​​​​​​SOUTH CAROLINA ORGANIZATION OF RURAL SCHOOLS

 

Dr. Randall Gary, superintendent of Lexington 3 School District is overflowing with pride and enthusiasm. He has been in the District for 5 years- 2 as assistant superintendent and the last 3 as the superintendent.

He is grateful for a good board, “They understand their role and how important it is that we work well together,” he told us. He is also grateful for his staff and for the fact that they join him in being anxious to provide lots of opportunities for students.

Lexington 3 is partnering with Lexington County First Steps program in providing BOOST (Beginning Opportunities Offered for School Transition). Families with preschoolers meet weekly to discover and practice the Montessori method of learning and practice those methods at home with parents as teachers.  

Lexington 3 partners with Saluda County to train young firefighters who might start as local volunteers and continue on as fully paid firefighters in more urban areas.

CATE students built a house for a local man who paid for the materials plus 5% to help fund the program.
 
Because of their block scheduling, students can graduate from high school with an academic degree and a CATE certificate. Dual enrollment opportunities allow students to graduate with an academic degree and an associate’s degree from Midlands Technical College.

 The STEAM program (Science, Technology, Engineering, Arts and Mathematics gives students hands-on opportunities to explore all these fields.

Elementary school students who started being taught to provide news and weather reports to their fellow students, are now participating in their School of Journalism, and are spreading the word about how to prepare healthy snacks that don’t require any cooking.

 We toured their Summer Reading Camp as well as their pre-K summer program and met Ms. Angie Mishoe, who runs those programs, and is soon to become an assistant elementary school principal in the district.

 Dr. Gary went on to talk about their successful athletic programs, the Palmetto Finest Award won by Batesville-Leesburg Elementary School, and handed us a 6 page, glossy, full color brochure that informs the community about the district. “I believe in letting the community understand what we are doing ” he tells us and in the 2 ½ hours we spent with him,  he did just that.




What a pleasure it is to walk into a school district where nobody knows you and find a very warm welcome! As we travel around South Carolina, visiting school districts, we meet the nicest and most caring people.

Calhoun County School District, where Dr. Steve Wilson has been superintendent for nine years, is just such a place. Wilson has worked hard to make the district, staff, and community into a cooperative family. Certainly, there are outliers in every family, we have a few. When Dr. Wilson started as superintendent, the school was just about to go into a reaccreditation review.  The process was going to be one building at a time.  Dr. Wilson prevailed upon the state to do the review as a complete district, a single entity. This move on the superintendent’s part set the district off in a new direction, where the entire district worked together.

Wilson said that “teaching and learning” is what Calhoun is all about. He is proud of their 1:1 program because every one of his students has a computer. The district introduced that technology by giving the teachers computers six months before the students received them. This allowed the teachers to become comfortable with the technology before the students began to use it. Calhoun manages to pay its teachers 7% above the state salary schedule, but Dr. Wilson knows that is not the only reason why teachers stay. That’s why he believes that “You hire good people and get out of their way. Let them use the good skills you hired them for.”

Of course, like other rural school districts, Calhoun has its challenges. When it comes to maintaining and repairing three school buildings (two k-8 and one high school) they make use of the services of SCAGO (South Carolina Association of Government Organizations). This group contains governmental units and school districts. The interest rates for borrowing are lower than traditional rates and these funds are used to keep buildings in shape.

Not only did we have an opportunity to spend time with Dr. Wilson, but Ms. Christine Murdaugh, their Chief Academic Officer, was gracious enough to give us her time and attention. Over lunch she told us about the Summer Reading Program where 127 students were being helped with basic skills. Murdaugh had purchased bags of books, including a journal, for each student so they can start their own “home library.” Because teaching and learning is their number one goal, the district will pay for all 127 students to visit the Discover y Place in Charlotte, NC and to have lunch at the museum.

Again, teaching and learning are put into action when the Calhoun School District covers each student’s whole tuition at Orangeburg-Calhoun Technical College. The dual enrollment program makes it possible for a student to graduate with 32 college credits.

If you “follow the money,” it become apparent that the school board, administration and staff use prioritizing and creative problem solving to make their goal of teaching and learning come alive.Finally, Dr. Wilson recommended that we all read the book, “Tailspin,” by Steven Brill about the past 50 years and how we come to be the way we are. We intend to read it. We also suggested a book to Dr. Wilson, “Deer Hunting with Jesus” by Joe Bageant. It explains how and why rural people live their lives the way they do.




​Seems like we have not been visiting school districts for a while. Today was our 16th district- Hampton 1. Dr. Ron Wilcox was a gracious host and a wonderful explainer of what is going on in his school district. Although Ron has only been there for 2 years, he has accomplished a great deal.

With 34 years as a superintendent, in Tennessee, North Carolina and now South Carolina, Ron knows what works for his students. He takes time to write grants and has all his directors of special programming writing grants. They have been very successful.

He has inspired people in his community to help him establish a Hampton 1 School District endowment fund to help students in need. He believes in having high school teachers create pre-tests and post-tests for their students and pay close attention to the results.

Dr. Wilcox is proud of the district’s board members as they are willing to set goals and work with him and his staff to accomplish those goals.

He is concerned about the condition of his 7 buildings and makes it a point to plan ahead, knowing that it is inevitable that buildings will need repairs. Dr. Wilcox took us to a middle school and an elementary school. It was impressive. There are buildings, however, that were constructed in the 1950’s. Those buildings are in need of repair and new systems. Ron Wilcox is planning for that.

Like the other 15 superintendents we have visited, he agrees that the combination of good leadership and adequate funding is what South Carolina school districts need.

We are learning so much as we roam around the rural districts in our state. If you would like us to visit your district, just give SCORS a call at 843-707-9054.


 



The McCormick County Schools are located in the Northwest portion of South Carolina. It is accessible, for our travels from Georgia and is closer to Augusta than any other big city.

On Thursday, November 9, 2017 the Hillmans had the pleasure of spending the day with Mr. Don Doggett, Superintendent of the McCormick County Schools that serves close to 750 students.

We saw the Early Childhood Center where they are partnering with Head Start and hoping to expand to include infants in the program. Their Education Complex sits on a hill and includes their Elementary, Middle and High school buildings, all connected by long hallways. They need a new roof which will cost the district well over $1 million.

Mr. Doggett has only been at McCormick for 15 months, having come from Beaufort SD where he turned around two failing schools. In his short time at McCormick he has focused on leadership development, replacing one principal and hiring other administrative staff.

Doggett’s ready smile, handshake and enthusiasm have apparently become contagious as we were warmly greeted by staff, faculty and students. It is clear that McCormick schools are open to and welcoming of their local community.

Who knew we would be driving three hours from Bluffton, SC to McCormick? It was worth the trip!​This coming Wednesday August 9, 2017, we trek up to Greenwood and meet with the school districts and higher education members of the Western Piedmont Education Association (WPEC). WPEC has been around for ten years.

The origin in the 1996-97 school year was made possible by 10 superintendents who saw the future in collaboration in a number of areas. These are some of those areas; curriculum services, job alike groups, professional development, resource library and legislative activity. These are just some of the services offered by WPEC.

Over the past ten years, two more school districts, one technical college and one university have joined the group. Lander University in Greenwood has recently ranked in the top ten in best value schools in South Carolina and in the top ten in many of the polls taken of the best colleges/universities in the state.

The organization functions under the direction of Dr Billy Strickland, a former superintendent in the area. The previous three execs were Liz Warren, Mack Ellis and Dr. Ray Wilson.

This consortium is a model for the rest of the state. As a former director of a Regional Education Service Agency and school district superintendent, I am convinced that consortia in South Carolina can operate in this manner.​
As a retired superintendent, sometimes I forget things about the day to day activities of a school district. I never thought about what would be going on in a school district on the last few days of school.




I arrived at the Chester County administrative offices just in time to meet with the central office staff. Chester County has 5,100 students and three high schools and twelve buildings altogether. There are 3 high school graduations on the same day and the superintendent and her central office staff have to be at all of them. Lucky me, I never had to go to but one graduation.

Dr Bain was super gracious to me by having me meet her central staff. Each one of them has had a great number of years of experience. It was obvious from their reactions and questions about SCORS and other school related things that they were pros. It is great to be able to speak with people with whom you need no prologue.

We talked about SCORS, consolidation, academic issues, and a host of others in 40 minutes. The meeting had to end because the staff had just learned that a position that they thought they had filled in Adult Education was open again. The person who was hired had decided to retire.

All of these things made touring the district a bit difficult. We will return to Chester County and try not to schedule the visit at the end of the year.




​​We will be visiting Chester County School District. Dr. Angela Bain has invited to meet with staff and visit some of the school buildings. We have some time in early May to visit other districts. Love to be invited.


Today, we visited our thirteenth rural school district Laurens 56. As with so many of our visits, we were hit with some of the most amazing programs. David O’Sheilds is the typical “homer.” That is he was born and raised in Laruens 56, went to one of the elementary schools that he took us to, and knew most of the community folks that we met.

We visited 2 elementary schools and the high school... What we saw in all of those schools was a concern for the children, an anxiety to make things better for them and a clear mission to educate the children. Yes, they do understand that they will not succeed with all of the kids. However, there is no lack of effort on the part of the staff.

If you have never been to a rural community that understands the need for good schools, then you have missed something wonderful. Our travels around the state have told us time and again, the battles for resources that rural schools have on a daily basis and their victories for the children one by one.

We sometimes forget the advantages of rural schools; the closeness with the community, the staff’s ability to try out new things. Today we were assaulted with a complete day of Chinese culture. There were dragons and Chinese food for lunch, a student from the Confusion Society at Presbyterian University, Chinese lanterns and masks and some very happy children.

We have seen equivalent activities in a number of rural districts. We have sat down with principals and discussed student behaviors, scheduling, successes and failures, staff development, curriculum and so many other things. We applaud the work of these folks and the communities that support them.

Sometimes it’s good to be a “Homer.”



​​

We have just concluded our 12th visit to rural schools in South Carolina. This week we visited the plaintiff school district in the South Carolina equity suit- Abbeville and the Allendale school district. As with all of our previous school visits, we learned a great deal from two veteran superintendents and their staffs.

What is most striking about these districts, as well as the other districts we have visited, are the Herculean efforts made by the school superintendents and their staffs to educate the children in their care.

Their lack of resources and proper facilities make things so difficult. If it weren’t for the trips to each of their buildings, one would think that all goes well with education in each of these districts. In speaking with staff members, both teachers, administrators and support staff, one might think that there are no barriers in the education of the children.

Since Vashti, Carol and I have had many years of experience in education; we can see beyond the enthusiasm and special programs that many of these districts run to take care of the children. A visit to an elementary school, with its warts papered over with children’s work, will tell you that overcoming great challenges occurs on a daily basis.

Not just with these two school districts, but with many others, there is a dogged determination that despite a lack of resources and poor facilities, education of the children will go on. In a number of instances, the community is aware of the problems. They come to school board meetings to hear what the school board will do to improve facilities and programs.

Since the state, as we understand it, does not participate in refurbishing or building new facilities, it is local taxpayers who foot the bill. It appears that is one of the items on a laundry list of needed state support.

We have twenty three more rural school districts to visit. Other than our mentoring students at a local high school, traveling around the state is the most enjoyable.




Our aim, as we have stated, is to visit every rural school district in South Carolina. At this point, we have visited ten districts with schedules to meet three within the next month. It has been a fascinating and instructive bit of travelling and discussions.

As a former school superintendent in a 2400 student rural school district, I am aware of the pitfalls of working with few resources, yet telling the public that we were doing a good job. Both of those things are true. Some of the poorest school districts are doing some wonderful things, but cannot bring themselves to testify at hearings or in court, that things are not going well.

That has been my experience in hearings and it court. The only way to see both of these things is to visit the school districts in person. Over the past two weeks, we have visited Dorchester 4, Barnwell 45 and Laurens 56. The programs and activities are excellent, the buildings and the resources are not.

These facilities would not be tolerated in well to do school districts. Yet, we tolerate these things because of the nature of the school district. These superintendents and boards are trying as hard as they can to do the right thing for their children. Frankly, they are getting tired of going hat in hand to the authorities and asking for increased funding.

It should not be that way. Schools must be funded so that the children have just as much of a chance of success as those with new buildings and proper resources. That is really what the Supreme Court of South Carolina has said. Let us all work toward that end. The youngsters deserve it. 

 
 

Roaming Around