CHESTER — Charles King is Chester County schools new associate superintendent for curriculum and instruction.
Amid the recession and cuts in state money, the school system of 12 campuses and 5,500 students left that job empty to save money.
Agnes Slayman, who became superintendent earlier this year, hired King to target student achievement and support educators efforts.
King, 50, previously worked in Kershaw County schools for 13 years. He has been a middle and high school teacher, a high school assistant principal and an elementary and middle school principal.
He served as a school board member and owns a health club, Atlas Gym and Fitness Center in Camden. He started work in Chester in July.
You will not find a stauncher, more vocal advocate for public education than I am, King said.
One of his primary tasks is preparing the district to be evaluated by a team from Advancing Excellence in Education Worldwide, or AdvancED, the worlds largest school accreditation group.
King talked with The Herald about his new job and what he plans to do for the district:
What about this job appealed to you?
The demographics are fairly similar to Kershaw County, but its about half the size. It was very appealing to come into a brand new position ... to help a little district improve.
I knew that there had been somewhat of a void in the department of instruction. Chester, if you look at the historical performance data, has done well. Lewisville High, for example, has done great.
Theres the potential to blow the roof off with regard to student achievement.
Im a huge believer that poverty is not an excuse when you start talking about student achievement. The challenge is finding ways to overcome. The sky is the limit. You just have to get the right chemistry, the right teachers in a building.
Being able to walk in fresh, I feel like you can do so much. You actually feel like you can make a difference.
When you arrived in Chester County schools, what did you see? What encouraged you? What challenges did you see?
I am hugely impressed with the amount of passion that our folks in the classroom have.
Ive been in classrooms multiple times. Teachers have been teaching and students have very evidently been learning. Ive also been very impressed with the leadership of the schools. The principals are so passionate, and theyre so in it for the right reasons. It just oozes out.
In this economic period of time, were having to work smarter and harder. Im very impressed with the folks (in the district) doing that. Were still cut to the bone, position-wise.
As far as needs, weve still got huge budgetary concerns to deal with. A couple of our facilities need to be replaced or upgraded at some point. Chester High would be one. It is no secret that its a logistical nightmare to manage kids there. There are 65 exit doors there.
What have you been doing since you started ?
I have met with principals. Weve been doing some evaluation and goal-setting. I ask them, What do you need? What can I do for you? I say, Please call us. Well do whatever you need. Well do our best to get it for you.
I have been meeting with folks from USC Lancaster, York Tech, the Chamber of Commerce and peers that I have in other districts getting familiarized with others involved in the process.
I ask every group Ive met with four questions:
• Where have you been?
• Where are you now?
• Where do you want to be?
• How do you plan to get there?
Why is it important for the district to seek accreditation through AdvancED?
Some schools have accreditation, but the district has never been accredited before, districtwide.
What I like about the process is, its five standards that we have to assess ourselves under: mission, governance, teacher and assessment, the support systems we have, like transportation and food service. Were going to evaluate ourselves from inside out, upside down, top up and say, What do we need to do? What strategies, priorities, resources do we need to make ourselves better?
Then you let people come in from outside of the state. Will we come out in a stellar mode? Maybe not. But its all going to make us better as a unit.
Its a very thorough evaluative process that looks at every little facet of our operation as a district. I see it as an energizing process. Its pretty cool.
As a gym owner, do you consider yourself a fitness buff? How does that influence your perspective on education?
I exercise at least six times a week. Im a tournament-level racquetball player. What Ive done most is triathlons. I did a 140.6-mile ironman triathlon. It took me 16 hours.
Health is a big concern for me. Weve got a huge problem with obesity. I would like to take that on as a platform for the district.
This is the first generation that wont outlive us ... mostly because of obesity and poor nutrition. These problems that were seeing now with obesity are only going to make things worse if we dont get a handle on it.
There is a smorgasbord of foundations that will come and offer information on better nutrition. I would like to encourage bolstering our physical education programs. Those are positions we dont need to cut.
We need to treat this epidemic almost as hard as we did D.A.R.E. and Say No to Drugs. Were just going to have to have a real hard focus on it.
Shawn Cetrone 803-329-4072