Sometimes in order to see where we are going, we must remember from where we came. That was the principle that Superintendent Dr. Tim Newman worked from during a recent retreat for the Darlington County Board of Education when he asked board members to consider the reasons why they first decided to run for a seat on the school board.
Board member Warren Jeffords said that he has a love for children and he believes that education is ‘imperative’ for a community. Chairman Jamie Morphis said that he felt ill prepared for entering the world when he graduated and wants to ensure that others don’t share the same regrets he does about his education. Board members Charles Govan and Connell Delaine expressed a desire to help change the paths of disadvantaged students.
“Education is the only way out of poverty,” Govan said.
During the meeting, Newman highlighted four pillars that he believes are important for DCSD going forward. Many of those pillars directly correlate with the board members reasons for seeking a seat on the school board. His four pillars were: community, technology tools, understanding students and weathering the storms (literally and figuratively).
In discussing the four pillars, Newman brought up the need for differentiated learning, and the understanding that learning looks different year-to-year and student-to-student, an idea related to two of his pillars.
During this conversation, the discussion continued to circle back to the idea that the adults in the schools and those making decisions affecting DCSD students need to understand the students better.
“I think it would be good for some of our teachers to see where some of these kids live,” Jeffords said. “Where some of these kids live, it isn’t much better than third world countries. They sleep on the floor. They don’t have food half of the time. It is hard to learn if you are living in that kind of condition.”
Boardmember Govan said that some principals make sure that their teachers have a personal connection before the school year even begins.
“We do have some principals who at the end of the year put their faculty on a bus and take them around and show them the living environment of the students that they are going to be teaching the next year,” Govan said.
Newman said that he would be encouraging more teachers and principals to find ways to do that.
“That is what I charge our principals with,” Newman said. “This is where we look at micromanaging versus letting them tailor what they need to do. It doesn’t matter to me how they do it. They just need to show me that they know who their kids are. It could be home visits. It could be events that bring families in and you feed them and they learn. I can give you 20 ways but they need to decide what works best for them. They will be doing it; it is a part of their evaluation process.”
One issue that caused a lot of excited conversation between board members was district graduation ceremonies.
With the current setup, graduation ceremonies for DCSD’s four high schools are held on two weeknights. Two schools hold a ceremony each night, one beginning at 5:30 p.m. and the other at 7 p.m. With lottery programs putting students in schools outside their attendance zones, families could potentially have multiple graduation ceremonies in one night. Between the time difference, the length of some ceremonies and the ceremony locations, it is nearly impossible for someone to attend more than one, board members said. It also limits the number of administrators and board members who might otherwise attend. Board members asked Newman to talk with the district’s high school principals about changing the ceremony times, by as little as 15 minutes, and see if that helps correct the problem.
Another item on the very long retreat agenda was streamlining administrative processes. Newman informed board members that even when a district employee has their check direct deposited a paper copy is still printed and mailed to their residence. He said that he is used to a district that does as much online as possible and DCSD has begun moving their processes online. Newman said that doing so saves money and also make sharing information or completing paperwork easier and quicker.