SCHOOL BELLS rang recently to bring an end to the 2000-2001 school year.
The bells served a dual purpose. They signified the 128th commencement since the founding of Aiken County Public Schools, and they resulted in a reflection for this superintendent of the successful efforts of school people, both of the past and present, to expose the children of Aiken County to the best education possible.
More specifically, the 2000-2001 school year ended with much good to be reflected upon. I relish the opportunity to express sincere appreciation to teachers, school administrators and support staff for all the significant things done (whether large or small) to create an environment in which children could learn - the Aiken County Board of Education and I thank you.
We worked with an aim each day to put in front of our students an opportunity to learn their lessons. If the student happened to have been a second grader (or third grader), the opportunity for him or her to learn how to read well would have been afforded. The student would have received direct instruction in reading, having been drilled in a variety of methods designed to produce independent readers. Methods such as phonics instruction, vocabulary development, written expression, word analysis, comprehension, etc., would have been employed.
If the student happened to have been a senior, he or she would have left high school (thanking teachers and parents as many of them did publicly at graduation) prepared with varying degrees of confidence to meet the challenges of higher institution of learning, the armed services, or the work force.
THIS SCHOOL system has been nurtured by this community, as a whole. We would not be able to boast the many accomplishments had it not been for the involvement of our parents and of practically every single business, industry and organization that has as its mission the enhancing of the quality of life for people of Aiken County - supporting a system that educates more than 93 percent of the county's children.
Together we can put promise where there has been little if any; and together we can create 25,000 samples of success, embodied in the children and the adults we serve.
This is our charge - this community expects this of us, and this is what we expect of ourselves.
The academic successes of our students reflect the quality of our school system:
Students in grades two through nine perform at levels that are significantly higher than the national average on nationally normed tests, as measured by the TerraNova. The average difference was eight points above the national average.
Students in grades three through eight performed better than their peers on the high stakes PACT - a rigorous state test in the areas of reading, language arts, and mathematics. Seventy-two percent of our students passed; students who fail to pass are provided academic assistance during school, after school or during the summer months. Our district is among the top-performing districts in the state.
Eighty-two percent of the tenth-graders passed the state exit examination in reading and 87 percent in mathematics on the first attempt. The data trend indicates that nearly 100 percent will pass the test in time to graduate in 2003.
High school seniors in this school district have improved over a five-year period at levels significantly higher than the state and the nation on the SAT - the district has shown a 21 point increase, the state a 15 point increase, and the nation a nine point increase. Students in the top 10 percent met the nation's top 10 percent score of 1197 on the SAT; students with recommended courses scored 1100, five points higher than their national counterpart; the average SAT for all seniors (regardless of their preparation level) was 992, a 12 point increase over the previous year.
Ninety percent of our students pass all courses attempted during their freshmen year of college.
High school students accumulate nearly 300 credits toward college each year.
Students in our schools have the highest attendance rate of the six largest districts in the state.
Teachers in Aiken County have one of the highest attendance rates in the state.
This school district has been selected for the fifth consecutive year as an award-winning school system by School Match, a non-profit Chicago-based research firm that reviews data from the nation's 15,893 school systems.
ONE WOULD be pressed to find a match for an educational system that exceeds this one by a significant degree. It is one in which the community has shown much pride. We will continue to do our part to be continuously deserving of this pride and will continue to implement creative and innovative ways to improve.
(Editor's note: The author is superintendent of Aiken County Public Schools.)