Carol and I are the ultimate butinskies. We have already been to a number of school board meetings, met with several school superintendents, the head of the technical college, legislators and school administrators and teachers. After three months of trying to understand the way education works here in South Carolina, we have come to a number of conclusions. The first is that we really don’t understand how education works in South Carolina. The answers to all of the other conclusions are the first conclusion.
Although there are many similarities between the rural areas and PA and those in South Carolina, things just seem to end there. About 50 of the school districts (pretty much county schools) out of the 84 are rural. When we say rural, we mean that they are far away from things like jobs, healthcare, shopping, and almost everything else. Running a school district in that circumstance is unbearably difficult.
It was with great trepidation that Carol and I motored about an hour and fifteen minutes to get to the rural county suggested to us by the Superintendent of Education (chief state school officer). She is elected statewide and has the ability to throw some help around to those that need it. She felt that we might be of some assistance to some of these rural schools because of our background.
When we arrived in the town that housed the school administration building, we saw familiar sights that we had seen in many rural towns in PA West Virginia, New York and other rural parts of states. There were a few eateries, some gas stations, a few churches, some modest homes, a mom and pop grocery store and a “super market.”
The administration building was a former elementary school. Upon entering, the smell of mold pervaded the entire building. We were greeted by the administrative assistant to the superintendent, who asked us to sit down and wait a few minutes. We took the opportunity to use the facilities, and what facilities they were. I cannot describe how depressed I was upon entering. It was not something that I want to remember.
The super came out of his office and greeted us warmly. I am sure that he had no idea what we were doing there. Carol is much better at breaking the ice and explaining our experience and what we might do to help out. By the time we finished with the meeting, the superintendent cancelled his meetings for the rest of the day.
He took us on a tour of the three school buildings. The teachers and administrators were warm and friendly. They appeared competent, as we went from classroom to classroom. I would have hired every one of those administrators. They all wore many hats. It was the superintendent’s plan to make this a world class rural school. On the negative side, the elementary school was built in 1925. It deserved to be torn down instantly. As with many rural schools, the place shined, but the facilities were horrendous.
The district had problems hiring teachers, not just because of the salaries, but because they could not get math and science teachers. The solution was to import alien teachers who were here on a green card. They may have been competent, but sometimes the language barriers were too much.
The superintendent was also the curriculum director, grant writer, special education director, and the IT honcho (not down in the trenches).
The newer buildings, the middle school and the high school needed things like lighting and computers. The super is looking for some money to buy the children an ipad, so that they can get some reading done at home. You might guess that books are not a priority in most of the homes. Most of the children are on free and reduced lunch. I would hazard a guess that most of the families are on Medicaid.
Yet he was positive that he could change things around. This was his fourth year as an administrator in the district. The first was as the elementary principal. There are things that we might be able to do for him. First thing is to figure out how to get 17,000 bucks to fix the lighting in the high school hallways.