One of the purposes of the new organization that we are starting in South Carolina (SCORS) is to find out some common problems in rural school districts. We are also looking for some innovative and great things that rural schools are doing despite disadvantages of funding.
Besides a meeting with rural superintendents once every two months, we are traveling to rural school districts to actually see what is happening and speak with the superintendent, staff members, community residents and also some of the students.
For us Yankees, plus Dr. Vashti Washington a retired South Carolina school superintendent, it has been an eye opener. Even the physical surroundings are at odds with our experience. The flora and fauna are different. The fields do not contain a bunch of corn, but have cotton, soybeans, and the major crop of tobacco. All of this has to be put into context by our tour guides, usually the school superintendent.
Since we have 105 years between my wife Carol and me, the education part is the most familiar. Today, along with Dr. Washington, we visited the Clarendon 1 School District. For us, it was a treat. The district exists in Summerton South Carolina. As a sage ruralist once said, “you know you are rural if you live horizontally, rather than vertically.”
Summerton has changed dramatically over the years. A plant that employed many of the residents has moved to Alabama. The school district population has gone down to about 900 from the days of 1500 students. That makes the operation of the school most difficult. Yet, we did not see a frowny face in the three and one half hours we spent visiting the schools.
The school district is fortunate to have the wonderful leadership of Dr. Rose Wilder, who has been there for 12 years. Her tenure coincides with the development of innovative programs to help the students and the community. She is a whirlwind of activity and seemed to know everyone that we encountered.
As an example, we visited a foster grandparents program in a library. The senior citizens were reading to the children and having conversations with them. Dr. Wilder knew all of the grandparents, but even more interesting was that she knew their families including their grandchildren. Having been a school superintendent, I was amazed at her ability.
The district runs an early childhood center for pre-kindergarten to second grade. It was a pleasure to walk through the building, which is decorated on every wall space with murals and children’s drawings. That was a feature in all of the school buildings that we visited. That is always a good sign. In the high school, the art teacher has produced young people who can draw beautifully. Their portraiture was first rate and a treat for the eyes. The art teacher is himself, an artist of some repute.
The elementary school grades 3 through 6, was a beehive of activity. We were able to see many classrooms. We were introduced to a music teacher who had a class filled with children playing the violin. How often do you see that in a less than wealthy suburban school district? They also have dance classes for the children.
There seemed to be no limit to the imagination of the staff in the school district. As northerners, it was hard to comprehend the nature of education before Brown v. Board of Education. Most people do not realize that Brown was not the only plaintiff in the case. There were a number of cases that were combined and one of them was Clarendon I. The family in the case still lives in the district. Students study the case. The tour included the old black schools and the old white high school that is now administrative offices.
Another outstanding feature of the district was an old black high school that was converted to a community resource center. This building is available for community use and contains all manner of programs that engage community members such as literacy, parenting, computer literacy, job related programs and many others. It is a true center for the needs of the school district community.