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.

shaking hands

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



Bus Noise: Communication shapes policy

Bus Noise:

Earlier this Spring, our elected officials engaged in the annual tradition of budget vetoes and overrides. Some upstate policy decisions attracted statewide attention (like the Reauthorization and Reform of First Steps, and state funds to support the Children’s Museum of the Upstate). Hidden deeper within the veto efforts was another issue involving the Greenville County School District and state policy regarding buses and maintenance.


What happened: The SC Department of Education (SC DOE) is legislatively mandated to be the caretakers of the bus fleet used in the state. For years Greenville County School District has maintained several bus depots across the county (like Donaldson, Taylors and Golden Strip) where buses are parked when not in use. Those bus depots include space leased to the SC DOE Bus maintenance staff.


In an effort to help reduce operational costs and consolidate services, the District proposed selling one of these bus depots (one located near Haywood Road), using the proceeds to build an updated and centralized bus center at the Donaldson Center and moving the buses and maintenance office to this site. To do this, the state needed to approve moving the state SC DOE Maintenance offices to Donaldson. This was proposed three years ago. It was not acted on. It was proposed two years ago. It was not acted on. To force the SC DOE to support the Greenville County School District proposal, it was written as a proviso in the FY15 budget. The SC School’s Chief opposed the work. The Governor vetoed the proviso. It took the House and Senate to override her veto.

Why it matters to us: As Greenville County Schools took a proactive step to reduce overhead, and to use cost savings from those reductions to upgrade facilities. But, the SC Dept of Education, decided they knew better than Greenville how to reduce Greenville taxpayer burdens.

Selling property in highly developed areas like Haywood Road not only make fiscal sense, it makes logistical sense. Ironically, though, months later, leadership within the SC State Dept of Ed privately confessed they didnt understand the implications of the change, but rather thought it was about forcing state leadership to take on extra burdens. This has to stop.


Why it matters to me: For over 3 years I have been working in bi-partisan efforts with policy makers at the state, local, and federal level to measurably improve lives of families in Greenville County. I was honored to be chosen to serve as a member of the SC School Improvement Council’s Education Policy Fellows Program(EPFP). THE SC EPFP provides a year-long immersive experience that allows fellows time to discuss, explore, and challenge local and state policy. The SC EPFP program includes teachers, principals, PTA and SIC members from local school districts, and policy makers. The conversations are as rich as they are diverse, and the opinions are incredibly well informed on all sides of the issues. We learned that the real solutions are found when multiple sides of complex issues are discussed. We learned that much of the real work in SC happens through bi-partisan supports.


We have a real opportunity to help shape local and state policy. The voters of SC have the opportunity to choose a school board member that can enhance those opportunities through thoughtful, sound, reasoned, leadership. I understand how to build collaborative partnerships. As you look at my list of supporters, you will find a variety of thoughts, voices, perspectives, and political parties. This is the STRENGTH of my character: I can listen, discuss, and build consensus around what is best for our children, families, and community. I have 14 years of experience making things happen in our community.


If elected, I plan to continue to work with local School Board Members, Greenville County School Employees, and our Legislative Delegation to re-discover our voice within the inner workings of Columbia. And, if elected, I plan to strengthen partnerships with our community leadership to ensure we work towards a shared vision of Greenville’s future.


Preventing the “Summer Slide”

Parents Cannot Do it Alone: Preventing the Summer Slide


This past weekend, our family attended the Greenville Drive baseball game as a part of the Summer Reading All-Stars event. This program, a partnership between the Greenville Library System, Michelin, and the Greenville Drive, rewards students who reach summer-long reading goals.


With William, perched on my shoulders, I walked with hundreds of children and proud parents around the field prior to the game, as part of the end-of-summer celebration.


These families ensured their children read throughout the summer, not only preventing hours of summer boredom, but, practically guaranteeing these students enter school reading at a higher level than when they left. By taking advantage of resources provided by the Greenville Library System and Michelin, these parents armed their children with the best opportunities for school success.


Students who do not read will lose 2-3 months of reading skills over the summer. Over several years, this “summer slide” could lead to a student falling 2-3 years behind her peers. But, the families in the summer reading challenge are helping combat this.


Students like the ones I walked with, will head back to school reading ahead of many of their peers because their family took advantage of a support system to foster continued educational attainment. They made the most of summer vacation.


I believe a parent is a child’s first and most important teacher. I believe that parents generally want what is best for their children. I believe that parents want their children to have all the resources possible to ensure the best possible future. But, through my 15 years experience at the YMCA and Greenville First Steps, I found that some parents lack the vision to help their children progress from where they are to where we want them to be.


Some don’t understand that reading 15 minutes a day is the single greatest predictor of school success.


Partnerships between the schools, local community partners, and parents can help strengthen family skill sets, and empower them to provide meaningful educational. Groups like Public Education Partners and the Greenville Library System partner with the Greenville County School District for summer reading programs to help empower parents to Make Summer Count.


As a School Board member I would encourage our schools to expand summer reading programs, partnering with local philanthropists to fund successful summer reading and math efforts. I will work to ensure that summer camps (like the YMCA, and Youth Base) work to integrate summer learning into their summer camp programs. These coordinated efforts will ensure families have the resources, trainings and supports they need to turn their homes into summer learning classrooms, fostering language and skill development that reduces the “summer slide” and empowers parents to work with their schools for shared success.