At annual education conference, teachers are the experts

School’s barely been out for a week, but more than 250 teachers and administrators from across the region were back in class Wednesday for the fifth annual Partnership Conference for Educational Renewal at Winthrop University.

The educators came from around 40 partner schools in nine different school districts and the conference was sponsored by the NetSCOPE project, a teacher quality grant award from the U.S. Department of Education that funds the Winthrop University-School Partnership Network.

“This is for all of us to get together and share across our network,” said Foster Hays, a research assistant with the NetSCOPE project at Winthrop and one of the conference coordinators.

What makes the conference different than others is who is doing the teaching, Hays said. Every speaker and presenter is either a Winthrop professor or an educator involved in one of the nine school districts.

Those educators submit proposals for presentations at the conference or the conference planners look for people who can speak about topics in which attendees have expressed interest.

In addition to learning from each other, Hays said, the Partnership Conference presents opportunities for collaboration.

“It’s a really neat experience, going from session to session to see these people who wouldn’t normally end up in the same room,” Hays said.

In a session on “Promoting a Culture of Reading,” Rock Hill’s Sullivan Middle School staff members Chris McLean and Samantha McManus told their attendees about programs that they’ve found to be successful with the students at their school.

In another room, Sugar Creek Elementary School staff members Megan McNinch and Kim Nees went through a presentation on helping elementary school students do research and create age-appropriate graphics and presentations to demonstrate their knowledge. Sugar Creek is in the Fort Mill school district.

These, and presentations like them, were exactly why Mark Hendry was attending the Partnership Conference. Hendry is the principal at Harold C. Johnson Elementary School in York.

“The summer is a down time,” he said. “You have time to reflect, get rejuvenated and get new, fresh ideas.”

Principals Kathy Woodard and Gale Whitfield came from the Fairfield County school district. Woodard’s school, Kelly Miller Elementary is already a partnership school and Whitfield is considering adding her school, the Fairfield Magnet School for Math and Science, to the partnership network.

Both said they were eager to attend the conference because they’re so impressed by the quality of teachers that Winthrop University produces.

“(The partnership) is focused more on the needs of the local schools,” Woodard said.

The partnership’s NetSCOPE grant expires in a few months, but Hays said they are hopeful it will be renewed and that the annual conference, along with other activities, will continue for years to come.

The partnership’s NetSCOPE grant is up for renewal in a few months, but Hays said the work of the partnership, including the conference, will continue through the Rex Institute for Education Renewal.