Vincent Sheheen wants to take South Carolina's public-education system back to the basics.
The Democratic gubernatorial candidate and state senator met with six Beaufort County teachers Friday at the Port Royal Plantation clubhouse on Hilton Head Island to discuss his "Back to School, Back to Basics" education initiative.
The Camden resident will face Republican Gov. Nikki Haley in November's general election.
He said he wants to expand opportunities for students and empower teachers. His plan would provide 4-year-old kindergarten and more state education funding.
"It shouldn't matter where a child is born. You should have the same educational opportunities," Sheheen said. "But there are fewer amenities in some counties than there are in others."
Sheheen said teachers are paid less in poorer counties, and he would seek ways to reward high-quality teachers in those areas. He also wants to de-emphasize standardized testing, reduce class sizes and increase teacher pay.
Several teachers at the roundtable expressed dissatisfaction with technology's role in the school district.
Sandra Davis, an English teacher at Battery Creek High School, said she plans lessons around the use of iPads, laptop computers and interactive white boards now placed in most classrooms. But when the technology fails, so does the lesson, she said. With limited technology support in the school, help can take a long time to arrive.
Cindy McKain, a music teacher at Joseph Shanklin Elementary School in Beaufort, said funding for technology is contributing to larger class sizes.
"We didn't want technology at the expense of class sizes," McKain said. "Money is being poured into technology at the expense of the students."
McKain also said teachers often experience too much pressure over high-stakes testing and evaluations.
Sheheen said he wants to create a "Governor's Council of Teachers" to bridge the gap between teachers and elected officials and give teachers a voice in decision-making.
"I want there to be honest, real-time feedback from teachers," Sheheen said.
Sheheen ended the meeting with a request of the teachers: Don't give up.
"Sometimes when you think that you can't make progress, that we're stuck in a rut, if we all pull together, and we all work really hard, we can make change," Sheheen said. "We've got three months to change the face of the government in South Carolina, and then we've got four years to change our attitudes about public education and what we can do moving forward.
"And I want you guys to be a part of that effort."
Follow reporter Laura Oberle at twitter.com/IPBG_Laura.