J.R. is the superintendent of a 3000 student rural county school district in South Carolina. Both Carol and I were very impressed with J.R. because of his outspoken words on the plight of rural schools in South Carolina. The interesting thing was that J.R. does not have the same kind of problems that his brother and sister superintendents do.
His school district is fortunate to have a nuclear facility that pays over 26 million dollars in taxes each year. So, having to scrimp with his educational program, he goes all out. He is not in the business of having some dough and saving it for a rainy day. He spends it wisely right now so that future students will have what they need in the modern world.
We met with J.R. at the district’s administration building. We arrived early and waited in the lobby of the building. We were fortunate enough to have a number of conversations with a community member and the desk attendant. All of these preliminary discussions gave us a feeling that there was certainly a welcoming attitude in the district office. A number of community members came through the door with various requests. Each person(s) was welcomed warmly and were directed to staff members or were given certain papers to fill out. All this was done with a smile and a soothing tone. Those are things that tell a bunch about the leadership in the school district. In rural schools, especially, community members should feel welcome in their schools.
We were taken to a technical high school that was built two years ago. The school is singularly populated by Fairfield County students. Staff members were busily preparing for their students the following Monday. The staff was exceptionally friendly and helpful. As we walked through the building with J.R., it was evident that there was a close relationship between the staff and J.R.
There must be questions in your mind about whether or not this was just a kind of visitor mentality that we were treated to. After 105 years of education between us, Carol and I can really tell what is going on in a school building. This was authentic. We spoke to a number of staff outside J.R.’s purview. It was evident that they supported J.R. and he supported them.
The school was a wonder to me. I have not been a fan of the vocational schools in Pennsylvania. I have seen programs galore and the statistical outcomes of students going to those schools. I have found most of them preparing students for jobs that do not exist anymore. This building looked and felt like the future. There were robotics classes, up to date Mig and Tig welding, a well-designed auto lab, a modern barber shop, hospital lab and so many more. In these programs, students come out of the classes with licenses and/or certificates that they would need to get a job.
Even more interesting was a dual enrollment program that eventually leads a high school graduate to an associate degree from a local community college. This degree, through memorandums of understanding, is accepted from a number of 4 year colleges. Can you imagine how much money a student can save? It cost the students nothing to be in this program.
J.R. took us to a local buffet restaurant. It was certainly a community kind of place. It was all so familiar to us from our previous lives in rural Pennsylvania. J.R. was detained by so many of the customers in the restaurant that we thought he would never sit down and eat. That scene convinced us that he was, indeed, a member of the community. There were a myriad of handshakes and jokes about the color of his shirt and bow tie. The folks felt comfortable with J.R. and he with them.
The eventual question about how the students are going comes to mind. Yes, all of the variables are rising, from attendance to high school completion, to a reduction of dropouts, to a rise in test scores and going on the college rates. What more can you ask for. He is a person to be admired.