Enquirer Herald

Clover School District is not ‘Us vs. Them’

I have spent the past 19 years as an employee of Clover School District. Fifteen of those years have been as administrator and principal of Clover Junior High, Clover Middle, and Clover High. I have served parents and students from Bethany to Lake Wylie, and I understand the strength of the educational partnership between all communities within our district.

I am also personally vested in Clover School District as a husband and parent. My wife is a counselor at Oakridge Middle, and I have children in elementary and middle school. I cannot help but be concerned by recent editorials intended to create division and competition between our communities when it comes to the education of our children.

As principal of Clover High, I have had the opportunity to travel across South Carolina and visit with parents, teachers, and administrators from many of the state’s 85 school districts. I cannot overstate the respect that our district and our high school command from our peers. That respect is based on student achievement, parental engagement, school facilities, and the fiscal and educational policy decisions made by our district administration and school board.

The achievement of our students is well documented. Eight of our nine schools’ (including CHS) and our district’s report cards have reflected several consecutive years of ‘Excellent’ ratings and Palmetto Gold Awards. This year, our district ranked fourth in the state in student achievement. In our recent accreditation process, CSD was given high praise by the AdvancEd team, and our school board was specifically cited as ‘Highly Effective,’ earning one of their highest scores issued.

The reason for the success of our individual schools and of our district as a whole is directly related to the efficacy of our school board, district administration, and respective school faculties, as well as our strong communities. The foundation of this success is the understanding that Clover School District is responsible to every student we teach, regardless of the community in which they reside. I encourage everyone to speak with your school board representative and attend a school board meeting. You will see, first hand, that each of our trustees represent all of the children and all of the communities within Clover School District, regardless of their individual precinct.

Ninth grade academy

Contrary to the information espoused in a recent opinion column, the creation of a ninth grade academy in the current Clover Middle building will create ‘meaningful separation’ as well as programmatic and curricular advantages for our ninth-graders. The proximity of the campus to CHS has no effect on that effort, except to ease students’ access and integration into high school clubs, fine arts activities, and athletics.

Some simple research within peer-reviewed educational literature reveals that ninth grade is the most critical year in a student’s high school career. Furthermore, an understanding of the academic and social transition students make from middle to high school underpins our plans to provide a state of the art, stand alone transition program for our ninth grade students.

The current ninth grade academy at CHS has proven to be successful in its current location as evidenced by our highest promotion rates to 10th grade, consistent growth in academic achievement, and consistent declines in discipline incidents. Furthermore, anecdotal and survey data from our ninth grade students and parents reflect strong support from those who have actually been a part of CHS and the academy.

Our new ninth grade academy will become more comprehensive in terms of meeting the unique needs of ninth grade students and parents while maintaining our ability to expose our ninth-graders to the realities of high school and to integrate them appropriately. Another benefit of the plan addresses the erroneous assertion that CHS will become a “super (sized) high school.”

When the new ninth grade academy opens in 2017, the current Clover High campus population will decrease by at least 25 percent. The academy will be smaller than either Oakridge or Clover middle schools. Size and student enrollment are directly addressed while maintaining the ability to provide the unmatched academic, vocational, co-curricular, and athletic offerings that could not be replicated in two, smaller high schools.

Rethink a bond referendum?

When the new York High School opened in 2010, the cost exceeded $100 million. The $67 million referendum that passed in March – a referendum that will provide a new elementary school, a new middle school, a renovated ninth grade academy, a new aquatics center, and needed improvements to existing athletics facilities – is $33 million less than the cost of York High alone. Think about the implications of the cost of that single project, which does not include annual operating costs.

York High is a beautiful facility. However, I know what our parents will expect when a new high school is built in our district, and to re-create the quality and quantity of our current high school offerings will exceed $100 million.

The recent bond referendum reflects the consistently solid decision-making that has come to define our district’s leadership. In my experienced opinion, to propose otherwise is short-sighted, uninformed, and dangerously selfish. The strength of our district is the partnership of the communities within it. To lose sight of that strength is the only requiem I fear.

Mark Hopkins is principal at Clover High School.