RIDGEWAY — Would the Shaw Group have any career offerings to an honor graduate of Fairfield Central High School if that student showed up, diploma in hand to look for work?
According to Superintendent of Schools J.R. Green, Shaw representatives said there would be few options for that student unless he or she had technical certification.
That theme of the need for a better trained work force through partnership with Midlands Technical College was one important topic that parents, teachers administrators and community members met at Ridgeway Town Hall for another of Green’s public forums.
“We have to change the paradigm,” Green said. “A student can do an excellent job in high school (currently) yet not be in position for jobs that are out there.”
Associate’s degrees and training are key parts of the new vision. Students can access a Midlands Tech Success Center before school, at lunch or in between classes so they can learn of the many opportunities out there for them.
The STEM academy program is another Green highlighted. He said the program will include a summer camp for about two weeks long where students will receive math instruction so they will be ready to jump into science and math when the fall semester begins. Latin I courses, currently offered to eighth-graders through a virtual school, also expose students to a more rigorous curriculum, a hallmark of Green’s philosophy since he took over last summer as head of the school district.
“We want to develop instructional programming with the ability to reach all students,” Green said. “My next project will be figuring out what to do to capture that middle of the road students who can excel if we can just turn he or she on to a prospective career.”
Green spoke to the culture he looks to create in the schools and said that next year there will be stepped up enforcement of dress codes. As a high school principal, he did not let students sag their pants.
“For the upcoming year, I will draw that line in the sand and will tell the school board members to expect the (phone calls of complaint) as the students and parents adjust accordingly,” he said.
Soft skills like dressing for success will be critical to these students’ future employ-ability.
One parent questioned the protocol to notify parents if a weapon is found on school grounds.
Two recent incidents, one with a toy gun at the Fairfield County Magnet School for Math and Science and the other with a sixth-grader who had a BB gun at Geiger Elementary, were discussed. Green said there is some leeway and discretion on the part of school principals where they use professional judgement on a case by case basis. Administrators must walk a line between causing undue alarm with parents and keeping parents informed.
If a loaded firearm were on campus, Green said the response and notification is clear cut for parents. The BB gun situation was handled within 10 minutes of the incident being reported and it occurred at the end of the school day with only one other student being involved, officials said.
Green thanked the city police and sheriff’s department for encouraging officers to stop by the schools while on patrol for an increased presence that is hoped will deter discipline problems or threats to children’s safety.
Lunch was the number one complaint reported to Green by his 12-member student advisory council. He empathized, noting that a balance needs to be reached between healthy food and filling, tasty food to make sure the students actually eat what is served.
The prevailing wisdom at the moment from the federal programming is that if the students are served the healthier fare long enough that they will become accustomed to it and eat it. Teenage obesity and juvenile diabetes are two areas with national implications that such programs target.
Another topic discussed was changes to a teacher evaluating system. Green said he was not in favor of the system that assigned a letter grade to teachers, even though that A-F grade would be required to be kept confidential.
He had several concerns with that plan that has been championed by State Superintendent of Education Mick Zais, mainly that part of a teacher’s grade could come from how other teachers at a school perform with a group of students in some scenarios.
The change also does not take into account the varying levels of student preparedness to learn and student motivation. Green has spoken with Zais on the matter and recommended that if teachers are evaluated that a student should be pretested and then the teacher be judged on student growth. He noted to concerned parents that while the guidelines of the Zais waiver have been approved, it is still a long way from happening in S.C. public schools.
Dr. Janet Mason spoke up from the audience to suggest that such a policy could lead to grade inflation. An atmosphere of rivalry versus collaboration could take place if teachers would earn more pay or more reward by teaching students ready to achieve.
If so, who would be willing to take on the task of special education or even of education of average students?
When asked the most important thing that community members could do is support of area students, Green did not hesitate.
“We need an increased community presence in and around our schools,” he said. Lunch buddy programs, mentoring programs and other volunteer programs are ways the community can help build the school system into a better system than in years past. He also called on parents and community members to support students’ utilizing after school enrichment programs and for parents to come out for seminars offered by the district.
The next of these town hall meetings is set for May 1.