Education Superintendent looks to Florence 1 for early education ideas

Posted: Monday, May 4, 2015 7:29 pm

BY NICOLE CARTRETTE Morning News This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

FLORENCE, S.C. –In her first official trip to schools in Florence School District 1 Monday, State Superintendent of Education Molly Spearman, got a closer look at early childhood education programs that she would like to see implemented in other school districts around the state.  Spearman’s visit included a stop at Alfred Rush Academy’s Montessori classrooms. At the R.N. Beck Early Childhood Education Center, she visited preschool classes and held roundtable discussions with district employees and school board members.  Spearman, who said Florence 1 is doing a great job in early childhood education, was impressed with what she saw in the classrooms.  “I keep thinking in my mind when I see all those children what would they be like coming to first grade or kindergarten without these programs. It makes a huge difference in their lives. You are catching them early,” Spearman said.  “It is the right thing to do but it also the best return on investment that you can make in education. You are not just doing it. You are doing it really, really well. You are using the right programs and I just appreciate your willingness to help others.”

Dr. Floyd Creech, director of the Office of School Readiness for Florence 1, said the early childhood program involves many different people.  “It’s not just the schools,” Creech said.

The district’s Start to Read Program seeks to improve early reading opportunities for children by partnering with businesses. Employees receive tips on reading with their children and free books for children three- years-old and younger through the workplace.

Jean Leatherman, wife of Sen. Hugh Leatherman who was speaking on the budget in the Senate on Monday, was one of several individuals who toured R.N. Beck with Spearman. Jean Leatherman participated in discussions about a need to make early childhood education centers structured like R.N. Beck easier to duplicate across the state.

Creech sought and received a waiver to utilize certain state funding to pay for center managers and curriculum coordinators.  Spearman said her office was paying close attention to such waiver requests and looking for ways to eliminate the need for them in some cases.  Porter Stewart, chairman of the Florence 1 school board, told Spearman that while many districts have needs greater than those of Florence 1, the district still has financial needs.  Many of the district’s early education initiatives are supported with local funds.

Spearman said she had wanted to come to Florence but that Sen. Leatherman had also extended an invitation more than once with hopes she would see the benefit of bringing early childhood programs like those in Florence 1 to other districts in the state.  “He called me twice,” Spearman said. “That’s why we are here –just to look and to learn.”  Spearman finished up her visit serving as guest speaker at the Florence Rotary Club meeting held at Victor’s Bistro in Florence where 150 or more were in attendance.  Spearman said the district, community and supporters are “concentrated on early education” and that she had seen “wonderful ideas”.  “Hats off to your county and your school district,” Spearman said.  “We don’t have to always be going outside of South Carolina to find good things happening that we need to replicate.”  Every child whether from “Florence, Lake City, Saluda, Greenwood or Charleston” should have opportunities in education that prepare them for the “next step.”

Spearman said for “too long” technical education has been overlooked as a viable education path.  Though manufacturing needs are great in the state, Spearman said, when surveyed, few high school students identify manufacturing as a career choice.  “We need to let our young people know this is a great career,” Spearman said.  She pointed out that smaller school districts need to work together to meet the needs of students without regard for district lines.  Spearman said a young man in her church is good with working with his hands and would excel in mechatronics.  “The problem in Saluda is, we don’t have a mechatronics program,” Spearman said of the district with roughly 2,400 students.  “They need the opportunities,” Spearman said.  Economic growth is tied to education, she said.  “If we can’t meet the needs of our workforce that growth will stop,” Spearman said.

She was questioned about the recent state Supreme Court ruling on inequity in education across the state. While the courts ruled that the state had failed to provide equitable education across the state in the 20 year old case, lawmakers are left to decide how to remedy the inequity.  Lawmakers in the senate and house have appointed taskforces to focus on the issue.  Spearman serves on a taskforce created by Rep. Jay Lucas.

“We are not working to negotiate with the schools but to develop a solution together,” Spearman said.  Teacher recruitment and retention, transportation and capital needs are among the issues the taskforce is hearing about.  The taskforce is to make recommendation to the legislature by Jan. 1, 2016.  “I’m just so dedicated to making sure this isn’t just a report but becomes a reality,” Spearman said.

Spearman, a native of Saluda County and former music teacher and principal, received a B.A. in Music Education from Lander College, holds a Masters of Arts in Education Supervision from George Washington University, and an Education Specialist Degree from the University of South Carolina. Spearman served four terms as a member of the South Carolina House of Representatives representing Saluda County and portions of Lexington County (House District 39). In 1998, she became the Deputy Superintendent of Education for the South Carolina Department of Education.

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