COLUMBIA -- The Allendale County school district avoided a second state takeover Wednesday, despite its failure to enact a list of improvements at one struggling school.
State Superintendent of Education Jim Rex said the move does not mean the state which took over the Allendale school district from 1999 to 2007 at a cost of more than $11 million is out of the business of running failing schools. But, he added, it will do so only as a last resort.
Two failing schools were called before the state Board of Education Wednesday. Fairfax Elementary in Allendale and Mount Pleasant Middle in Lee County avoided state takeover. But if they do not improve within coming months, the state still could take control, Rex said.
"There were enough extenuating circumstances that we decided to put (these schools) on a short leash but give them another chance," Rex said.
At Fairfax Elementary in Allendale, leaders responsible for the problems have left or been fired, Rex said.
Replacements include a new superintendent with 40 years of experience, a new principal with more than 30 years of experience, and a curriculum coordinator who will write lesson plans for inexperienced teachers.
New Fairfax principal Dewey Carey, who has been charged before with reviving similar rural, low-income schools in Georgia, said he can turn the school around.
"By no means will I tolerate incompetence in the classroom," Carey said. "You hurt too many children in the classroom if you do that."
Impressed by Carey and the other new staffers, the state Education Board took a state takeover off the table and, instead, voted to admonish publicly the Allendale and Lee school boards for "failing to provide support and direction" to the schools.
It is the first time since the passage of accountability standards for S.C. schools that the state board publicly has reprimanded a local board.
However, Allendale school board chairman Alonzo Frazier said the state is responsible for much of his school district's failings.
In 1999, the state declared a state of emergency in Allendale schools and took over day-to-day district operations. Under a 2005 agreement, the state remained in charge to varying degrees until June 30, 2007.
During that time, test scores and other performance measures improved but remained low.
"Now, we're being reprimanded for problems that existed when the state was in charge for something that happened outside of school board control," Frazier said.
He said the school district is working to rebuild confidence within the community after an unwanted takeover that created high turnover among teachers and principals.
State officials fired back that the Allendale school board is being admonished for failing to enact an improvement plan last fall after control was returned to the local school board.