School board seats new members, elects officers
By Stephan Drew, Editor
The Darlington County School District Board of Education welcomed in the new year by swearing in new members Audrey Gore (District 3) and Amanda Thompson (District 5) and electing new officers on Monday, January 9th, 2023.
Darlington County Clerk of Court Scott Suggs administered the oath to Gore and Thompson and also to returning boardmembers Wanda Hassler (District 7) and Leigh Anne Kelley (District 1). Thompson expressed her thanks to the voters of District 5 and said, “I’m going to work hard and make sure that we can try to do the very best for our students and move things forward in a positive direction for our district. I want to do everything I can for our students and teachers.”
Gore thanked the citizens of District 3 for choosing her during a difficult time. Dr. Thelma Dawson, who held that seat and served on the school board nearly 35 years, passed away shortly before the election and voters had to make a swift decision. Mrs. Gore thanked the voters for their support and described her introduction to school administration. “I’ve found that you all do great things,” she said,” I appreciate what you all have done so far. I know that this district is growing and I want to be a part of that growth, because I believe that every child has a right to have a fair and equal education” She also told the people to look out for her. “I’m coming to see you Brockington, Cain, Mayo, Darlington Intervention,” she stated, “I want to listen and hear your concerns. I’m coming to see all of you.”
Darlington County Superintendent of Education Dr. Tim Newman presided over the election of officers. Wanda Hassler was chosen as Chairman, Leigh Anne Kelley as Vice Chairman and Charles Govan (District 6) as Secretary. Warren Jeffords (District 4) had presided as Chairman for 2 terms, the maximum time period according to Board of Education rules, and was obliged to step down. He welcomed new and returning members before exchanging seats with Mrs. Hassler. Mrs. Hassler praised Jeffords for his efforts before, during and after COVID. “You did an outstanding job getting us through that and we really appreciate all the time and effort you gave to this board and to the community,” she stated. “I appreciate all the support,” Jeffords responded.
The board discussed the upcoming Joint Dinner Meeting of Darlington County’s Municipal Councils, County Council, Board of Education, and Legislative Delegation, scheduled for January 30th. The meeting is an opportunity for all the elected leaders to come together and discuss how the county’s education system is working, whether changes may need to be made and what is possible to do. This will be the first time the event has been held since before the pandemic. Chairman Hassler suggest an intermingling of the different groups, rather than each remaining with their own members. The Board has a work session scheduled on January 23rd before the meeting on the 30th.
Superintendent Newman reported that law enforcement personnel did “walk-throughs” during the holiday break to insure the safety and security of all buildings. He also announced that Carolina Elementary in Hartsville will have more drills by law enforcement personnel during Spring Break. Newman announced that Dr. Leslie McCall has been hired as the new Mental Health Coordinator. Newman said she is meeting with school administration, principals, teachers and Pee Dee Mental Health officials, as well as discussing proposals and grants with MUSC. “We’re looking at how we can improve mental health supports for our children,” Newman said, “Having someone in place who has that expertise is key.”
Newman also announced that the school district is now offering programs which help parents prepare their children for school. The 90-minute classes will be held in January, March and May, during which family members will be given instruction, educational information, supplies and other materials. Food will also be provided. Mrs. Gore asked if the school district had any plans to extend the family support programs beyond the 2-4 year old range. Newman stated that the allocated funds only covered the amount needed for that age range but, added, “We need to look at this for our other children too.” For more information on these programs and others offered by the Darlington County School District, please go to their website at: www.darlington.k12.sc.us
The superintendent told the board that MAP (Measures of Academic Progress) testing was done the final week before the holiday break. Newman said the results were being tabulated and scores would be released soon. He went on to report the success of the recent All-County Band Choral event (the first since 2020) and thanked the parents, teachers and students who participated. Dr. Newman announced the Darlington County E-Sports Program, housed in the annex across from the new courthouse). This is a program of electronic sports matches and games, utilizing coaches, rules and regulations, just as in real sports competitions. “People make millions of dollars and get scholarships for things like this,” Newman stated.
Charles Govan (District 6) noted that some in the community are saying Gov. McMaster of S.C. intends to raise the pay of all S.C. school teachers by $2,500. It is rumored that the governor will include those remarks in his next State of the State address. Govan suggested it may be unfair to increase teachers’ pay without increasing the pay of other school district employees as well. “We need to think about our other employees, too,” Govan said, “Bus drivers, custodians, the whole nine yards. It’s something we need to keep focused on.”
The board will meet again on Monday, February 13th.