Enquirer Herald

S.C. schools leader talks about ‘project-based’ learning in Western York County visit

Molly Spearman, state Superintendent of Education, visits with York schools Superintendent Vernon Prosser Thursday during a York and Clover chamber event.
Molly Spearman, state Superintendent of Education, visits with York schools Superintendent Vernon Prosser Thursday during a York and Clover chamber event. news@enquirerherald.com

A move toward hands-on, project-based education is key to engaging students in learning and helping them see its relevance, S.C. Education Superintendent Molly Spearman told Western York County leaders Thursday.

Spearman shared her vision of how South Carolina schools can better prepare students with about 50 people during a joint luncheon hosted by the Greater York and Clover chambers of commerce.

“It’s exciting,” Spearman told the crowd at Filbert Presbyterian Church. “No discipline problems, when they’re engaged in what they are doing. . .This is bubbling up all over South Carolina, and it’s coming from teachers who see how much more engaged the students are.”

Spearman, elected in November to lead the S.C. Department of Education, talked about a future where it’s a priority to “personalize education” for every student, and where every district has “one school that is a project-based learning center.”

She said project-based learning looks different than a traditional classroom where the teacher stands up front and lectures. Students push desk together and work in small groups, she said.

The former music teacher also touched on school funding problems, testing issues, the importance of arts in education and her department’s vision of the 21st-century graduate.

“Are the things we are testing and assessing, are they important?” she asked.

Sheila Quinn, a Clover schools assistant superintendent, is leaving the Clover district to join Spearman’s staff next month in a top administrative role as one of four deputy superintendents.

Spearman said one of Quinn’s roles will be overseeing the state’s student testing and accountability systems, and helping determine the need for change.

“We could not find anyone stronger and more qualified to lead the accountability systems of the state,” Spearman said in announcing Quinn’s new role.

Quinn said her new job will also include federal programs such as Title 1, 2 and 3, faith and community connections and working with struggling schools that need to be transformed.

“Molly is such an engaging state superintendent,” Quinn said about her job change. “I really feel that she has the vision that is going to take our state to the next level.”

Spearman talked about her department’s profile of the South Carolina graduate, including “rigorous standards” for academics, multiple languages, integrity, a strong work ethic, communication skills and critical thinking and problem-solving skills.

“We’ve got to have graduates who know how to show up to work on time; we’ve got to have graduates who persevere, and don’t give up because it’s hard,” she said. “We are focusing now on this whole person, and it’s not as easy as it sounds. How do we teach this?”

She said the mission to personalize education needs to help students find their strengths and match those with a career path. She also said schools need to work with businesses and place more students in internships so they can see the relevance of what they are learning.

She refereed to a student who interned with a veterinarian. “She sees the relevance of what she is doing for the future, and that makes a student who will hang around and not drop out.”

Other points:

▪  Spearman said she’s a believer in the value of art education. “I don’t see the arts as an add-on extra,” she said. “In schools where the arts are infused, the kids are more engaged.”

▪  Schools need to find ways to involve members of their faith community who are eager to help. Some schools have been “nervous about inviting our faith friends” into education, but she said they can contribute. “We’ve got to get over that,” she said.

▪  Spearman said she aims to gradually improve state funding for schools. She said this year’s base student cost of $2,200 per student, a source of state revenue for local districts, is $100 more than last year.

However, she said that with a cut in lottery funds for elementary science programs, “what was supposed to be a $100 increase didn’t turn out to be a $100 increase.” Spearman said that state revenue allocation “is about $600 below where it should be per student.”

Jennifer Becknell •  803-329-4077