Chairman on issues facing school board

Earlier this year, the School District of Pickens County received a report from a review of the district’s accrediting agency, AdvancED. The report cited areas where the school district needed to ensure compliance.[cointent_lockedcontent]

Brian Swords While AdvancED stated our academics, teaching and facilities were outstanding, they noted that there were seven areas related to board governance that needed to be addressed. Those areas are follows:

• Revise or develop a policy on how agendas are set and amended

• Revise or develop a policy on how committees function

• Revise the policy on ethics and how the board deals with members who ignore the policy

• Review and revise policies on how the board functions and governs itself

• Create and implement a self-evaluation to be used by the board

• Participate in ongoing professional development

• Review all policies with the S.C. School Boards Association

Since receiving those directives, the Pickens County School Board has been working diligently to respond to each of them. Numerous policies related to how the board is managed, board ethics and board discipline have been approved and are now helping guide the board. The board also approved a new policy on how the agenda is put together and carried out for each meeting. This policy allows for more inclusion of the entire board. In addition, the board instituted a new “committee of the whole” monthly meeting that has greatly assisted in facilitating communication and better understanding of topics amongst board members and district administration. All board members participated in a Boardsman Institute, sponsored by the S.C. School Boards Association and numerous board members have participated in conferences and workshops and will continue to do so throughout the coming year. Over half of the board will become active in the National School Boards Association in the coming year, where they will learn more about trends and best practices throughout the entire nation. The board feels confident that ongoing learning and development is paramount. The board has also contracted with the S.C. School Boards Association to do a complete and comprehensive review of all policies. As policies are reviewed, recommended modifications will be presented to the board for approval.

In addition to the work that has been taking place by our board, our school district has had one of the best years on record with regard to achievement. In just one year, our district has accomplished the following:

• ACT scores, fourth highest among all S.C. school districts, scores were above national and state averages

• SAT scores, fifth highest among all S.C. school districts

• SAT scores, highest among ALL county-wide school districts

• 3 percent increase in the number of students passing AP exams (above state and national averages)

• More than 90 percent of our high school juniors earned a National Career Readiness Certificate through WorkKeys

• WorkKeys scores, eighth highest among all school districts and first among county-wide school districts

• 82 percent graduation rate, highest in school district history

• One-fifth of all district students are participating in career oriented programs through our Career and Technology Center, a new record for SDPC

Other items of note in our district:

• A long range capital needs plan was approved and implemented, thus allowing for the district to project and plan for long range expenditures, instead of knee-jerk reactions, as has been in the past

• Teacher pay rose from 48th in the state to 20th in the state due to the school board’s strong support of our teachers

• Athletic and band supplements were increased by 20 percent

• Supply budgets were funded at 100 percent for the first time in nearly a decade

• 56 of 56 leaders (100 percent) in the Pickens County school district were retained from the 2014 to the 2015 school year, a first ever in our district

• Our superintendent, Dr. Danny Merck, received a contract extension through 2019. Dr. Merck is the fiftth superintendent in our district in 10 years — a contract extension demonstrated the board’s commitment to his continued leadership and leadership consistency in our district.

While our accomplishments of the past year speak volumes to improved leadership and culture in our school system, challenges continue to be on the horizon. Some of the challenges facing the board and district this year include:

• Ongoing capital needs that continue to plague the district, as a result of many schools being neglected during the district’s building program

• How best to address schools that are consistently underperforming in our district

• How to provide the best resources for our students, while being good stewards with taxpayer funds

• A long-range facilities and programming plan for the school district

• Increased competition to hire the best teachers (the number of teachers retiring over the next five years will far outpace those who are graduating from our colleges. We have to positon ourselves to be an employer of choice, and work harder to attract the best teachers)

I feel confident that the school board’s exceptional work on addressing any concerns outlined by AdvancED will be satisfied in our upcoming review in December. I applaud our board for their work and leadership. In addition, I want to thank Dr. Merck, our senior leadership, our teachers, staff, and school administrators for the exceptional work they do each day in our schools.

Dr. Brian D. Swords is chairman of the Pickens County School Board.