Despite a precarious financial situation, Fort Mill school leaders are setting ambitious goals for the near future.
Among them: Offer families more educational options, possibly by turning campuses into magnet schools. Use existing resources to catch struggling students up to their peers. Devise a way to hold teachers accountable by measuring their effectiveness more accurately.
When any of these plans might take effect is unclear.
School board members and administrators gathered at board member Wyndie Havnaer's lakefront home in Fort Mill on Saturday afternoon to hash out future objectives.
They discussed what they think the school system does well - outperforms districts across the state, offers "balanced opportunities" to students, boasts a high level of parent involvement, has a low rate of staff turnover.
"We've pumped a lot of resources into the classroom over the last 10 years, not administration," Superintendent Chuck Epps said.
"Our biggest strength is our teachers," Assistant Superintendent Marty McGinn said.
But all agreed some areas need improvement.
One of the most pressing issues is struggling students, specifically in middle school.
During the last two years, the district has eliminated specialists in math and reading who worked with middle school students who fell behind their classmates. Officials also cut Reading Recovery, an intensive one-on-one literacy program for first-graders who struggle with reading, at several campuses.
Officials said a shrinking stream of state money for education forced them to make those decisions.
Over the summer, the school board voted to curb more than $5 million in spending by sending employees on unpaid leave, cutting programs and charging families fees.
"If you are a high level student in our district, you picked the right place to live," school board member Michael Johnson said. "But ... are we doing enough to get those bottom kids up? I often feel that we don't do that as well as we could.
"When I hear it's seven kids, eight kids or 20 kids (struggling in a school), something could be done to help those 20 kids."
Although the group didn't go into specifics, Epps and McGinn, in an interview after the meeting, said each school is crafting a plan to target struggling students. While elementary schools still have reading and math specialists, middle school teachers likely will tutor students before and after school.
"We've just got to figure out how to do it a different way," Epps said. "We've just got to drop back and re-strategize."
The group discussed several other plans for the future, including:
Offering more educational choices through magnet schools. Nothing is certain, but Epps said some examples could include single-gender courses at one school while another focuses on science and math and another for gifted and talented.
Gauging teacher effectiveness more accurately by using a combination of student test scores, teacher evaluations and parent surveys. Use the results to set goals for teachers.
Boosting the number of high school students who enroll in Advanced Placement courses.
Creating a hall of fame of exceptional Fort Mill educators from the past and present. Possibly name classrooms after them.
Launching a Facebook page for the district that would provide useful information and "pump out good news."
Launching an online program that lets students submit homework electronically.
While officials didn't set any target deadlines, the group agreed to prioritize the goals and follow up in coming weeks.