Programs funded by a grant obtained by Kershaw County following the 2007 gang-related shooting death of a high school student now employ 41 full- and part-time residents. It has helped reduce recidivism at the Kershaw County School District’s (KCSD) Continuous Learning Center (CLC), provided “targeted” counseling to 2,900 students and created a positive behavioral program that will be expanded to all middle schools.
The county applied for the $5.7 million Safe Schools/Healthy Students (SS/HS) grant, with the KCSD acting as its administrator, after Camden High School student Michael Smith died in a gang-related shooting in December 2007. Kevin Rhodes, the KCSD’s SS/HS Initiative Director updated the Kershaw County Board of School Trustees on the program’s success during its regular meeting Tuesday night.
Rhodes said after Kershaw County evaluated if it had gang-related issues and what it would do about them, KCSD applied for the SS/HS grant. The program has since turned into a five-year, $6 million dollar project, he said. In 2010, the district secured an additional $300,000 to create a mentoring program and whatever money isn’t used within the four years can be used to sustain the program’s fifth year. Rhodes said recidivism at the CLC has decreased from 20 percent to 6.5 percent and 58 students are currently receiving one-on-one mentoring services through the SS/HS grant. He said a program called Positive Behavior Interventions and Supports PBIS has brought about a 17.5 percent decrease in disciplinary referrals in KCSD elementary schools. The program has been so successful, it will be implemented in all KCSD middle schools and CLC next school year. The SS/HS grant currently funds about 12 different programs and has active programs in every school in the district.
This year, district officials challenged Rhodes to connect the dots. What has been the effect of SS/HS in Kershaw County? KCSD Superintendent Dr. Frank Morgan said the “genius” of the grant is that the district was able to contract with professionals within community.
“The impact has been profound” Rhodes said during the meeting.
During an interview Wednesday, Rhodes explained that choosing to manage the project externally versus internally, like some of the other districts in South Carolina, gave KCSD an extra edge:
“The strength of this program is the community partners. This program is multi-faceted and we have multiple solutions for children. We have solutions for almost every combination of challenges. Why recreate a service that’s already there? Why start an after-school program from the ground up, when we have Boys & Girls Club? Why hire a substance abuse specialist when we have the ALPHA Center? It is a huge advantage that we have community partners.”
The SS/HS grant has an enormous impact in each and every KCSD school building, Rhodes said during his presentation.
ALPHA Center Executive Director Paul Napper told trustees there is no doubt Rhodes was the “perfect pick” to direct the SS/HS initiative.
“It’s the most inclusive grant I’ve ever seen,” he said. “Every agency in this county has never had access to KCSD students like they have now.”
Next year, the Boys & Girls Clubs of the Midlands will expand their influence into Kershaw County by creating four additional after-school centers at no cost to the project. The district recently applied for a $340,000 grant to implement an after-school program at Camden Middle School. Later in the month, it will submit a proposal for a $1.2 million grant that would help school-based counselors.
SS/HS funding will end in 2014. All programs are currently being evaluated for sustainability.
The board discussed implementing school uniforms in some KCSD schools. Trustee Kim DuRant, of Bethune, requested the board look at information concerning school uniforms and dress codes in other counties and has kept the idea of school uniforms alive among board members this year. DuRant read a quote from her seventh-grade daughter’s school project, which said, “Everyone would be seen as equal and wouldn’t feel the need to fit in.”
Morgan presented the board with Lancaster County’s school dress policy requiring school uniforms in its middle schools. In an interview, DuRant said dress codes are a good way to maintain a level of social equality among students.
“There are many schools that have dress codes and they work well,” she said. “In a rural area, you are going to have a very diverse group of people. Uniformity brings about a sense of pride and loyalty when students are wearing their school colors.”
Durant said she likes the idea of implementing a dress code requiring students to wear their school’s colors at the middle school level, but would not want to regulate where students got the clothes from. A stricter dress code would not only protect children who have less, but children who have more, she said, adding that all board members agree it has to be a community effort.
“If parents aren’t in on it, it won’t work,” DuRant said. “It’s got to be a community effort.”
Trustee Jim Smith, of Cassatt, said uniforms and/or a stricter dress code would be a great thing for Kershaw County, but would be “against it if it comes out of the general fund.”
“(Uniforms) would be a good thing if we could enforce it and fund it, but we can’t afford it,” Smith said.
His concerns are that the district would have to pay for uniforms for those who couldn’t afford them, and that enforcing the dress code would take time away from academics.
“The time it takes to make sure it’s done and done right is a problem. If a kid comes in without the correct uniform you have to send them to the office. That takes away from instructional time and ties up the teacher’s time,” Smith said in an interview.
However, he also thought dress codes would be beneficial not only to students whose families were struggling financially, but those who were well off.
“We have the best board in the world and if I have a board member that feels adamantly about it I will support them,” Smith said.
Morgan said if trustees do implement any kind of stricter dress code, he would have a lawyer approve it to make sure it does not violate any first amendment issues.
In addition the board discussed new changes regarding the 2012-2013 budget:
• The S.C. Senate recently proposed a 2 percent salary increase, plus a 2 percent step increase for teachers only, with no mandate for other employees. The S.C. House, however, had mandated a 2 percent increases for all employees, with no step increase. KCSD’s current budget proposes funding a 2 percent salary increase for all employees. $1.2 million in additional revenue would be given the district to pay for step increases, including $497,000 based on “hold harmless,” a provision that would make sure districts are not negatively impacted by the new Index of Taxpaying Ability (ITA). After calculating step increases for teachers and other employees, as well as fringe benefits, the district estimated it would use about $1 million dollars. Extra funds, currently approximated at $188,000 would be saved for other purposes including media center funding, extra-curricular funding, coaching stipends and facility and technology maintenance.
• The board acknowledged its District Teacher of the Year, First Alternate Teacher of the Year and Outstanding First-Year Year Teacher of the Year; Baron DeKalb Elementary’s School Improvement Council; State Superintendent Writing Contest winners, Tierney Peterson of Jackson Elementary School and Morgan Kelly of North Central Middle School; and the Lugoff-Elgin High School Percussion Ensemble.
• Clifton Harryton Anderson spoke about his mentoring journey with kids at North Central High School during the Public Forum time.