Molly Spearman – “We need churches to show up!”
By Steven Reed
Spearman began her address by laying out a vision for our schools. The top priority of that vision is school safety and teacher support. The state is working towards the goal of having a School Resource Officer in every school with new funding this legislative session. Another goal is prevention of school violence by having mental health counselors and tele-psychiatry in every school with additional funding. The current budget has the largest pay raise for teachers in over 30 years.
High stakes tests that do not give teachers usable information, putting a tremendous burden on the backs of our teachers, must be examined. Spearman noted that “5 non-federally required tests [were] eliminated in the past 3 years.”
A requirement that every school have a threat assessment team, created to look at the root causes of student academic performance and behavior, is being implemented. These teams will look at a student who presents problems or issues, and assess how the school can assist in making positive changes to help that student. The South Carolina Department of Education (SCDOE) will support educators in their efforts to end bullying and discipline problems with a best practices guide and statewide training.
South Carolina continues to outpace the nation on SAT and AP exams. Career readiness is improving with a 56% increase in National Industry Credentials certification in 2018 over the previous year with a total of 122,400 students having had work-based learning experiences or apprenticeships.
An issue that continues be a challenge in South Carolina is school district efficiency, consolidation, and shared services. Over seven school districts have entered into shared service agreements to provide students with additional opportunities, while saving money. The legislature has appropriated $50 million for school district capital improvement to support costs associated with consolidation. There are 13 school districts in South Carolina with 1500 or less students. Spearman noted that it is often the adults in a community that stand in the way of consolidation efforts. She said, “As adults, we must make it happen.”
When it comes to underperforming schools, Spearman talked about the efforts at school transformation and support. Using a system of tiered support from minor interventions to state takeover, the SCDOE is making efforts to improve student learning. With only 18 months of the state takeover of Brockington Elementary and Hemingway Middle schools, those schools no longer tested in the bottom 5% of schools.
In 2015, the Office of Family and Community Engagement (FACE) was created to support faith, community, and non-profit volunteer efforts in school systems. The office developed a volunteer guide and framework that has been distributed to over 2,000 churches. Two hundred and twelve churches have worked with the FACE Office to become involved in local schools. The South Carolina Bishops’ Public Education Initiative has been instrumental in the SCDOE’s efforts to increase involvement. Spearman said “We need churches to show up!” “Don’t come with a program,” she continued “but ask ‘What can I do to help you?’” She reminded us that we cannot come in and teach about Jesus, but we can “act like Jesus and show students the love and hope that comes from Jesus.” Churches must be involved with our schools. Spearman invited the South Carolina Synod and all churches to “Join with us.” “We need you to build a better South Carolina.”
Being a music teacher, Molly Spearman then stepped to the piano and led the Assembly in singing a rousing “This Little Light of Mine” and Louis Armstrong’s “What a Wonderful World.”
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