Fort Mill Times

Audit puts Fort Mill among nation’s best school systems

The Fort Mill School District is a cut above the rest, according to new audit results.

The district ranks above the national average for school attendance, has a low dropout rate and boasts one the state’s highest district mean ACT scores, said Don Thomas, principal auditor with Salt Lake City-based School Management Services.

Fort Mill voluntarily performs a district effectiveness audit every few years to see how the schools rank against schools from across the nation with comparable demographics, said superintendent Chuck Epps.

“We know we do well in (South Carolina),” he said. “The board, to their credit, wants to see how we compare nationally.”

The district was last audited in 2010.

This year, Thomas credited the district for PASS test results above expected levels in both ELA and math, a 100 percent Dual Credit Program pass rate and a grade-point average of 3.5, which falls at the expected level.

The GPA level indicates the district employs a rigorous academic curriculum that does not allow for grade inflation, Thomas said.

In Fort Mill, 85.9 percent of Advanced Placement students receive a three or above on their exams, allowing them to earn college credit, Thomas said. He said such a high pass rate is unusual.

In 2010, 77.7 percent of students passed their AP exams with at least a three, Thomas said. Epps said the district has since added more AP courses and encouraged more students to enroll.

The audit is a tool for the district to address areas that need improvement, Epps said.

“We try to emphasize areas where we need to increase student achievement,” he said.

Though the district’s overall SAT score exceeds the expected level, the writing portion needs improvement, an issue that is prevalent throughout the nation, Thomas said.

However, Epps said the district will need to review those results.

“We have not noticed that in Fort Mill,” he said.

Though the district remains slightly above the expected level for teacher absence (6.2 days) with a rate of 6.6 days, it has improved since 2010, Thomas said.

Epps said the district is pleased with the results.

“Overall the report is pretty positive,” he said.

Epps said the district’s success relies on a combination of strong parental support, dedicated teachers and students, a progressive and supportive school board and good leadership.

“If you have all those ingredients in place, you typically do well,” he said.

Thomas said the key for success is gaining support from residents for public education, a task that has recently become a challenge.

“When you defend public education, you defend democracy,” he said.

Epps said the public needs to look closely at their local districts rather than relying on national information and assuming it applies to their schools.

“Often times that is not the case,” he said.

Epps said the Fort Mill School District teachers are doing good work, but it can be difficult to convey that to the community.

“That’s the challenging and frustrating part for us,” he said. “The results are there.”