School board votes to scrap TAP program

COUNTY — Despite a public outpouring of supporters for the School District of Pickens County’s TAP program at the district’s board meeting Monday night, a 4-2 vote signaled the end of TAP effective June 30.
TAP, The System for Student and Teacher Advancement, is a reform initiative implemented in nine schools throughout Pickens County. Based on reported results from the last two years, the program has shown signs of success in the schools where it has been practiced.
Continuing the TAP program has been recommended by current superintendent Dr. Henry Hunt, incoming superintendent Dr. Kelly Pew and State Superintendent of Education Dr. Mick Zais.
However, several of the board members became concerned about TAP after receiving a variety of anonymous and signed correspondence from district teachers who were unhappy with and felt pressure from TAP Requirements.
Laurie Durham, a TAP master teacher at Holly Springs Elementary, expressed concern that the TAP system was not looked at by some board members in any way that would allow them to make an informed decision about eliminating the program.
“If you are not going to take the recommendation of our current superintendent, our future superintendent, the ones chosen to be the leaders of the district, the administration of the schools, or the state superintendent of education, then you should take the time to educate yourselves about what is truly going on,” said Durham. “TAP is not about finding fault in a teacher’s ability to teach; it’s about giving professional development and support to the teachers as they engage with their students every day. As educators we need to challenge ourselves to meet the needs of our students and to continue to better our teaching so students are better prepared. We can’t try something for just a year to see the full benefits. A year is not adequate.”
Mike Corey, principal of Gettys Middle School in Easley, representing the Pickens County Association of School Principals, implored board members to continue the TAP program.
“It is our desire that you vote tonight to support TAP continuing in nine of our schools,” Corey said. “It is our priority to increase student achievement in Pickens County, which would help the recent goal of an 80 percent graduation rate. TAP would also reverse the current trend that found our district fall from one of the top 15 districts to being ranked 34 in the state as a result of decisions that do not make student achievement a priority.”
In a letter from Zais, addressed to the SDPC board on March 19, he wrote: “I recently visited several schools in Pickens County and was enormously impressed with the collaboration, classroom instruction, and focus on student achievement. After visiting 97 schools in South Carolina, and watching the national trends for school transformation, I say discontinuing TAP would move your district in the wrong direction. I encourage you to support the TAP system.”
Of paramount concern for SDPC board chairman Alex Saitta is how the district will continue to fund the TAP program when there are already ticking time bombs in the budget ready to explode. The way the TAP grant is structured is it fully funds the program the first year, explained Saitta, but then phases out over five years, so the sixth year the district has to totally fund it.
“This information was withheld from the board,” Saitta said. “My suspicion is the administration knew the board would have never allowed any schools to try it if it knew it was going to have to fund it over time and that cost was going to grow each year. The program would have been rejected out of hand given we were in the midst of the economic crisis. Mick Zais supports the program. That’s wonderful. My comment to Mick is ‘why don’t you pay for it?’”
If TAP were to remain, the SDPC would receive approximately $1.964 million to support the initiative. The district would have to come up with $275,000 to aid in the support. The district feels strongly that it will be able to come up with the money without having to touch the general fund thanks to special revenue funds.
“We will get $1.9 million,” Hunt said. “We have to come up with 275,000, which can be done through special funds. If we do this program for one more year, we have that much money provided to us. I think it is not very prudent to turn this money down, when in the next year we may see how this new system develops.”
“There are a lot of things we could do right now that are more valuable than TAP,” Saitta said. “Classroom supplies, adding teachers, an option to give pay raises. We couldn’t do it. Why? Revenue. Yet we continue to make commitments to future expenditures. The TAP program will be competing with custodians and laptop refreshes.”
Similar to colleague Ben Trotter, board trustee Judy Edwards, who also voted to eliminate TAP, said her objection to the program had nothing to do with money.
“It is from the feelings and the letters and the comments and phone calls that I have gotten from the teachers. I do not think the teachers are as in favor of TAP as the administration would lead us to believe,” she said. “And I know from the letters I’ve gotten this had to be true. It has created a lot of dissension. Our students are feeling it. Our teachers are feeling the stress. When morale is at rock bottom our teachers are not teaching their best.”
The only two board members to vote in favor of continuing the TAP program were Jim Shelton and Dr. Herbert Cooper.
Shelton questioned how fellow board members came to the conclusion to eliminate TAP, suggesting that the decision was based not on an evaluation of the program or its merits, but instead on anonymous letters.
“I went to schools that had TAP and were happy with it,” Shelton said. “It is one thing to get an opinion. I look for patterns and trends. What I found is that the teachers in the schools that were positive toward TAP saw the positive attributes like accountability and improvement. It makes more sense to me to continue the TAP program, and to be quite honest with you, I think it is sheer lunacy to go away from it. We’re giving up $2 million of federal funding that prepares us for a program that is coming in a few years anyway. Why not get in front of it rather than playing catch up the way we have the last couple of years?”
Cooper echoed Shelton’s support of TAP and said it is a wonderful program that has yielded impressive results.
“Any time you introduce a new program the first year is going to be tough,” Cooper said. “If you have the right attitude, after that the second year is smoother and the third year is even better. The result will depend on the attitudes of the principals and the teachers. Our academic leaders recommend TAP strongly, so I fully support this program. I can’t understand why anyone would want to give up $2 million in funding. We don’t have to reach into our fund balance.”
Although the overwhelming majority of speakers at the board meeting were in favor of continuing TAP, the 4-2 vote to discontinue TAP will be effective June 30.
“I don’t think anyone on this board understands TAP. I don’t think they have any regard for the welfare of the students,” said Shelton. “And they can’t possibly understand evaluation and assessment of any program. I think that has been demonstrated here.”