Students entered their classrooms at the new Camden Elementary School (CES) on Jan. 8. Two weeks later, on Tuesday, Jan. 22, many of those same students, their parents, teachers, administrators and various VIPs held a grand opening celebration. The ceremony included introductory remarks from Principal Carol Przybyla, the Camden High School color guard, musical selections by CES students, a presentation of a “key to the school” by Mosley Architects and remarks from several officials.
The ceremony began at 6 p.m., the same time the Kershaw County Board of School Trustees normally meets at the Kershaw County School District (KCSD) offices. Ojn Jan. 22, however, with the board attending the ceremony, trustees held their meeting at 7 p.m. on the CES multipurpose room’s stage (see accompanying story).
“Six years ago, when I interviewed for this position with the district, it (the building) was just a dream of the district and Dr. Frank Morgan,” Przybyla said of the former district superintendent who retired in 2018. “Thanks to his tenacity, and the support of the school board, district, school staff, our parents, businesses and the Camden community, we are standing here tonight, dedicating this amazing school.”
Przybyla noted that the school has a long history and “special relationship” with the Camden community. According to the evening’s program, the founding of the school can be traced back to a two-room schoolhouse -- one room for boys, the other for girls -- established in 1822. More than 70 years later, Principal Robert M. Kennedy founded Camden Graded School in 1893 in a two-story domed structure facing north on Laurens Street that would later become Camden High School.
According to this history, in 1922, Camden Grammar School was built on the block bordered by Lyttleton, Laurens and Fair streets with 21 classrooms. The three-story building was later renamed Camden Primary School. A 1955 addition added a two-story wing and the original three-story structure was razed in 1982 for a modern facility with a central courtyard. That is now the “old” CES students attended until winter break in December.
In August 2002, the school’s name was changed again to Camden Elementary School of the Creative Arts (CESCA) under the leadership of Principal Lee Walker. The school focused on arts as playing a “strong role in a well-rounded education.”
The new school is set on the grounds of the original Camden Graded School, and includes a cupola reminiscent of the original building. With state of the art equipment, the new 94,000-square-foot building is now the home of what has been renamed simply Camden Elementary School.
To make her point of the school’s place in Camden’s history, Przybyla asked the following groups of people to stand:
• anyone who had attended the previous iterations of the school, notably CESCA and Camden Primary;
• anyone who’s parents or grandparents had attended the school;
• anyone who had taught at CES in the past;
• former CES administrators; and
• current CES students and staff members.
“Just looking at the number who stood, you can see that this school has, in some way, touched on everyone in this building tonight,” Przybyla said.
She also noted that the district and school board made sure that the new CES blended architecturally with surrounding buildings in the city.
“What we have here is a beautiful new building that blends right into the surrounding neighborhood, making it look like it was always here,” she said.
Przybyla said the staff understands that connection to the community and worked ahead of Tuesday’s ceremony to gather artifacts, photographs and other items from the 1922-era building on forward, including two time capsules. She said the capsules were removed from the courtyard of the Lyttleton Street building.
“One was buried in 1984, opened in 2009 and reburied in 2010 along with another time capsule that is scheduled to be opened in 2035,” Przybyla said, adding that students will assist in reburying the capsules this spring along with a third one filled with items selected by current 5th Graders.
Przybyla then thanked members of Camden City and Kershaw County councils, past and present school board members, past and present superintendents, Mosley Architects and Thompson Turner Construction, as well as the current school staff and community.
“Thank you for making it possible for our students to have the opportunity to work, learn and play in a safe and secure, high tech, 21st century school,” she said. “This school has so much untapped potential, and we are excited to see what the future holds for all our present and future Camden Elementary School students.”
Following one of the musical selections and a prayer from school board Chaplain Trustee Derrick Proctor, KCSD Superintendent Dr. Shane Robbins remarked that getting to Tuesday night was the culmination of a “long year’s work.” He introduced a number of people on hand, including school board members; former Trustee Louis Clyburn, whom Robbins said had a hand in the planning process for the new CES; Morgan; representatives from Mosley Architects and Thompson Turner; and former CES Principal Floyd Thompson.
Robbins also recognized State Rep. Laurie Slade Funderburk and State Sen. Vincent Sheheen, a CES alumni, who served as the evening’s keynote speaker.
“An interesting fact, that I found out today, his was one of the last classes to attend high school on the current property that we are dedicating tonight,” Robbins said. “So, it’s probably a good thing that we tore down the old (high school) building, Sen. Sheheen, as the walls cannot talk now.”
Sheheen at CES CeremonyRemarks by State Sen. Vincent Sheheen during the Jan. 22, 2019, grand opening ceremony at Camden High School.
Sheheen started off by remarking on the number of people -- an estimated 500 or so -- who turned out to celebrate the opening of the new CES.
“You know, Camden Elementary is not just a school. Camden Elementary is a community,” he said. “And that’s why we’re all here today. I believe in giving thanks and giving due to the people who deserve it and while there are a lot of elected officials up here, there are even more important people in the audience.”
Sheheen recognized three of those people, starting off with Floyd Thompson, who he said was “my principal” saying “there was no kinder, gentler, firmer, tougher principal I ever had.” He also recognized B.J. Culp, his 3rd Grade teacher at CES.
“My reflections on B.J. Culp are allowing us out for hot, sweaty recesses because there was no air conditioning in the building, and coming back and listening to her beautiful voice read ‘Charlie and the Chocolate Factory,’” Sheheen said. “B.J. Culp left me a very kind note one day toward the end of my 3rd Grade career and that note said, ‘Vincent, one day you will be a leader in South Carolina,’ and B.J., I remember you said, ‘and governor of South Carolina.’ You came pretty close, B.J.!”
Third, Sheheen recognized his 1st Grade teacher, Emily McGuirt, who did not appear to be present that night. The senator recounted how he would, as a little boy in 1st Grade, every morning, claim he had to use the restroom only to skip down to the teacher’s lounge and use a rotary phone to call his mother.
“And Ms. McGuirt would come down, she was so kind and she would hold my hand and walk me back to the classroom, and that’s what a community does,” Sheheen said.
He also talked about how when the three-story building was still standing, that was “mighty scary because we couldn’t go on the third floor because there were ghosts on the third floor.”
On the other hand, he also talked about how CES is solidly a part of the community because his grandfather, father and his own three sons all attended the school.
Sheheen then went back to 1st Grade again, remembering how the 2nd and 3rd Grade students seemed so much bigger, including a 2nd Grade boy who punched him in the stomach.
While Sheheen didn’t reveal who that 2nd Grader was, he did say someone came to his rescue.
“I looked up and there was my tall, incredibly strong 3rd Grade sister, Maria, with her bookbag hitting that boy on the head, keeping him off of me,” he said.
Sheheen said he told these stories because everyone who attended or sent their children to, taught or otherwise worked at CES has stories of their own. He remembered his parents attending four-hour long parent-teacher organization meetings, attending school carnivals and even trips to the principal’s office.
“I didn’t know it at the time, but we were one of the first classes to go from start to finish -- from 1st Grade to high school in integrated classrooms. I remember that Camden Elementary School was filled with white kids and black kids, rich kids and poor kids -- kids who didn’t know anything but going to school together and we’re a better community for it, and when I look out into this crowd, I believe it” Sheheen said, eliciting a round of applause from the audience. “Camden High School was the crucible that helped form the man that I am today, but Camden Elementary School was the place where I learned that people cared, loved and felt for each other.”
Following Sheheen’s remarks, Funderburk presented Przybyla with South Carolina and American flags that have flown over the S.C. State House that will be flown at CES. School board Chairman James Smith led the audience in reciting a service of dedication for the school.
The ceremony ended with Bill Laughlin of Moseley Architects presented Przybyla with a “key to the school,” and a ribbon cutting in front of the gymnasium doors leading to the school’s main hallway, after which most of those present took tours of the new school.