Classes by computer: Not a perfect solution, but school board’s glad to have it
By Bobby Bryant
Since the coronavirus crisis shut down all public schools in South Carolina in mid-March, Darlington County students have continued the semester with classes by computer.
Last week, the county school board briefly discussed how the district’s “eLearning” system is working so far. The consensus: Some students love it and are easily able to work with it. Others don’t like it and struggle to learn long-distance.
But, board members said, the county’s system was the best available option and probably is working better than most S.C. school districts’ “learn-from-home” systems as the state tries to keep on educating students while still keeping them from exposure to the virus.
“I’m not sure how well things are going with eLearning,” board member Jamie Morphis said during the board’s April 6 meeting. “I know some kids are busting their butt on the computer all day; other kids are not on it at all. I’m sure it has to do with various courses. …”
“But for what we’ve been dealt, I think we’ve done a very good job,” Morphis said. “ … Obviously, eLearning is nothing like in person. But again, with what we’ve got, I think we’re ahead of most districts in the state, maybe in the country.”
Board member Richard Brewer said: “We’ve got kids that have taken to this eLearning, and those that it’s just been such a shock to them that they’re basically just shut down and not turning in anything. …”
Still, Brewer said, “I just appreciate everything that’s being done during this time.” The coronavirus pandemic came out of nowhere, he said, and “Thank the good Lord that we were prepared for it as much as we could be.”
The public and press were barred from the April 6 board meeting because of coronavirus concerns. However, the district broadcast the meeting on Facebook Live.
Four board members – Morphis, Leigh Anne Kelley, Wanda Hassler and Connell Delaine – participated in the meeting electronically. The remaining four – Chairman Warren Jeffords, Thelma Dawson, Brewer and Charles Govan, along with Education Superintendent Tim Newman – attended in person.
“These are trying times, very uncharted waters,” Jeffords said. “I just want to say thank you to all our staff. … Our teachers are doing a phenomenal job.”
Newman noted that Spring Break will be observed April 10-20. The district will still make free meals available to students who need them during Spring Break, but all meals for the week were to be made available April 13.
Newman also told the board that construction of Darlington County’s three new elementary schools remained on schedule.
Board member Morphis raised the issue of how the coronavirus crisis would affect the school district’s budget even as he acknowledged that no one can predict what kind of financial hit the district might take.
“We planned so hard – no one could expect for this to happen so quickly, so abruptly,” he said. “We have no idea how this is going to impact us going forward, other than it’s going to be really, really tough.”
The board routinely voted to accept Gov. Henry McMaster’s executive orders issued since the coronavirus crisis began.
Also last week, the school district announced five administrative assignments for the 2020-21 school year. The new appointments include the principals of Lamar High School, St. John’s Elementary School and Thornwell School for the Arts.
Marlon Thomas will be the new principal of Lamar High. Thomas is currently an assistant principal of Ridge View High School in Columbia. Kathryn Atkinson, currently an assistant principal at Darlington Middle School, will be the new principal of St. John’s Elementary in Darlington.
Allison Baker will be the new director of the Darlington County Adult Education program. Baker now leads the district’s Title 1/Federal Programs Office. Lilkenya Jenkins, currently principal of Thornwell School for the Arts, will be the new director of the DCSD Title 1/Federal Programs Office. Melinda Brown will be the new principal of Thornwell School. Brown is currently associate principal at Lamar Elementary School.