focus on secondary education in 2002. She went on to Georgetown University, where she earned a BS in nursing and became an RN in 2006.
Jansen completed a 2-year fellowship in emergency and trauma nursing at a Level 1 trauma center outside of Washington, D.C., became certified as a forensic nurse and served as a travel nurse for several years.
In 2009, she and husband Steve settled in Fort Mill with the birth of their first child, TJ. Jansen worked in emergency and cardiac care before finding her dream job as a school nurse at Sugar Creek Elementary School. Then, in 2016, her daughter was diagnosed with a very high-risk leukemia.
“Cancer. In my three year old,” Jansen said. “If I wasn’t already grounded in perspective from my time working in the ER, hearing the words that my beautiful, perfect, seemingly healthy daughter had cancer, sure solidified what is important in life.”
In 2018, after 2.5 years of chemotherapy, radiation, blood transfusions, lumbar punctures and more, her daughter Wren rang the bell at Levine Children’s Hospital, signifying the end of her cancer treatment and making her cancer free.
That same year, Jansen founded Wren’s Village, a nonprofit that financially supports local cancer families, raises money for pediatric cancer research and sparks awareness and action through outreach and blood drives.
Jansen has served for three years as PTO president in a local elementary school and now has four children in Fort Mill schools, from kindergarten through 7th grade.
“But mostly, I am a parent with perspective. We can all find common ground in wanting the very best for our children, but sometimes, we get caught up in all the politics and noise and forget that we all want the same thing,” she said. “I have no interest in politics. I want to use my experience as a former FMSD employee, a school leader and a parent to foster the culture we’ve already built, while keeping us moving forward.”
Desareta Jones is a wife, a mother, a business owner, and an advocate for children and parent rights.
She is a graduate of Winston-Salem State University, where she received a Bachelor of Science Degree in Nursing. Jones also received her Master of Science Degree in Nursing with a focus in the area of Mental Health from Walden University. She works as a psychiatric mental health nurse practitioner.
“I bring over fifteen years of experience from serving in positions within communities and educational collaboratives. I desire to prioritize listening to the concerns of parents in our district and collaborating with other board members to ensure appropriate responses are given to parent concerns,” Jones said. “I want to help maintain and build upon the culture of support and success the district currently has within the community.”
Jones said her clinical expertise, experience as a successful business owner and policy writer qualifies her for the board member’s responsibilities tied to governance, policies, and budgeting.
“If afforded the opportunity to serve, I will work to cultivate relationships of trust and transparency with parents of the district,” adding that she will work with other trustees to ensure concerns are addressed and parents receive answers to their concerns.
Jones said she has long held to the philosophy that “no one of us is as awesome as all of us.”
Rachele Julian was the parent of a child who attended Fort Mill Schools and has since graduated. Now, she wants to fight for other parents.
“I felt it was time to step in and give parental rights back to the parents,” she said. “I also want to run for accountability and transparency within the school board, and just basically restore the faith and trust in the school systems.”
Julian has worked in human resources with an emphasis on employment law, policies, procedures and compliance. She is a lead investigator and handles claims for opportunity employment, working to substantiate claims of discrimination and sexual harassment.
She has been a resident of both Fort Mill and Rock Hill since 2003.
“I just really want to focus on children and make children children again, if that makes sense,” she said. “I think we are so inundated with CRT and social emotional learning. We need to focus more on schools, arithmetic and writing rather than empathy.”
Eric Mann has a daughter who just started her freshman year at Catawba Ridge High School, and he wants to work to continue the progress being made in Fort Mill Schools while ensuring the safety of children and maintaining quality teachers.
He is a graduate of Virginia Military Institute, a former professional basketball player and the director of insurance for Hartford Insurance Company.
Mann has been in Fort Mill since 2005. He is a native of Rock Hill, where he graduated from Rock Hill High School. Mann spent four years playing professional basketball in Europe from 2001-2005. He is 6’9” tall.
When Mann finished touring, he and wife Michelle built a home in Fort Mill to be near their family. The couple have one daughter, Callie.
Why is he running? Mann wants to promote education while ensuring Fort Mill students have a good time and feel safe in their learning environment without bullying or anything that would prevent a successful education.
He says his main goal on the board would be maintaining quality teachers who are happy. He compares it to the phrase, “Happy wife, happy life.”
“If you have happy teachers, they are going to teach your students well,” he said.
Mann also aims to make sure people are treated fairly while being taught in a safe environment while having a good time so children can get “the best education possible.”
Dr. Nichell Newton
Dr. Nichell Newton is making her second run for the school board after first trying in 2020. On Aug. 8, she said this on Facebook: “Today I made the decision to run for Fort Mill School Board for the second time. I am committed to the students and community of Fort Mill. I’m ready to work and advocate for the needs of the community. Let’s work together.”
In 2020, she described herself as a local mother who is an experienced teacher and current school counselor in Charlotte. She said she wanted to support local schools by “helping to address social-emotional barriers that keep students from achieving their educational goals.”
Dr. Newton is a Spartanburg native with two children, including one with special needs and one who attends Doby’s Bridge Elementary School.
According to her 2020 bio, she was previously employed with the Spartanburg School District and works for Charlotte Mecklenburg schools as a professional school counselor.
“I have an EdD in Educational Leadership, two masters, one in professional counseling and another in International studies,” she said. “I have been a teacher, therapist, and a school counselor in the public school setting. I have also been on administrative teams.”
More than anything, Dr. Newton said she wants students to succeed.
“Their success depends on our investments in their education, their social-emotional needs, and their families,” she said. “It is this investment that will help us retain top teachers by supporting the whole educational learning structure – teachers, students and their families.”
Lipi Pratt, a recently-retired teacher in Fort Mill, has over 27 years of experience in the classroom, something she hopes will bring a unique point of view to conversations and decisions about continued student success in Fort Mill. She was also a parent of children who attended Fort Mill Schools for their entire PreK- 12 school careers.
She said her experience both a parent and an educator will help her to understand how critical the home and school partnership is to the overall success and happiness of students.
Pratt sees the problems with teacher retention and the need for positivity in the conversations about public education as motivations to run for office.
According to Pratt, “Teacher retention in Fort Mill is my top priority. .. The solutions are more complex than just raising salaries. No one enters education for the money. While a competitive salary is important, respect for teachers and the important contribution they make to our society seems to have vanished from the public conversation. I would like to encourage people to focus on the positive and reflect on their actual experiences with Fort Mill educators.”
In 2013, Pratt was chosen as Fort Mill Schools’ District Teacher of the Year. In her work as District Teacher of the Year, she fostered communication between district leadership and teachers, streamlined the process for selecting future Teachers of the Year as the district grew from five schools to 15 schools, and established a tradition of teachers leading teachers in professional development each year.
Additionally, Pratt represented Fort Mill Schools at events across the state with other districts, government leaders in the state capital and legislative body, and corporate leaders from all over South Carolina.