As superintendent of Columbia County schools, Dr. Sandra Carraway makes students her priority. With multiple issues facing public schools across the country, Carraway knows that providing a good environment for students to learn and express ideas isn’t easy.
“Not all students enjoy school or even want to be there, but our goal would be that because they are there they would say, ‘You know, those people in that school building care about me and want me to do the very best I can do and for that reason I want to come here,’” she said.
Carraway is not blind to the issues facing her schools at the start of the 2017-2018 year on Monday. In an interview with The Augusta Chronicle, she shared her outlook on possible cuts in federal funding, issues with Board of Education vice-chairman Mike Sleeper allegedly lying about his military service and what excites her about her job.
How is the school district preparing now for the growth that is coming to Columbia County?
Every year for the last 10 or 15 years, we grow anywhere from 300 students to 700 students. We’ve built about 17 new buildings over the last 15 years. Some of those were replacing old facilities. This year we are opening two new schools — Grovetown Elementary and Harlem Middle. When we’re building these schools we’re also building them much larger so that we can accommodate growth in the area. Thankfully, our county has voted for the E-SPLOST every time they’ve had the opportunity, and those funds have made it possible for us to build buildings and do classroom additions so that the majority of our students do get to come to school in a brick and mortar building instead of portable classrooms. We do have portable classrooms at some of our high schools and very few in our elementary schools. By-and-large, our students fit into the buildings we have available.
Where students are learning isn’t the important part. The important part is the quality of the classroom, teacher and instruction that takes place every day.
If the proposed cuts are made to the federal education budget, how would those cuts affect Columbia County?
Public schools receive a fairly significant amount of money for schools that have high poverty students. And if they were to cut those funds, it would significantly impact our ability to meet those students’ needs because with those funds we would generally hire additional staff, specifically teachers, so that we could have smaller class sizes in those schools. If we have those additional funds, we can provide more teachers, more instructional materials that can help them. Also, federal funds are a big portion of special needs programs so for special needs teachers and students. So, I would say that while there is a lot of talk to cut that kind of funding at the national level, I would venture to say that, in all likelihood, it won’t happen.
What is your response to some of the criticism of charter schools such as the new SAIL program starting in Columbia County this year?
Note: SAIL is not part of the Columbia County School District. The school applied through the state charter school commission and received approval to open in Columbia County.
In a perfect world, the idea of charter schools is positive because if you were a student that was stuck in a very low-performing school, you would have a choice to go to a better school that could offer you a better quality education. Unfortunately, the majority of charter schools aren’t open to those very students who would benefit from it most.
Some would argue, and I would agree with them, charter schools create a dual-system of the “haves” and the “have-nots” because if you have the means, you can go to those schools so that leaves behind in the public schools anyone who didn’t have that option. They are created to give students a better education than what they could receive in the public schools but if you look around at the kinds of charter schools that are actually being created, they’re not serving that purpose.
What is the status of allegations against Mike Sleeper lying about his military service?
You would need to ask him that question.
What type of action could the board of education take if he does admit to lying?
Let me just say that, from my perspective, it’s my job to provide the very best education for students in a safe, positive environment and that’s my focus, and I’ll be glad to talk about anything related to that.
What do you hope for teachers this year?
As a teacher, I love students and want to see them excel and so for teachers I hope they’re eager to be here and to have the opportunity to be here 180 days a year to give students their very best because we’re working on preparing students for life after high school and be productive citizens.