“How can we reach them?” School Board questions current methods
By Stephan Drew, Editor
School violence, safety officers and post-COVID test scores were the main topics at this month’s meeting of the Darlington County Board of Education. On Monday, Sept. 12, the school board discussed the increased violence in county schools and the need to address it as soon as possible.
Dr. Tim Newman, Superintendent of Darlington County School District, announced that new weapons detectors had already been delivered and staff will begin training with them on Sept. 21 and 22. The devices, which will be placed at the entries to the stadium, were not expected to arrive until the middle of October. Newman also discussed how violence on school campuses had increased and spoke of adding more Campus Supervisors to help with any student altercations. “They do not carry a gun, they don’t have a badge. But, they are there to help facilitate, with the SRO (School Resource Officers), the safety and security on the campuses,” he said. Newman went on to say, “We will be adding one of those to Hartsville Middle School and Darlington Middle School.” Darlington High School and Hartsville High School already have Campus Supervisors.
Board member Charles Govan stated, “I think the high schools probably need a female in addition to the two (SROs) you have there. Because, a lot of your incidents are involving females. It lends itself to a problem with men trying to break up fights and trying to deal with issues involving females.” Govan went on to explain that by not having sufficient female officers or supervisors, we may be creating another problem. As he stated, “Once you get accused, that reputation is going to be there. The court of public opinion is going to already have you guilty.”
The board also discussed the amount of time it takes for a SRO or Campus Supervisor to respond to any incident. Newman stated it was school policy for any adult staffmember to intervene before anyone is hurt, regardless of whether a SRO or Campus Supervisor was present. Board member Jamie Morphis asked, “Where have we gone in this country? We didn’t have any of this stuff 30 years ago, 20 or 15 years ago. We had none of this and now, we’ve got our own police force. What are we doing here? It’s almost like we’re encouraging it.” Newman responded, “If an adult can intervene, we need them to intervene.”
Board member Wanda Hassler inquired, “I don’t want our teachers having to be combat deterrents. We’re putting them in an awkward position where we’re hiring people supposedly to handle things but then, we’re also asking them (the teachers) to handle it.” Newman explained, “It’s all hands on deck. Administrators are in this mix too. Between that whole mix of people, they can get on site pretty quickly if there’s an issue.”
Newman reported that school violence now is lower than it was at the start of the school year. “At the beginning of this year, there seemed to be more than normal. Now that things have settled, I’m not seeing that huge increase,” he said. Hassler asked what contributed to that. Newman stated, “Part of it’s the consequences that we’ve put out. If you stand up and fight in the middle of the cafeteria, you’re going to the alternative school. We’ve been pretty clear with how we’re going to handle discipline.”
Jamie Morphis asked, “I feel a lot of this is reactionary as we’ve talked before. Let’s get more police, let’s get more SROs, and have more people. That’s fine but, what is the problem here? We need to address the problem instead of reacting to the issue.” Morphis went on to say that more and more money is going into ancillary programs and less is going into actual classroom education. “I’m not saying that these things aren’t needed. I’m just saying let’s be careful how we spend money. The district and schools throughout the country are being forced to do things that are well beyond what they signed up to do. We’ve talked about nursing, we’ve talked about feeding tubes, disciplinary things, afterschool care, transportation, food all summer long, and all year round. Those are things that have absolutely zero to do with classroom education.”
Morphis asked, “What can we do here in Darlington County to clean things up? What can we do to change our environment, our culture overall?” Newman agreed, “Ultimately, if we don’t fix it with our community, with our parents and guardians, and their involvement, where does this go?” Hassler interjected, “They’re mirroring what they see outside of the school environment.” Morphis declared, “How can we reach them? I want to dig. What’s driving you (the student)? There’s a lot of talent in the kids that are causing the problems. It’s just how do they realize that talent and how do they capitalize on it to take them somewhere else. That’s where I’d rather see us spending money.” Newman noted that there are numerous outlets working with the school system to help local children evaluate and use their talents, including DCIT (Darlington County Institute of Technology) and DCIS (Darlington County Intervention School). DCIS has an open house and career day scheduled at DCIT for students in the near future.
Board member Richard Brewer described outside programs which were utilized years ago, “They would take these kids, one day a week, out of the system, and they would go to this area and learn architecture, computer PowerPoint, history where they’d have to dress up and play the part of whoever they were mirroring. It took these kids that really had this drive and fed them.” Board member Lucas Reed stated, “Yea, I went through it at North Hartsville and Brunson-Dargan. It was more or less like your advanced courses.” Chairman Warren Jeffords said, “If they don’t have this interaction at home or wherever, when they get to the 2nd grade, they can’t read. We may look at expanding our K4 or whatever, to help them get started at an early age, I think it would help too.”
Board members discussed possible causes for frustration and violent behavior in schools. One culprit mentioned was the desire to video everything and post it on social media. Reed brought up the district’s student cell phone policy on his laptop and read it out loud, “Use of wireless communications devices. Your first offense is ISS (In-School Suspension) and it keeps on progressing on out. If you’re caught with it out, the teacher confiscates it for the rest of the day.”
Superintendent Newman reiterated the need for 20 more teachers across the county – in elementary, middle and high schools . He also stated that Darlington County Education system should have eight mental health counselors but has only five on staff.
The board also discussed the recent results of the South Carolina College- and Career-Ready Assessment (SCREADY). During the pandemic, many students’ test scores dropped dramatically. Since COVID, however, most scores have risen back to or near their pre-pandemic level, except for math, which remains below the 2019 level. However, board member Wanda Hassler praised Lamar-Spaulding Elementary School for their rapid increase, over and above the pre-COVID level. “I would like to congratulate Chrissie Austin and her staff for the absolutely tremendous job they did this year with their test scores,” Hassler said. Lamar-Spaulding Elementary drastically exceeded expectations in a majority of the categories on the tests.
SCREADY scores for each county may be seen at https://ed.sc.gov/data/test-scores/state-assessments/sc-ready/2021/. More information on SCREADY scoring system may be found at https://ed.sc.gov/tests/middle/sc-ready/.
In other business, changes to the dress code and naming facilities policies were approved for 2nd Reading. The JICA-R dress code policy establishes uniform guidelines for the length of skirts, shorts, etc. The FF-R policy establishes a basic structure for the naming of district facilities. The policy gives the school board that responsibility.
The board will conduct a work session later this month and their regularly scheduled meeting will be held on October 10th.