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Anti-gang grant efforts taking hold

Posted: December 16, 2010 5:03 p.m.
Updated: December 17, 2010 5:00 a.m.
Ashley Lewis Ford/C-I

Before Tuesday's school board meeting, outgoing trustees (from left) Andy James, Sherri Brosius and Dr. Charles King II were honored for their years of service during a reception at Camden Middle School.

Two years and nine days.

That’s how much time has passed since 17-year-old Michael Smith was gunned down in a Camden parking lot during a gang-related shooting.

His death sparked an outrage in Kershaw County and resulted in a federal four-year $5.7 million grant, the result of collaboration between the Kershaw County School District (KCSD) and numerous county community leaders.

During Tuesday’s Kershaw County Board of School Trustees meeting, Safe Schools/Healthy Schools (SSHS) Project Director Kevin Rhodes said local residents will be able to see the direct impact the grant will have on Kershaw County students of all ages.

“When we last met in July, we were completing two summer activity programs at Camden First United Methodist and Emmanuel United Methodist. That was all the implementation that we had at that point. Everything else was in the pre-planning stage or the pre-implementation stage,” Rhodes said. “I’m very happy to report that we’ve made significant progress since then.”

Within the last several months, the grant has helped fund an additional three after-school programs and five youth court sessions, restored the Juveniles Experiencing Excellence Program (JEEP), and hired three school resource officers to serve 11 elementary schools.

“Which is really kind of important because it sets that positive role model for the kids,” Rhodes said. “In addition, all resource officers in Kershaw County have been given a curriculum that they are to follow, which is the ‘Too Good for Drugs and Violence’ curriculum that we are employing from kindergarten through 10th grade.”

Additionally, Rhodes said a substance abuse intervention specialist and three transition and truancy specialists have been hired, as well as three out of five additional school-based mental health counselors who are based at the Continuous Learning Center, Camden and Lugoff-Elgin High schools and Lugoff-Elgin Middle School.

With the implementation of the new Positive Behavior Intervention Support monitoring, Rhodes said the school district administration will also be able to “get ahead of the curb in terms of discipline.”

For example, Rhodes said that there has been a significant drop in the number of bus referrals at Doby’s Mill Elementary School this year. During this time last year, he said, the school had 76 bus referrals.

As of now, they only have 36 bus referrals.

“We drilled down a little bit tighter and found that out of those 36 bus referrals, 27 of them were on a particular bus. That’s information that bus drivers can use to find out what’s happening on that bus,” he said, adding that the large number of referrals on one bus could be attributed to a number of factors. “I don’t have the answer to that, but that gives the administrators the tools that they need to find the answer.”

And thanks to an additional $300,000 mentoring grant awarded to Kershaw County, a coordinator has already been hired through United Way of Kershaw County.

Implementation, Rhodes added, is planned to begin in January.

But even with all of the recent implementations, Rhodes said there is still plenty of work that needs to be done.

For example, plans to upgrade the bus security camera systems to a digital standard in 104 of the school district’s school buses are still being finalized.

Also, with First Steps of Kershaw County approving a proposal for early childhood services, a contract has already been drafted to employ a full-time “Conscious Discipline” Coordinator to assist six pre-kindergarten classrooms to promote readiness for kindergarten, as well as two parents as teachers to follow the “Born to Learn” curriculum to 40 at-risk families in Kershaw County.

“Those are the last two pieces of the original plan that have yet to be deployed,” Rhodes said. “We’ve come a long way.”

In other school board news, trustees approved the 2011-12 school calendar and received the 2010-11 budget book. KCSD Superintendent Dr. Frank Morgan said the budget book will be placed online.

Also, because of the additions and savings of several projects funded by the Installment Plan Purchase (IPP), the board approved resolutions that documented those project changes. KCSD Chief Financial Officer Donnie Wilson said the additional projects were possible due to lower-than-projected costs on the original projects, as well as additional interest earnings.

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