Not long after I got here five years ago, several teachers came to meet with me to talk about Teacher Forum. At the time, I was picturing this to be the Kershaw County version of some sort of a Teacher Advisory Committee. I was very wrong. The Kershaw County Teacher Forum is so much more. It is a group that really promotes the development of teacher leaders who are ready to help take on tough issues and problems in their own schools, within the District and beyond. It is a model of teacher leadership that needs to be replicated across our state and beyond.
Teacher Forum in Kershaw County was the brainchild of two of our community’s most distinguished educators. In 1997, Rhonda Horton, who now teaches at Lugoff-Elgin Middle School, was the Kershaw County Teacher of the Year. At a state retreat and training session for local Teachers of the Year, she learned about the concept of Teacher Forum and thought it would be a great fit for Kershaw County. Over the next two years, Rhonda, supported by another one of Kershaw County’s most noted educators, Mary Ann Blaskowitz, took the initial steps to make Teacher Forum in Kershaw County a reality.
By 1999, the Kershaw County Teacher Forum was up and running at full speed and has kept up the momentum ever since. Teacher Forum today is made up of the most recent Teachers of the Year in each school led by a Leadership Council comprised of all former Kershaw County Teachers of the Year, the two most recent KCSD District Teachers of the Year first runners-up and six other individual school Teachers of the Year selected by their peers. In this way, the group continues to rejuvenate itself by bringing in new people and fresh ideas. The Teacher Forum seeks to give teachers an opportunity to develop their leadership potential, address important issues, boost teacher morale, motivate teachers, develop a countywide camaraderie for teachers and just plain have fun. It succeeds very well in all of these areas.
Since 1999, the Kershaw County Teacher Forum has had many noteworthy accomplishments. Teacher Forum takes the lead in the yearly recognition of School Board Appreciation Month. This group also presents a super opening of school celebration for everyone in the District as part of the opening week Instructional Fair, which was also a Teacher Forum initiative. Teacher Forum does a yearly dinner and program for induction teachers, providing tremendous motivation for these new colleagues. Another project of this group is the yearly “Cornbread and Issues” program, which invites our local legislative delegation members to talk one-on-one with these teachers about educational issues. Teacher Forum members also hold silent auctions at meetings and at the district Instructional Fair to raise funds for a scholarship presented annually to a Kershaw County student who plans to become a teacher. Funds are also raised to support the district’s Teacher Cadet classes.
Additionally, Teacher Forum successfully pushed for a local National Board Certification stipend, an area which unfortunately fell victim to the budget cuts of the past several years and needs to be restored as the budget recovers. Prior to the last statewide election, Teacher Forum partnered with Richland 2 to present a candidate forum for State Superintendent candidates, and more recently partnered with the Kershaw County Chamber of Commerce on candidate forums for the recent School Board elections.
Perhaps most notably, Teacher Forum organizes and presents the District’s annual recognition gala for our district Teacher of the Year and Principal of the Year. This gala is one of my favorite events, and the involvement of the Teacher Forum has helped it to remain a very credible and valued recognition within our District. Added to this program in recent years is the recognition of the District’s Outstanding First Year Teacher. Teacher Forum also initiated the “Golden Apple” program, which recognizes certified and classified employees at each school on a regular basis for going “above and beyond.”
I talked with Rhonda Horton and Mary Ann Blaskowitz about Teacher Forum, and one of the questions I asked both of them was about future directions for this group. Both talked about the need to continue working on the programs already in place including the development of teacher leaders and improvement of morale. They said that Teacher Forum will continue to help teachers become more aware and involved in critical legislative issues impacting education as well as how the legislative process works. They also talked about the need for the Kershaw County Teacher Forum to partner with other Teacher Forums in the state to move education in our state forward and to earn more respect for teachers.
A Source of Pride
The Kershaw County Teacher Forum is frequently cited as one of the state’s leaders. Under the current management of the Forum Leadership Council and district liaison Mary Anne Byrd, it is a source of pride in our District. Rhonda Horton, whose vision helped to create this group, told me that in addition to being named the District’s Teacher of the Year, starting Teacher Forum is one of the greatest accomplishments she is most proud of in her educational career.
She should be.
I’m always pleased to talk with community members about our schools. My direct dial phone number is 425-8916 and my email is email@example.com. 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.