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School board takes action on buses

Thanks to Gov. McMaster’s override of funding to replace school buses, there has been a lot of attention paid to the state owned school bus fleet. The Greenville County School board took action at last week’s Committee of the Whole meeting to review our bus fleet, explore where we found the fleet to be in violation of SC Code of Laws, and to make recommendations on local and state policy changes we believe will:

  • Improve safety of our bus fleet
  • Allow for a sustainable replacement cycle for the fleet moving forward
  • Reduce operational costs

The entire board presentation is found here on the Greenville County School board website, along with our specific policy recommendations. In summary, we recommended the following changes:

  1. Immediate replacement of 1995-1996 Type D Rear engine buses. These buses have a higher propensity for “thermal events” (aka presence of smoke and fire). Thermal event incidents have quadrupled over the past 10 years, and 75% of the thermal events occuring in the past 20 years were on these 1995-1996 buses. In accordance with SC Code of Laws 59-67-530, SC General Assembly must immediately fund replacement of all 1995-1996 Type D Rear-engine buses by overriding Gov. McMaster’s veto and allocating funds necessary to replace the remainder of the 1995-1996 buses from the state owned fleet. In accordance with SC Code of Laws 59-67-543, General Assembly should prohibit SCDE from including 1995-1996 buses in allocations made to local school districts. These buses are demonstrably unsafe, and the risk has quadrupled over the past decade. To include these bus in our daily routing is a gamble our legislators should not ask local school districts to take.
  2. Immediate adoption of funding to adhere with state mandated 15-year bus replacement cycle. SC Code of Laws requires our bus fleet to be replaced on a 15 year replacement cycle, and yet nearly half of the buses in our fleet are older than 15 years of age. Older buses are less reliable AND more expensive. Recent estimates found that buses greater than 15 years of age cost $.49/mile to operate *(compared to $.21 for buses newer than 15 years of age). This costs Greenville Taxpayers $396,000/year in additional operational costs. Additionally, 40% of bus breakdowns are due to mechanical issues- resulting in 3,600 late buses last year (or 150,000 late arrivals of students). Students can’t learn if they are stranded on the side of the road in a broken down bus. The General Assembly should annually appropriate the necessary funds for a 15-year bus replacement cycle, as required by statute. SCDE’s current estimated cost to achieve this is $34.1 million per year. SCDE must develop and General Assembly must fund a formula to add additional buses to the school bus fleet to accommodate student growth
  3. The SC Board of Education should be given the flexibility (and USE the flexibilitybus) to grant waivers to SC Code of Laws 59-67 when Districts have innovative options that could reduce operating costs and decrease reliance on dilapidated bus fleet.  For example, local districts should be encouraged to use 14-passenger buses, which do not require a CDL, on rural routes. Additionally, school districts should be allowed to partner with local public transit systems to absorb overhead costs through shared transportation models. We believe that innovation can help reduce costs, improve operational efficiency, and decrease burden on SC Dept of Education.

 

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Gvl Tech Charter HS moving to SC Charter School District

This week the Greenville County School Board voted on a request from the Greenville Tech Charter High School to end their charter, allowing them to move their charter to the SC Charter School District. I am very proud of the relationship that GCS and GTCHS has developed over the years, and see this as a mutually beneficial change. I have provided answers to some of the questions that have been posed to me. As always, please let me know if you have any additional questions.

Why did the Greenville County School Board vote to end GTCHS’s charter?
Dr. Bob Nash, chair of the GTCHS board, sent us a letter requesting that we allow them to exit their contract with us, freeing them up to transferring their charter to the SC Charter School District.

How does this financially benefit GTCHS?
In the letter sent to us, and in follow-up conversations I had with GTCHS staff and board members, I understand there is a financial benefit for GTCHS to be underneath the SC Charter School District. This is because Charter Schools receive per pupil allocations equivalent to what the sponsoring district spends per pupil. Compared to other districts, GCS spends less per pupil due to the economy of scale realized through its size and the conservative manner in which it has developed and deployed its resources.because their per pupil reimbursement rate is greater than what SC law requires the Greenville School District to provide. But, I would defer to GTCHS staff and board to answer specific benefits.

How does this financially impact Greenville County Schools?
A percentage of the funds passed on to a charter school are local funds, raised by our local tax base. Based on early estimates, we project the transition of GTCHS to the SC Charter School District will to create a balance net increase to the GCS budget of between $1-$1.4 million in locally raised funds that can be spent on our other local school operations.

Will this impact the relationship between Greenville Technical College and the school district? No. Supt Royster and Greenville Tech President Keith Miller have met a few times to discuss this transition. Supt. Royster expressed his confidence that this transition will not impact dual-credit learners and other School District/GTC partnerships or the excellent working relationship between GTCHS and GCS.

What is in store for GTCHS that makes this move necessary?
According to their correspondence with us, GTCHS intends to relocate some of their high school services to a site off of the Greenville Tech campus, and this extra per pupil revenue would help to contribute to these facility expansions.

How does a transition to the SC Charter School District impact students? State law requires that students who do not attend Greenville County Public Schools be provided the same opportunities to participate in extra-curricular activities as those in our high schools. As with home school, and private school students, those athletic and enrichment opportunities would will continue to be made available to GTCHS students

Was anything done to help convince them to stay within the Greenville School District? Again, their desire to change seems to be primarily financial, and the move actually benefits the GTCHS students and our school district financially, so I would see the move as a true win-win. I will continue to work with the new staff and board at GTCHS to explore ways we can continue to collaborate.

Are there any repercussions because GTCHS is ending their contract early? No, there was a clause that allowed state charter law allows either party to terminate the agreement without penalty.

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District Grading Floor FAQs

Recently, there has been some questions raised about the Greenville County School District’s grading policy. This issue has garnered some media attention, and was an agenda item at February’s Greenville County School Board Committee of the Whole meeting. I have received several questions, and thought it would be helpful to provide some context.

What is the policy? First, this isn’t a new policy. In 2007, the Greenville County School Board approved a grading scale (policy here) which set a grading floor of 61 for Middle Grades. Basically, it defines the LOWEST grade that can be awarded in Middle School grades as a 61- instead of a 0. This floor is designed to allow ample opportunity for a teacher to award a student an F for failing to master a skill, but still provide the student and parents with some opportunities to bring that grade up. This policy was modified in 2007 by the Greenville County School Board- what is being discussed is how Middle Schools have implemented this policy.

So what is new? One of the core philosophies of our district is to allow Principals the authority to create a culture within their schools while following District policies. In 2009, Beck Academy and Blue Ridge Middle School principals, using this 2007 policy as guidance, implemented a version of this grading floor. In 2011 Greenville Middle School did the same. In the course of regularly scheduled principal meetings, these schools shared the successes they were seeing with this policy (including a REDUCTION in students not turning in work and an IMPROVEMENT in passing rates for students). It was decided, by this team of Middle School principals and District administrators, that all our Middle Schools would implement this grading floor effective Fall 2015. This Fall, 11 schools implemented this, 2 more in Spring 2016, and one will in Fall 2016 (again, using a timeline that was appropriate for the Principal and his/her school).

What is the purpose of this? There is a growing discussion about the purpose of grading, is it to demonstrate a student’s level of mastery, or is it to demonstrate compliance. If we believe grades should demonstrate mastery, then giving someone a 0 simply because the project is late, would be an inaccurate grade- because it suggests the student demonstrated a 0% mastery of the skill. This floor of 61 was created to allow teachers the opportunity to still award a failing grade, while giving the student/family the opportunity to work harder to improve this grade.

Think about it this way, if your student were in a class, and scored the following grades: 85, 85, 81, and 0 (for a late project), his average grade would be a 62 (an F). The 0 would bring his grade so far down that he would need a 100 just to get a passing grade for the semester. I don’t know about you, but I would not be motivated to get a 100 in this context.

More importantly- Is that single 0 a better reflection of skill mastery than the combined four higher grades? But, if that teacher had assigned a 61 for the assignment (which is still an F), the average would be a 78- leaving opportunity to work harder on the 5th assignment to move the final grade up to a B.

Is it working? It is too early to tell. However, in Fall 2014 (before this practice was in place), there were 98,000 assignments not handed in, across the district’s Middle School Classes. This Fall, there were 85,000. For me, that is significant. I have requested that breakdown by school, and will update this when I have that information. I am also interested in whether this practice is INCREASING workload for already overstressed teachers.

Isnt this just letting students off the hook? I don’t think so. A 61 is still an F. We are still providing Fs as end of course grades, and students are still in danger of repeating a class that they failed. However, unlike a 0, a 61 is a grade that could be brought up. The real question is this: what is the purpose of a grade? Is it designed to have a measurable reflection of a student’s skill mastery, or is it a punitive solution to handle a behavior (late work)? For me, a 0 reflects the student has learned absolutely nothing, which I would find hard to believe is accurate.

So my kid does his work and gets a 75, and another kid turns his late and gets a 100? Not likely. Again, this practice doesn’t forgive a late or incomplete assignment. You will still likely get a failing grade. It simply says a 0 isnt a fair measure for an assignment. The teachers I spoke to said their tendency was still to award an F because the incomplete or late assignment didn’t meet the requirements of the assignment. But, they also saw that students were more likely to try harder on the work if they knew it would still be accepted late rather than a guaranteed 0.

So what is the problem? In my opinion, this is an implementation problem, not a policy problem. When I spoke with Guidance Counselors, Teachers, and Principals from Middle Schools, I learned that this practice is being implemented in various stages. None of the schools where I spoke with individuals (including Hughes, Greenville, Hillcrest, Fisher, and Riverside Middle Schools) shared concerns with me about the practice, some just said it was “an adjustment” from the way things are being done.

One specific school, Riverside Middle School, seems to be having a difficult time adjusting to this new policy, and some faculty have sent anonymous letters to the board asking us to get involved. Because the letters were anonymous, I have no way to speak with these specific teachers about their concerns- but I have not received similar concerns from anyone other than these anonymous Riverside Middle School teachers. At our request, the District sent Deputy Superintendent Phillip Davie to meet with Riverside Middle School faculty on two occasions to hear their concerns, and work to develop a solution. I have had no further concerns raised directly to me since these meetings.

While the board should be monitoring actions at schools, an implementation problem should be resolved through the appropriate personnel and professional development opportunities within the District’s toolbox, and doesn’t rise to the level of board involvement unless there is a need for a policy change.

Did I hear that this policy could encourage cheating? The question was raised “If a student is cheating, will he receive a 0” and the answer given was that the grading system is not the most effective tool in our tool box to address cheating. This was not clarified, and there is certainly some concern here. But, when I asked two principals for context they said their practice was to give the student an Incomplete, and then handle the discipline issue through their discipline policy. Students are suspended for cheating, and this grading floor practice has not changed that policy.

What happened at the board meeting? At our February COW meeting, Trustee Rohleder requested the board take up this issue, and an hour was added to the agenda for discussion. During that hour, the staff presented information and answered Ms. Rohleder’s questions. After an hour, I suggested, and Ms. Rohleder agreed, that we should refer this discussion to the Instructional Policy Review committee to make any recommendations. That didn’t end the conversation, just moved it to a venue where staff and board could roll up their sleeves and look into the impact this policy is having- and if necessary, make any suggested changes.

It was reported that 8 other board members had lined up to speak, and I cannot speak to that. But, there were no objections raised when I asked the conversation be referred to the committee. I cannot speak for the other board members, but I wanted the conversation tabled for two reasons: 1- there was no specific motion or action item we were seeking to resolve 2- the Instructional Policy committee exists to address these specific types of issues and if there is a specific motion it would come from this committee’s work

Is this a violation of state Dept of Ed policy? In 2012, then SC DOE Supt Zais sent a letter (attached here) describing his concern about the grading floor, but also recognizing this policy is a local district policy. To my knowledge, we have had no conversations with the Supt. Spearman about this. District Attorney Doug Webb addressed this question and was convinced that this practices is in line with the district’s grading floor policy and does not conflict with state grading policy.

So what are the next steps? There are two groups working on this issue and I want to hear from them before I form any opinion

One- the District has formed an Instructional Policy Review Committee, chaired by Ms. Ball-Oconnor, and they are spending the year pouring through every instructional policy created by this board. This committee representing board and staff members, is looking at whether they are still relevant, accurate, and compliant and making recommended changes. This policy, IHA, is within their scope of work, and I expect their committee will be spending some time wrestling with this issue.

Two- at the state level, the SC Dept of Ed has formed a similar committee, and Board Chair Lisa Wells is representing the Greenville County School District on this committee. This Grading floor policy is on the table. Frankly, until these two committees have finished their work, it would be premature to take up this issue.

Since what is happening in the Middle Schools is neither a violation of SC Dept. of Ed policy nor a violation of existing Greenville County School Board policy, it is my recommendation to the board and staff to table this discussion, continue collecting input and data, and re-evaluate when the state and local policy review committees have finished their work. Currently, the board voted to TABLE the discussion, and there is still a likelihood that it will be brought up before the board again if there is a motion or if board members ask for it to be brought up again.

What do you want to see happen? First, I want to make sure we are compliant with State and Federal law, and with local board policy. The advice of the School Board legal counsel is that our current policy violates none of these. But, in the long run, I think we are missing the larger question here: what is the purpose of a quality education, and how do we measure the impact of this experience? Currently, we are using outdates measures, like Seat Time and standardized tests written for other states to reflect skill mastery. Wouldn’t we be better served giving students tests/assignments to measure their skill master, allowing them to advance at their own pace through the skills.

If you have more questions, call me, Derek Lewis, 864-423-5316 or email me Derek@lewis4schools.com and I will work to gather more information. Also, if you sign up for my newsletter , i will keep you updated with this and other School District related happenings.

Summer News- Legislative Update

Congratulations to Shiree Turner Fowler, named this years Greenville County School District Teacher of the Year. Ms Turner-Fowler is a teacher at Hollis Elementary Academy. If you have not heard her story, check out this article. She has an incredible passion for achieving literacy outcomes among her “scholars’  and improving parent engagement. She has an incredible heart for our young learners and we are luck to have her among our faculty.
During the summer there was a lot of exciting news coming out of the Greenville County School District:

We learned that our students recorded an average of 21.9 on the American College Test (ACT) in 2015. This is a remarkable feat, and places our average score ahead of the state (20.4) and nation (21.0) averages. Kudos to our High School students, parents, and educators for helping our district reach this significant milestone!

The School District revised its cellphone policy. Specifically, the policy revisions remove the outright banning of personal cellphones, pagers, tablets as a district policy, and gives the authority to the Principal at the local school to set a policy that is most appropriate for each school. This was a technical change, otherwise teachers could not give permission for students to use their tablets for research. It DOES NOT allow students to use phones whenever they want, and the Principals/Teachers still have the authority to prohibit cell phone use in specific classrooms or at specific times (like during tests)

A few other statewide highlights:

Palmetto Gold and Silver awards announcedCongratulations to the 55 Greenville County Schools that were recognized by the SC Education oversight commission for strides towards closing the achievement gap!

There is currently questions about whether students can opt-out of mandatory testing. Currently, the Federal law requires that all students must be required to take these tests- and districts can be penalized, and lose their Title I funds if 95% of their students are not tested. Recent concerns about Common Core testing has led some families to ask their children be exempt from testing. There is discussion of a bill that would grant SC parents the ability to opt-out of testing- but questions remain about how this state law will be reconciled with federal policy.

Citizenship test was added at high school level. The intent is to have SC Students take (and presumably pass) the test administered to those seeking US citizenship. According to the bill, the statewide test is mandatory, and results will be included in student report card. However, there is not a requirement for students to pas this test. There are questions about whether students will take seriously a low-stakes test like this, and how the expected low scores will be interpreted.

In response to a growing concern about the prevalence of incidents of Domestic Violence  in the state, the SC Legislature has added Domestic Violence education to list of subjects expected to be covered in districts comprehensive health education plan for grades 6-8. The curriculum is expected to be adopted soon with implementation beginning 2016-2017 school year.

Snow Day relief. A revision to state law currently allows school board to waive up to 3 inclement weather days a year, but only AFTER the district makes up three inclement weather days. So, our district will build in three make-up days, and once those are used, will be able to waive additional days from having to be made up without seeking approval from the legislature.

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Greenville School Board considers 2015-2016 budget

As our students prepare for the final few weeks of school, the District is preparing to approve next year’s budget. 

The Greenville County School District Superintendent released his proposed 2015-2016 budget. Public comment is sought prior to the board approval at the upcoming June board meeting. I encourage you to review the budget and let me know if you have any comments or concerns. 

You can review the budget here 
 
A few highlights:
 
Total projected budget : $537,000,000
 
Budget projects a net increase of 500 students in FY15-FY16
 
District projects to spend 1.32% of budget on Administrative Costs, down 26% 2008 and 47% LOWER than SC average.
 
Proposed budget includes an increase of 4.5 mills to the local tax rate (approximate additional annual tax of $5.50 on a $21,000 vehicle or $162 on a $602 million business). This is the lowest increase in past 5 years (and far short of the 10.5 mills allowed by ACT 388).
 
Increases in expenses primarily cover raises for classroom teachers and support positions (e.g., bus drivers, cafeteria workers). In 2009 teachers saw a freeze put on their salaries as the board addressed funding shortfalls. This budget restores their salary step increases.
 
$3.8 million to allow for a .5 reduction in Teacher/Student ratios across district, restoring teacher/student ratios to 2008 levels.
 
$500,000 reduction in expenses as District staff look for ways to help control spending.
 
$2.6 million in additional state mandated expenses that are currently unfunded by legislature including $2 million for staff to support English Language learners.
 
$1.5 million in funds allocated to pay for Charter School services within the district.
 
An addition of an Evaluation Specialist to help District objectively assess each of its programs and services to measure effectiveness, allowing for replication of promising programs across the district.

Please review the budget and attend our meeting to provide public comment, or email me your thoughts or questions as we work to review this proposed budget.

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Building a Career-ready Learning Environment

If you haven’t been to one of our Career Centers, you are missing out! No longer are the centers focused on building birdhouses or changing tires on cars. As a part of the district’s Graduation Plus program, students are not only taking a variety of courses leading to workforce skills, but, in many cases, are also leaving high school with accreditations and licenses that enable them to walk directly into a job.

Here are a few examples:

Rachel and Caroline are two students in the District’s cosmetology program. When they graduate from this two year program they will have their Cosmetology License. Last week, two salons came and spoke to their classes and assured them that jobs would be ready for them when they graduate.

Raven is a student in the Districts Culinary Arts program. She joined over 140 Greenville School District students in the SC career center competitions last month. Raven and 30 others placed and will be moving on to nationals next month. But, more importantly, Raven’s ServeSafe certificate and Front of the House experiences would allow her to walk into most restaurants in Greenville County upon graduation.

It isn’t just that these students are gaining valuable experience and certifications, but that they are doing it while incurring NO COLLEGE DEBT, making it possible for them to enter the workforce both employable and debt free! The Career Centers are adding a series of additional certification classes including Firefighting and HVAC service within the next year.

It is programs like these that will make it possible for us to meet our goal of an 85% graduation rate by the end of 2020.

 

 

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Tindal Park QnA

Tindal Park FAQ In an effort to provide timely and accurate answers to questions raised within our community, I have provided an FAQ page for property on Tindal Ave. If you have additional questions, please email me at Derek@lewis4schools.com.

Update: March 2, 2016: At our February board meeting, the Greenville County School Board approved the sale of a surplus property on Tindal Avenue which includes a former school site and the current home to Tindal Park. The proceeds of the sale, $1.5 million, will go towards facility and program enhancements at our School District Career Centers. Here is a link to an article in the Greenville News.

What does the School District have to do with the operation of a city park? Originally, this property was the site of Donaldson School. As time passed, the school closed and a portion of the property was leased to the city for $1/year for a park. That lease includes a provision that either the city or the school district could cancel the lease at any time. The district has determined that the current market is the right time to sell the property and use the proceeds for future facility expansions at other sites. For a summary, check out this Greenville News story. Also, it should be noted that this temporary park isn’t included in the Haynie-Sirrine Master plan because the City and School District understood that it could be sold at any time.

Why isn’t the School District using this property? When the MT Anderson building was opened (at the old Southside High School site), most of the district’s administrative staff were moved from satellite offices like the one at Tindal to more regional locations. For a time, the district held the property as a backup should additional administrative space be necessary. After conversations with a potential buyer, the District realized that market rates are high enough now to make it a worthwhile plan to sell.

Why is the District selling the property? In the District’s current Long Range facility plan, there are $90 million in facility renovations and expansions planned over the next 12 years- primarily to get students out of portable and to anticipate growth projections. There are only a few specific funding streams the District has that can be used to pay for facility work. Selling these surplus properties will allow us to reduce the amount of money tax payers across the county are expected to pay for facility expansions. Read more about the district’s long range facility plan.

Why not just sell half of the property, and retain the park for use? This property’s location, and its size are why it is so valuable. There are very few developable multi-acre lots in the Alta Vista area. If the property size was cut in half, the value would be significantly lessened. But, more importantly, this asset could be applied to the cost of facility renovations that would take students out of portables which is more in line with School District goals and objectives.

Why doesn’t the School District just give the property to the city? The District’s primary objective is to ensure for the best possible classroom instruction, and to ensure we have the facilities necessary for this to occur.  Funds from the sale of this park could allow us to fully fund much-needed expansions at classrooms across the District. It would be irresponsible to go to taxpayers across the county for a tax increase to cover these needed expansions when we are sitting on a $1.5 million unused piece of property. Learn more about the district’s plan.

Why doesn’t the district just use Tindal property for a school? The current facility would not meet code requirements for schools. Additionally, the acreage of this land is not large enough for a new school, and the cost for renovations for non-classroom space is unnecessary since MT Anderson opened.

Doesn’t the school district have an operating surplus that can be used to facility renovations and expansions? No. Currently the District does have an Operating Reserve, but those funds cannot be used towards facility needs. Per pupil allocations from the SC Dept of Ed can only be used for classroom instruction. The reserve discussed at board meetings achieves two purposes: 1- it allows the district to maintain the highest possible bond rating, and 2- it allows us to maintain a reserve should the state withhold funds again like they did in 2008. During that time, our reserves allowed us to continue through the school year without laying off teachers. Other districts in the state didn’t have this, and teachers were let go mid-contract because there were no funds to pay their salary. Our board implemented an 8% fund balance requirement to help us prepare for future challenges like this.

Is this the only property the district is selling? No, currently the district has 5 properties that are considered “excess” including this property, the old Berea Elementary School, and a few others that are for sale. This can be found on page 4-13 of the district’s long range plan http://www.greenville.k12.sc.us/Departments/docs/planning/cip.pdf

Why doesn’t the City just buy the park? We would be open to a discussion with the city about purchasing the park, or swapping land for a future school site. However, typically the City of Greenville doesnt purchase park land, a donor donates it to the city for a tax incentive. It is my understanding that Greenville has not paid for a park since the opening of Cleveland Park. Since that time, the city has received donated property and converted to parks, including, most recently, Cleveland Park Stables.

What is the timeline for the sale of the property? Step 1: The School Board has to vote to allow the property to be declared surplus. This was done at the January 2015 board meeting. Step 2: The property must be listed and sealed bids must be accepted. This began in late January, and sealed bids are being accepted until June Step 3: The District staff will have a public meeting to open the sealed bids and review them. Then, a recommendation will be made to the board (likely June or August) Step 4: The School Board will vote to approve the terms of the sale (likely June or August) Update: The property was approved for sale on February 2016- and the new owner has 180 day to close out the sale, pending approval of design plans by the City of Greenville.

What can be done to save Tindal Park? There is a group of neighbors and community leaders working to develop a win-win plan that would include development of a portion of the property in exchange for donating a portion of the property to the city to remain as a park. It is my understanding that they have a plan, and are now seeking a Developer who would agree to propose this as a bid. They have a Facebook page.

What are you doing to help us find a developer? Because of the nature of the sealed bid process, and the importance that every bidder receive fair and equitable information, the school board can’t support a specific development plan. Also, I cannot take a lead on development plans since I will be asked to ultimately vote on the plan submitted by District staff. But, I will continue to work to answer any questions that citizens or the developers may have about the desire for a park to remain and will continue to do so.

What assurances can you give that a high rise development doesn’t show up here? The city has a master plan for the Haynie-Sirrine neighborhood that includes Tindal Avenue. This plan limits what can be built within these streets, and does not allow for development higher than 2.5 stories, and names a specific construction density. Also of note, the Haynie-Sirrine Master plan has this area zoned as Residential, showing that even in its creation there was no plan for a permanent park on Tindal Avenue. You can read the city’s Haynie-Sirrine Master plan.

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Teachers: Our community’s greatest assets

Want to understand what is happening in our schools? Ask a teacher. Education policy hits home in our household. In addition to my wife, Hedrick Patrick Lewis, my mother and her mother, my sister-in-law, and her aunt are current or former teachers.

Talk with them or their friends about what is going on in the classroom: they will tell you that recruiting, supporting, and retaining high-quality teachers should be our district’s top priority.

Qualified teachers are leaving the workforce after less than 5 years in the classroom. The reason: it’s not pay- it’s not the hours- increasingly, teachers report their greatest frustrations are the increasing non-teaching burdens (e.g., testing, parenting, mentoring, fundraisers, paperwork).

We are constantly asking teachers to cram more and more into a fixed amount of time. We need to support teachers with a comprehensive network of supports:

1. We need to work with partner agencies to take non-classroom burdens off their plate. We need community partners who can assist them with challenges their students face.

2. Teachers shouldn’t be isolated in their classrooms. They need to experience what is happening in other learning environments. We need expanded professional development offerings, including mentoring, shadowing other teachers, comprehensive feedback opportunities,

Our plan to recruit, support, and retain quality teachers has been shaped through  hours of conversations with over 100 teachers, SIC and PTA members, community members, and faculty from Education departments across the Southeast. I am proud of the public and private support we have received from educators across our community.

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Collaboration yields $7 million investment in Middle Grades

Earlier this week, the United Way of Greenville County, Greenville School District, and the Riley Institute announced that Greenville students will be the beneficiaries of a $7 million collaborative partnership aimed at Middle Schoolers in an effort to reduce our dropout rate.

 

School Board Trustee Glenda Morrison Fair explained the need: Middle School is a time for students to explore their strengths and to start thinking about their future. But, it is also a time when too many students start to disengage and dropout.

 

School Superintendent Burke Royster echoed these comments: Students don’t dropout out of school at 16 (the legal dropout age), they checkout at 12 or 13 and bide their time until they drop out. Middle School is a crucial time, and we need to work with our community partners to make sure teens and their families have the supports they need to remain engaged in schools.

 

Recognizing the urgency of accomplishing this work, the United Way Education Council sought collaborative partnerships with the School District, Riley Institute and community partners on a national grant from the Corporation for National and Community Service. The United Way applied for a $7 million grant (matched with local private funds) to create a $15 million 3 year pilot in Lakeview Middle, Tanglewood Middle, Berea Middle, and the Early College (four schools with the highest number of potential droupouts). They were selected as one of seven recipients nationwide!

 

Supt. Royster also repeated a pledge I have made throughout the campaign: “Our schools cannot do this work alone. Students spend a small % of their time with us in schools. The work of engaging teens cannot be left to a single teacher, a single school. It requires everyone, including parents, nonprofits, churches, and neighbors to achieve this kind of change”.

 

What is exciting about this program is that the School District, in partnership with the Riley Institute will be studying what works, what needs to be strengthened and retooled, and examining how we can replicate this pilot. Don Gordon with the Riley Institute explains: We will conduct rigorous data assessment on each of the program components so we can share what works across the state.

 

I am proud of the work I have done with the United Way Education Council, to help us identify collaborative opportunities like this. We worked for over two years to develop a Roadmap for Community Success that identified Middle School Engagement as one of the core components of a vibrant learning community. I credit leadership within these organizations for working to build this collaborative model and look forward to learning from the work. As a school board member my first and most important priority will be to continue to seek ways to strengthen these types of collaborative efforts. Our schools are working to address critical needs within our community, and through collaborations, transparency, and community engagement we can address these tasks and improve outcomes for students and families.

 

You can learn more online at the Greenville News