If you’re a band student at any of Aiken County’s high schools, your superintendent has his eye on you.
He wants a state championship band, and it’s up to you to get it for him – and yourselves, your school, the district and the county.
That’s just one of the topics Dr. Sean Alford discussed last week in a sit-down interview with The Augusta Chronicle about a week before the new school year starts Aug. 15. He also talked about preparing students for college and the workforce, getting parents more involved, helping solve teachers’ problems and fixing or replacing old buildings.
Here are the questions and his answers, which have been edited for length and clarity:
Q: How will Aiken County schools increase or maintain parental involvement?
A: I begin by saying that parental involvement is very important to our process. I say all the time that a school will only be as great as the community demands it be. So involvement, I think, really helps us get a very clear understanding of what parents expect and what the community expects of us as an organization.
We have been able to institute parental advisory committees so I have an opportunity at least two to three times a year to meet with parents from across the community. There’s also opportunities for open dialogue with parents.
Also, we have intent this coming year to involve our advisory councils. We have geographically located advisory councils that are supposed to be community representatives as well and serve as a bridge or conduit to support the community’s desires and concerns in our daily operations. One of the things we’re going to ask them to do is make sure that we have a viable school improvement council and parent-teacher organization at every school.
Q: What is your vision for making sure the students are college- or career-ready?
A: Practice. If you want to develop a set of skills, you certainly have to have practice. We want students to graduate not only with a diploma, but we want them to graduate with a set of viable skills – a set of skills that someone’s willing to pay them for. That’s something that’s very important for us in our mission.
You’ll see that our community here in the recent past has revisited our strategic plan and our mission, and in that mission we really emphasize the importance of producing and supporting future-ready students.
Now, how do you do that? You stretch them with a rigorous academic expectation, you provide for them opportunities for service and service learning in support of their community, you provide them work-based learning opportunities so that they actually have an opportunity to get out and learn what the world of work is like.
Two- and four-year college will be the indicator of success for many of those students, but we have to help them understand that the whole purpose of two- and four-year college is that you continue to prepare yourself to be a contributing member in our society.
Q: You have put an emphasis on branding, seen recently in the process of designing and choosing a logo for the school system. How does that help students and teachers?
A: Clarity of mission, I believe, but then also unity. One of the greatest challenges for a school district that’s geographically as large as we are is that it’s very, very tough to establish a singular mission and to be able to articulate that mission with a very clear expectation so that individuals know what our mission and organization are about.
So in that effort to brand we really want folks to understand, first and foremost, that we are one team. We may be composed of multiple communities, but as an organization we have a responsibility to provide a high-quality educational experience to every child. And you’ll see those things being represented in that flame and that book (symbols in the school system logo). Those to us are universal symbols of wisdom, scholarship, achievement – all the things we really want our students to strive toward.
Q: Last year, school officials said half of the district’s buildings are 40 to 60 years old, with nearly 6 percent of classrooms housed in portable units. The state average for classrooms in portables is about 1 percent. What is the system doing to address that?
A: The facility challenges of our district are well documented.
We can’t be anything but thankful to the community for trusting us with that positive vote as relates to the 1-cent sales tax initiative, and I hope that at this point folks are starting to see the benefits of that positive vote. The projects are on time and under budget for the most part. Because of very wise fiscal management, we actually were able to move some projects up a little faster than the original timeline.
We are in the beginning stages, though, of considering growth in the community. For example, that Midland Valley area, Graniteville (are) bursting at the seams. We are in the beginning stages of having those types of conversations because not only now do we face a circumstance where we have older buildings like Hammond Hill, Millbrook Elementary, we still have those buildings that are 40 to 60 years old. But we’re also facing now and in the near future a population surge.
So we’ve got a lot to consider and we’ll work with board and work with our community as we begin to find a couple more details in how we go forward.
Q: What’s a subject that’s not in the curriculum that you would like to add?
A: I would like to enhance our emphasis on fine and performing arts and foreign languages. That’s not to say they’re not there, because they are. They have just not been emphasized in the recent past.
We live in a global society. Anyone who doesn’t believe that is just fooling themselves. For our students to be competitive, not only at the state level (and) locally but also globally, they have to acquire a second language.
It’s my goal for us to have a state championship band. I want to have a state championship band. I enjoy going to Williams-Brice and supporting our teams there, I enjoy going to the Colonial Center and supporting those teams. When we have a cultural event downtown, I want to see one of our high school orchestras performing there.
Q: Anything you’d like to add?
A: Really, it’s my honor to serve in this capacity. I haven’t been here very long but I’ve a developed a very, very strong bias for the citizens and the students here in Aiken County. We have people, we have programs, we have partners that are beyond compare, not only in this region but also in this state.