Posted: Sunday, December 7, 2014 5:30 am
Tuesday at Alfred Rush Academy in Quinby, Sen. Hugh K. Leatherman, R-Florence, gave and received.
He gave Florence School District 1 a check from the state for $147,500, the last quarterly payment for financing a school readiness program. He received a positive report on how the program has done.
He expressed delight in the progress and talked about talking to Molly Spearman, the new state Superintendent of Education, about taking the program statewide.
How about that?
An incredible success story continues to take shape right here in Florence.
“We’re really beyond what we dreamed,” said Tammy Pawloski, a professor of education at Francis Marion University and director of the Center of Excellence. “All of the pieces have fallen into place. Our school board unanimously has embraced this idea. We should be a model across the state. It definitely is a proud time that this is coming from the Pee Dee, from our visionary thinkers.”
It’s time to pause and reflect on where this initiative started, where it is and where it is going.
The roll call of leaders would be long, but Pawloski starts by giving credit to Debbie Hyler with The School Foundation and Richard Harrington of The School Foundation’s board. The Florence School District 1’s administration – including Floyd Creech, the district’s director of school readiness – and the board have played instrumental parts. Leatherman’s political clout has been important.
But where would this movement be without Pawloski? Her expertise in neuroscience and early childhood education, plus a passion to share her wisdom, is making a difference in a community that has needed help.
Discussions about leveraging the business community started in 2011 and led six months later to the Business Leaders Summit on Early Childhood Investment. It drew more than 450 people to the Southern Institute of Manufacturing and Technology at Florence-Darlington Technical College.
“We captured a business audience and helped them understand,” Pawloski said. “Educators are not going to make this happen. Educators can’t make it happen. Business people support it on all levels. They support employees improving their parenting skills.”
The business community has come a long way in a short time.
“Historically, business people thought the important work began not even at first grade,” Pawloski said. “They thought it began in high school.”
This was an awakening.
“We can predict a fourth-grade reading level at about 18 months – before a child speaks – based on the vocabulary used by parents,” Pawloski said. “By age 5, 90 percent of the neuroconnections are in place, yet look who’s wiring our children.”
Thanks to support from businesses, more parents are participating in pilot programs.
“We’re teaching parents how to use books effectively in growing their child’s brain,” Pawloski said. “We’re growing a population of parents who better understand the power they have to change their child’s brain just in how they read a bedtime story.”
Dividends will come.
“Employers will see the return on their investment in 12 years, when these children grow up and become their workforce,” Pawloski said. “Imagine what that social capital will grow into financially. The better we do in early childhood education, the better the state will do economically.”
Pawloski’s vision for the future is bold.
“Libraries of books in every home, viewed by children and parents as their most prized possessions, and they use them and soak them up,” she said.
“In five years, we’ll have a reduced number of special education students. There’s such a trickle down if we change parenting skills. I envision a reduced dropout rate, an increased graduation rate, increased attendance rates, fewer disciplinarian problems in school. Reduced unemployment, because we’ll have a more marketable workforce. Fewer teen pregnancies. A reduced crime rate. That’s what education will provide. That’s what we’re paying up front for.”
It’s hardly a cost. This is a monumental investment.
When we get to a bright tomorrow, remember yesterday and today. And don’t forget the people who are making it happen.
Unsigned editorials represent the views of this newspaper. Editorial board members are Stephen Wade (regional publisher), Don Kausler Jr. (regional editor), Kimberly Brauss (online editor) and David Johnson (regional circulation director).