35 SC schools sign on to reform effort

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COLUMBIA — Nearly three dozen schools are participating in a business-driven initiative aimed at transforming South Carolina’s education system.

Business leaders with the nonprofit New Caro­lina on Tuesday named the 35 schools across 19 districts that are collaborating in its TransformSC initiative.

AT&T South Carolina President Pamela Lackey said business leaders understand the education system must do a better job of preparing students for today’s economy. The current model, she said, stems from a time when South Carolina relied on agriculture and
repetitive, nonskilled manufacturing jobs.

“It was designed in an era of manual typewriters and pencils,” said Lackey, a co-chairwoman of TransformSC and chairwoman-elect
of the state Chamber of Commerce. “We must design a new system to reflect new realities of life.”

She rattled off a list of sobering statistics: Despite gains, a quarter of South Carolina’s high school students still don’t graduate in four years, and 40 percent of graduates need to take remedial courses at technical schools before they’re ready for college classes, costing taxpayers an estimated $21 million a year. For the sake of South Carolina’s economy, that can’t continue, Lackey said.

All participating schools are working on innovative ideas for student learning. School officials submitted applications to TransformSC laying out their efforts.

They are among the hundreds of educators, business leaders, students and parents attending a two-day education summit in Columbia this week to jumpstart the effort.

The nonprofit will hire consultants for schools, but the initiative is not about money or revamping how schools are funded, Lackey said. The yearslong initiative is about linking educators to experts who can help their plans succeed and – beyond periodic conferences – providing an online network for educators to share their successes and struggles. The hope is that the successes can be replicated elsewhere.

The 19 districts represent less than a quarter of all districts statewide, but include a mix of urban, rural and suburban districts. The schools span all grade levels, from pre-kindergarten centers to high schools. The nonprofit expects more to join the initiative over the next year.

TransformSC’s board members will also take on an advocacy role, pushing for changes in state regulations or laws when they hinder innovation. The state Board of Education is already committed to providing waivers when it can, said Mike Brenan, co-chair of TransformSC and a state board member.

But he cautioned there is no single piece of legislation that will transform the system, and the nonprofit doesn’t want lawmakers to hijack the effort for politicking and create a model that’s pushed to the schools. The system needs to be developed by educators and refined for their areas, said Brenan, president of BB&T South Carolina and chairman of the state Chamber of Commerce.

“What we don’t want to happen is for the General Assembly or the governor to come up with the new TransformSC plan,” he said. “We’ve tinkered with this system too long.”


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