Education

Gullah artist wants to bridge the gap between Beaufort Co. school board and students

Natasha D. Robinson
Natasha D. Robinson

A native Gullah-Geechee woman from St. Helena Island filed Wednesday for the District 3 seat on the Beaufort County Board of Education, becoming the fourth candidate to file in that district.

Natasha D. Robinson, 43, is a performing artist who has danced and recited poetry at various Lowcountry festivals and schools within the Beaufort County School District for the last eight years.

District 3, which is comprised of Lady’s Island, St. Helena Island and parts of Beaufort, is represented by retired educator Cynthia Gregory-Smalls.

Smalls filed for re-election in March and since then, three other candidates — including Robinson — have joined the race. William Smith and Buryl Sumpter are also in the running.

Smith, 33, lives on St. Helena and owns a small security business. Sumpter is a licensed mortician who also serves as a substitute teacher in the school district.

Robinson, who has a 1-year-old son, is the only candidate of the four who has not previously run for the county’s school board.

In March 2017, Smalls, Smith and Sumpter faced one another in a special election for the District 3 seat. Smalls one by just three votes.

Robinson graduated Beaufort High School in 1994 and studied education and theater and played basketball at Claflin University in Orangeburg.

She spent three years in the Army and moved back to her hometown in 2010, when she began reciting poetry and performing Gullah-Geechee dances at various festivals and schools in the Lowcountry.

If elected to the school board, Robinson said one of her priorities will be to make sure all Beaufort County students are provided the same opportunities.

“What I think a lot of people — parents and grandparents — are concerned about is if our children here (in District 3) are really being offered the same as, say, the kids at Whale Branch Elementary,” she said. “Are we being equally served as far as funding and everything?”

Robinson also said she hoped to improve the district’s dropout rate.

Over the last four years, the district’s dropout rate has improved .6 percentage points. For female students of color, however, the rate has slightly worsened.

“I just want the kids here to know that someone really does have their back when it comes to being educated, so that they don’t want to dropout,” Robinson said.

Robinson, who comes from a large family that has lived on St. Helena for generations, said she is still “very connected to a lot of the kids” on the island. She hopes to use those relationships to bring a different perspective to the board, she said.

“I want to be the middle man between the students and the school board where we can find that resolve,” she said.

Who else has filed?

Seven of the board’s 11 seats are up for grabs in the November election:

District 1: Seat held by board member Earl Campbell is up for election in 2020.

District 2: Longtime Lady’s Island resident Terry Thomas filed in April. Board member David Striebinger filed for re-election in July.

District 3: Board member Cynthia Gregory-Smalls filed for re-election in March. St. Helena businessman William Smith filed in mid-July. Mortician Buryl Garnett Sumpter and Gullah Geechee performing artist Natasha D. Robinson filed in late July.

District 4: Board member Joseph Dunkle filed for re-election in early July. Retired Beaufort County educator Tricia Fidrych filed in mid-July.

District 5: Two retired military men — Richard Geier and Ray Johnson — filed to run in March. Sarah Stuchell, a licensed marriage and family therapist, filed in July. The seat is held by board member Geri Kinton, who said she plans to vacate when her term ends.

District 6: Seat held by board member John Dowling is up for election in 2020.

District 7: Hilton Head native Rachel Wisnefski and Chris Davey, parts and service manager at Grainger Nissan of Beaufort, filed to run in July. Board member Evva Anderson said she has not decided whether she will run for re-election.

District 8: Former educator John Eddy announced he would run in July. Board member Mary Cordray said she has not decided whether she will run again.

District 9: Seat held by board member Christina Gwozdz is up for election in 2020.

District 10: Peter Kristian, the manager of Hilton Head Plantation, filed for the seat in late June. Board member Bill Payne said he has not decided whether he will run again.

District 11: Seat held by board member JoAnn Orischak is up for election in 2020.

Those interested in running for school board have until noon Aug. 15 to file for candidacy.

To find which board district represents you, visit https://bit.ly/2FyQiNW.

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