New school board chairman passionate about education

Newly elected Darlington County School District Board Chairman Wanda Hassler. CONTRIBUTED PHOTO

The Darlington County School District Board of Education, pictured here (from left to right): Lucas Reed (Dist. 2), Audrey Gore (Dist. 3), School District Superintendent Dr. Tim Newman, Amanda Thompson (Dist. 5), Warren Jeffords (Dist. 4 & Past Chairman), Leigh-Anne Kelly (Dist. 1), Jamie Morphis (Dist. 8), Chairman Wanda Hassler (Dist. 7) and Charles Govan (Dist. 6). CONTRIBUTED PHOTO

By Stephan Drew, Editor

She may have been on the Darlington County School District’s Board of Education for over 9 years but, her passion certainly hasn’t dimmed. It’s evident when you speak to her. Wanda Hassler, who has represented District 7 nearly a decade, holds the education of Darlington County’s children very close to her heart. She won reelection this past November and, just last month, was elected as Chairman of the School Board by the other boardmembers. Previous board chairman Warren Jeffords, who still represents District 4, has served the county exceedingly well as a board member for over 8 years and, as chairman for 4 years. Term-limit policy required the election of a new board chairman.

Born in Rockingham, N.C., Hassler earned her bachelor’s degree in biology from Davidson College and a bachelor’s degree in nursing from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. She also served in the United States Air Force from 1983 to 1988, where she reached the rank of captain.

Wanda and her husband, Dr. Terrence Hassler, moved to Hartsville almost 30 years ago and their four children all attended Darlington County schools. She has served on numerous boards in Darlington County, including the YMCA, the Billy Hardee Home for Boys, the Darlington County Education Foundation, St Luke United Methodist Staff Parish Relations, and as President of the United Methodist Women.

Her passion for education in Darlington County began while serving in various volunteer roles, including PTO president, co-founder and president of the Carolina Elementary School Education Foundation, co-chair of the Darlington County School District successful 2003 bond referendum and a school board representative for the 2020 South Carolina Accountability Advisory Committee. She also works as a registered nurse with the South Carolina Department of Health and Environmental Control.

As the new Chairman of the Board of Education, Wanda is very dedicated and very serious about her role and described how the school board members interact. “We are a transparent board and a well-functioning board,” she said, “We have 8 different members with 8 different types of skill sets and we are working together. We may not always agree on everything. But, we always come together in the end.” When asked about her view of her new position as Chairman, she admitted, “My vote dosen’t count any more or less than the others. We are all equal in trying to do what’s best for the children.”

Other board members include Past Chairman Warren Jeffords (District 4), Leigh-Anne Kelley (District 1), Lucas Reed (District 2), newly elected Audrey Gore (District 3), newly elected Amanda Thompson (District 5), Charles Goven (District 6), and Jamie Morphis (District 8). With Hassler as Chairman, Kelley as Vice-Chairman and Govan as Secretary, the new board is ready for a new year.

There are approx. 9,000 students in the Darlington County School District and the board is concentrated on helping each one. Hassler admitted that there were setbacks in educational progress during the last few years. “But, we’re making gains. Maybe not at the pace we’d like to see. We’re trying to catch up and move forward at the same time.” The recovery can be slow at times because, approx. 78% of the children in the Darlington County School District live in poverty. Without available access to certain resources, it makes learning much more difficult.

But, Mrs. Hassler is optimistic about the future of education in this area. “I want our students’ grades to exceed state levels. All children can learn. But, poverty is a major obstacle to that,” she said, “We need to maintain strong, excellent teachers because better teachers produce the best students. That means keeping salaries competitive.”

The Board of Education is tasked with 3 main jobs – 1) To set and approve the yearly budget, 2) To hire and evaluate the Superintendent of Education, and 3) To set school policy (dress codes, disciplinary actions, holidays, employees’ rules, vacations and time off, etc.) The actual curriculum in the schools is set by the S.C. State Department of Education.

The Darlington County School District’s budget for the 2022-2023 School Year is $109 million with an additional $30 million (in reserve funds) earmarked for the construction of a new elementary school, replacing St. John’s Elementary and Rosenwald Elementary. This issue was somewhat contentious last year, when some concerned citizens collected over 1,400 signatures on letters of protest in an attempt to save the old, well-loved buildings. Hassler admits that it wasn’t an easy issue to deal with. “But,” she says, “sometimes we have to go through constant changes to stay up-to-date.” Using the $30 million surplus rather than raising taxes, applying for grants or issuing a taxpayer-funded bond will save the citizens of Darlington County. “We are very conservative in how the school district spends money,” Hassler said. She also is interested in expanding job placement programs for students. If a student is thinking about going to college for a certain degree, Hassler believes they should be able to experience what that particular learning situation is like. She believes students should have that opportunity before applying for loans and sinking into enormous debt for a course of training they may tire of later. Inspiration, wisdom and perception are a few of her key talents. But, her deep-abiding passion for educating children is what drives her and the entire school board. “We don’t get petty or personal,” she says, “Our only agenda is educating the students.”

Author: Stephan Drew

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