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A new school year!
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A couple of weeks ago after church, a rising first-grader I know came up to me and excitedly said, “I can’t wait for school to start!” I second that emotion, as I suspect will a number of parents by this point in the summer. In the past few weeks, our schools have been coming to life with athletic and band practices and teachers working in rooms. I want to thank everyone who has worked so hard all summer across our district to have everything ready for a new year. That being said, I usually get a lot of questions around this time about changes in the district coming with the start of the new year.

Gifted Education

One of the most exciting changes will be in how services for our gifted students will be provided. Starting this year, students will receive these services in their home schools versus being transported off site. This in itself will reduce the amount of instructional time that has been lost. We are also hopeful that having a gifted education specialist on staff in each elementary and middle school will promote greater collaboration between gifted education and the regular classroom. (Gifted children aren’t gifted just one day a week.) In addition, the curriculum for our gifted students has been revised and updated. I want to especially thank and commend the teachers in our gifted program, who have done some outstanding and very creative work on the curriculum. I believe these changes will help to make what has long been an excellent program even better.

Alternative Education

This year, a wider variety of options for students who are experiencing difficulty in the regular school environment will be available. These options will include a structured, separate virtual school on high school sites, an academy offered through Adult Education and the traditional Continuous Learning Center. The focus of the Continuous Learning Center will shift to students who are experiencing the most significant problems and will include additional and more intensive counseling services. Through these changes, we hope to tailor services more effectively to the needs of individual students. I would note that all of these changes were done by reallocating existing resources.

Technology

Our district has received a great deal of positive attention from across the nation over the past several years because of the i-Can one-to-one computer program in our high schools. This year, all of our high school students will receive Hewlett-Packard ElitePads, which include the functions of normal laptops in addition to touch screens. These devices will enable students to do all the normal productivity functions of laptops like word processing, spreadsheets and PowerPoint presentations, in addition to giving them access to the ever-increasing number of touch screen learning materials and resources that are now available.

At the elementary and middle school levels, computer labs and laptop carts have been upgraded and refurbished. After the start of the school year, class sets of iPads will be available for checkout to use in elementary and middle schools. Last year, bandwidth was significantly increased to promote faster access to Internet resources and to enable us to do more online testing at the high school level. Our technology staff has done a superlative job making all of this happen!

Facilities

The FY 2013-14 budget included funding to address maintenance that has been deferred during the economic downturn. A great deal of work took place during the summer and will continue as the school year progresses. This work includes painting, repaving, installation of security doors, replacement of carpet, refurbishment of practice fields, refinishing of gym floors and a variety of other areas. I am also extremely pleased that long-needed multi-purpose rooms at Stover and North Central middle schools were completed during the summer. Kudos to our maintenance and operations staff for their diligent work with these projects!

Communication

The district has had Parent Portal in place for the past several years, which allows parents to check grades and attendance online. Parents who would like to sign up to use Parent Portal should contact their students’ schools. Beginning this year, high school students will be able to have access to Parent Portal with their own user names and passwords.

In addition to school websites, all schools will be expected to have an active Facebook page. School Facebook sites were piloted last year and received great response. I continue to be very pleased with the way in which our schools are using the Internet to communicate with families and the community as a whole. Last year, our award-winning district website received more than 306,000 visits, about 42 percent more than the previous year. The district’s Facebook page (www.facebook.com/KershawCountySchoolDistrict) received more than 60,000 hits during the same time.

There’s a lot to be excited about as we embark on the 2013-14 school year. Let’s have a great year!

I’m always pleased to talk with community members about our schools. My direct dial phone number is 425-8916 and my email is frank.morgan@kcsdschools.net. Citizens can also contact me through the “Ask the Super” link on the homepage of the district Website. I also invite folks to read my “blog” and listen to the podcast I record after each school board meeting with meeting highlights. Both of these, and a whole lot more, can be accessed at www.kershaw.k12.sc.us.