State reading legislation, innovative pilot programs discussed at forum

Molly Spearman, SC Superintendent of Education, Sen. Gerald Malloy and Speaker of the SC House of Representatives, Jay Lucas, were just a few of the officials who took part in an education forum in Dec. 2016. Photo by Melissa Rollins

By Melissa Rollins, Editor,

During the Education Forum hosted by the Darlington County School District last month, district and state leaders gave their perspectives on issues relating to education on the local and state level.

Our first story on the forum focused on the Abbeville Lawsuit.

Our second story talked about the teacher shortage across the state, how teacher pay played a part in that crisis and how leaders were working to combat it.

Our final story on the forum will focus on the question of how to combat summer learning loss.

The question asked during the forum was:

“There are many innovative approaches to solving the summer gap or making sure our students are reading at grade level by third grade. Some of these include year-round schooling or primary schools focused solely on English and math. Have we as a district considered either of these ideas? What initiatives are being introduced at the state or local level to help us help our students?”

Superintendent of Education Molly Spearman said that her department is working to ensure that students are learning what they need to by equipping their teachers to combat challenges they may face in the classroom.

“The focus of our state is on helping teachers have as many tools as possible in their toolbox; knowing how to teach all children how to read,” Spearman said. “That is through recent legislation that is excellent that is called Read to Succeed. We are in full implementation. This is the year that children may be retained if they are not on grade-level.”

Spearman said that her department has been working with legislators to get funding for programs that help students retain the knowledge they gain during the year.

“A tremendous amount of funding from the legislature, a tremendous amount of strategic time from us at the Department (of Education) is in professional development for teachers; we focused even on special problems like Dyslexia, where we came up with modules, virtual training, for teachers,” Spearman said. “Summer reading camps have been funded. All of these things to really support the children so that we don’t have a lot of children retained; I don’t think it is going to be as horrific as some think because you all (educators) have been doing a really, really good job getting children on grade level.”

Senator Gerald Malloy said that while he was not in favor of Read to Succeed when it was first introduced he sees that it, along with other sister programs, can help students in South Carolina.

“I was against Read to Succeed when it came up because I thought it was standing alone,” Malloy said. “At the same time, in the legislature, we expanded four-year-old kindergarten and that was added to that bill. What is critical is this is the third year of implementation so this is the first year that you’ll end up having to effectuate the effects of that particular bill. Obviously it was a change for our state. It came out of a program down in Florida. This year, Ms. Spearman and others are going to have to see what happens with those children who did not achieve the reading level that we needed to and see what we have to implement from then on.”

Darlington County School District Board of Education Chairman Jamie Morphis said that the district has discussed innovative programs but those discussions stalled. He said that the district is back on track with them now.

“Here in the district we have been looking at this,” Morphis said. “We have put out a study to find ways and recommendations. We are still waiting on that recommendation to come back but in the meantime we have had discussions about year-round school. You always talk about gearing up for school and then gearing down and the amount of time it takes in that long summer period of nothing happening. Again, in rural areas sometime there’s not that parental involvement or support at home where you are getting that education and keeping it going throughout the summer. That is a concern.”

Morphis said that he would like to see DCSD set up pilot programs at their schools to see what can work for their students.

“We talked a year or two about piloting a program for the year-round school,” Morphis said. “With the transition of our administration we are back on that now. We have also discussed single-gender classrooms…Personally, I feel like when you separate boys and girls they are more focused and not worried about their clothes or impressing someone. Those are two things I would love to pilot and we are looking at.”

Author: Duane Childers

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