Teacher to challenge incumbent for Horry County school board District 2 seat

Horry County school board member Karen McIlrath is being challenged by Sherrie Todd, an Horry County Schools teacher, for the District 2 seat in the June 10 Republican primary.

McIlrath, a registered nurse, is in her first term representing District 2 – which includes Carolina Forest and Myrtle Beach – and has taken the lead in expanding robotics programs to schools across the district. Todd is a career and technology teacher at Conway’s Academy for Technology and Academics, where she has worked with the School Improvement Council and was the school’s Teacher of the Year in 2007.

The board has been discussing a building plan for the last three years in an attempt to alleviate school overcrowding. McIlrath said new schools are desperately needed, not just to keep up with the county’s growth, but also because some buildings are severely outdated and worn out.

“The challenge the school board faces is to determine how to finance this without raising taxes or burdening future boards with extreme debt,” McIlrath said.

Todd said a single plan could be used for schools at all levels, and that new plans should not have to be drawn every time a school is built. The district also needs to purchase more land for each school so there is room to grow if needed, she said.

Both candidates support the district’s personalized digital learning initiative, which was approved last year to provide each student in grades three through 12 with their own digital device. PDL launched in January with iPads for middle schoolers, and high school students will receive tablets in the fall.

“The digital devices will help teachers personalize education for each student,” Todd said. “As teachers are focusing on small groups, it will allow other students to move forward at their appropriate level.”

McIlrath said PDL is instrumental in allowing teachers to personalize education to the level of each student and in preparing students for life after school. Students must be literate in technology if they are going to compete for jobs now and in the future, she said.

Both candidates also said that people are missing the mark when it comes to their views on the Common Core State Standards, which will be fully implemented in the schools next year but have been hotly debated in the legislature.

“Common Core is generally misunderstood,” said Todd, who said a common set of standards among states is especially helpful in transient counties such as Horry. Students who move here from other states have worked under different standards, making it more difficult to get them where they need to be academically, she said.

McIlrath said both sides of the Common Core issue are focusing on the wrong target because standards do not improve student achievement. She said the focus should be on the method of content delivery and moving away from archaic teaching models in favor of blended learning, where students receive face-to-face instruction along with online learning. Blended learning already is being used in the district, delivering content and allowing students to develop skills employers are looking for – such as collaboration and time management skills, she said.