HARTSVILLE, S.C. – Members of the Greater Hartsville Chamber of Commerce got an update Friday on the state of education in Darlington County.

The chamber hosted its State of Education breakfast meeting at The Edition, the Hartsville Museum’s new expansion.

Speakers included Darlington County Superintendent of Education Tim Newman; South Carolina Governor’s School for Science and Mathematics President Hector Flores; Mark Roth, vice president of manufacturing, technology, and corporate workforce development at Florence-Darlington Technical College; and Coker College President Robert Wyatt.

The event was part of the chamber’s Champions for Education initiative, which seeks to open more channels of communication between business and schools, according to Quinetta Buterbaugh, president of the Greater Hartsville Chamber of Commerce.

Newman, who became superintendent of the Darlington County School District earlier this year, told the group that from his perspective as a newcomer, he sees Darlington County as having much to offer in terms of education. Darlington County, he said, “has a lot of great kids,” and a lot of great educational resources.

Newman gave an overview of the “four pillars” of education he said serve as the foundation for Darlington County’s approach to providing public education. Those are community, understanding district students, technology tools and weathering the storms.

“We’ve got to be intentionally focused on where our students are and where we want them to be,” Newman said. “We need to take care of all of our students.”

The key to using technology successfully in the classroom, he said, is ensuring that it is used in a way that helps students succeed academically.

He said the district has faced challenges so far this academic year, particularly with nine school days missed due to Hurricane Florence and Hurricane Michael.

“You’ve got to think about how difficult it is to get students back to where they were before the storm, to get them back to being ready to learn again,” Newman said. “It’s a tough job.”

This school year, the district switched to block scheduling for its students in grades nine through 12. That move, Newman said, will help students earn college credit while still in high school and will better prepare them for college.

But he also said a large percentage of students graduating from high school choose not to go to a traditional four-year college. And educators cannot overlook those students, he said.

“We have to help kids have a plan for after school,” Newman said.

He said the district has a program that collaborates with business and industry to provide mentorships for students. “We need to establish that connection now while they’re still in school,” he said.

Flores said the Governor’s School is celebrating its 30th anniversary this year and will have its 30th graduating class next spring.

Activities planned to celebrate the observance include an all-alumni reunion of GSSM graduates, Flores said.

The Governor’s School, he said, is working to attract and recruit the most talented students from throughout the state and develop them into global leaders who seek to build practical wisdom through a love of learning and knowledge.

“If we do our job, we’re going to build in young leaders the foundation to become global leaders,” Flores said.

He said the school is making changes in administrative structure and graduation requirements to meet the challenges posed by changes in academia.

Flores also said the school is enhancing its outreach programs to students around the state. “Every student in a GSSM program is a Govie,” he said.

Part of that involves a new initiative, GSSM Elementary, an effort aimed at exposing elementary age students around the state to opportunities offered by the Governor’s School.

Wyatt said Coker College, now in its 111th year, has its largest class of traditional students ever this year. But he also noted that most college students today are nontraditional students, including adults with business, professional and family responsibilities beyond their academic responsibilities. And Coker, he said, actively seeks to meet the needs of those students.

Coker currently offers five master’s programs, Wyatt said.

Wyatt noted that about 30 percent of the students in this year’s incoming class come from the Pee Dee region, significantly more than in previous years.

Roth said Florence-Darlington Technical College, which has a satellite campus in Hartsville, is alive and well under the leadership of its interim president, Ed Bethea.

He said FDTC’s goal is to ensure that every student who comes to the college understands rapidly changing technology in education and the workforce.

“You’ve got to get good at it, no matter what your job,” Roth said.

He said the college wants to know from its workplace partners what they are looking for in job skills for students.

The college also has agreements with four-year colleges that allow students to make the transition from technical college to a four-year institution as well as programs that allow high school students to earn college credits, Roth said.

Florence-Darlington Technical College, he said, has a positive impact on most of the educational institutions in the Pee Dee region.

Roth stressed the relationship between quality education at all levels and economic development. When a new business or industry considers locating in an area, he said, the top priority for many is the quality of education available in that area.

Co-sponsors for the event included Sonoco, Raceway Chevrolet and Coker College.

Source: The Associated Press

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