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Superintendents talk preparing students for work

Author: Ashley Heffernan

Source: Charleston Regional Business Journal

February 25, 2015

“The one thing I can tell you is we have to have a workforce in our business, and that is really critical to us. That’s why education is so important." — InterTech CEO Anita Zucker

The superintendents for the Lowcountry’s K-12 school districts collectively manage more than 150 facilities, 100,000 students, 12,000 employees and operating budgets totaling more than $1 billion, according to Mary Graham, chief advancement officer for the Charleston Metro Chamber of Commerce.

But Berkeley County School District Superintendent Rodney Thompson thinks the state’s accountability system is limiting one of their biggest responsibilities.

“When I talk to business leaders in the area, they tell me for someone to be career ready, they need to be able to communicate, collaborate, get along with others. Our accountability system does not hold us accountable for any of those items,” Thompson said during a chamber event this morning on the state of the region’s schools. “We’re going to produce what we’re accountable for, and we have a lot of folks that determine what we’re going to be accountable for that are not linked to our business.”
He encouraged attendees to reach out to their state legislators and tell them what schools should be requiring for their students.

“If the SAT score is important, hold us accountable for the SAT. If it’s the ACT, hold us accountable for the ACT,” he said. “Let’s revamp the accountability system that supports college and career readiness.”

Joseph Pye, superintendent of Dorchester School District 2, agreed that having a high school diploma shouldn’t be enough.

“The ultimate goal is we want our children to be first in any line they want to be in,” Pye said. He added that an emphasis on early childhood education is necessary and possibly the greatest weakness in his district.

“At 5 years of age, they’ve already lost several years, and they can’t catch up. I won’t say they can’t catch up; they can. But for a lot of them, it’s too hard,” he said. “They’re expected to move twice as fast with half the resources.”

Anita Zucker, CEO and chairperson of The InterTech Group, has been working to improve early childhood education through the Tri-County Cradle to Career Collaborative.

“The one thing I can tell you is we have to have a workforce in our business, and that is really critical to us. That’s why education is so important,” Zucker said. “I really believe in the power of education and the ability of our region to come together in an effort to ensure that every child reaches the height of his or her potential.”

Michael Bobby, acting superintendent of Charleston County School District, said the perception among most people in the region is that the districts are not performing at a high level. He compared people who believe that to arm-chair quarterbacks.

“It’s kind of like Monday morning after the NFL just played on Sunday and you listen to Sports Talk, and all these Monday morning quarterbacks who may have never really played the game, but they were there for a little bit and they watched it on TV, and they’re able to talk about it,” Bobby said. “They’re making all kinds of judgments and have great ideas about what should have been done and what play should have been called.”

He said unless those people are in the game and understand the logic and rationale of the decision, it is hard for them to determine if the right decision was made.

“I would suggest there’s a little bit of that, but I’d also suggest there’s a reality. The reality is we have excellent school districts in this region. We want to continue to have excellent school districts, but we still have challenges,” he said.

Charleston County is focusing on closing the achievement gap, which is the difference between how groups of students perform academically, according to Bobby.

“It is real; it is here, and it’s something we continue to focus on every day because until we eliminate that, we haven’t fully reached what I consider true excellence,” he said.

Reach staff writer Ashley Heffernan at 843-849-3144 or @AshleyBHeff on Twitter.


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