To the Contrary

Balancing our schools

As our school district takes on the unprecedented task of rezoning at every grade level, it is important to address our case for balancing our schools.

What makes a school effective? A strong, dedicated principal, motivated and energetic teachers, and students eager to learn. What makes a school special? Parent volunteers and leadership families who have the resources and time to do the little things that make all students feel proud of their school. A big part of balance is to ensure that every school has the parent leadership to make this happen.

Without a philosophy on school balance, we will create a district of "have" and "have not" schools. The "haves" will enjoy strong parental support, motivated teachers and administrators and, thus, success. The "have nots" will struggle on all fronts. We want all of our students to "have" a chance to succeed.

It was not too many years ago that we all heard the ugly little stories of how newcomers to Rock Hill were only shown "good" schools by real estate agents. With balanced schools that have the same shot at success, all of our schools are good schools.

The teachers in our school district will teach the children sent to their classrooms. That is a given. However, teachers, like all workers in all professions, burn out sooner when every day is a struggle. It is a struggle to teach in a school where a large percentage of the students are economically disadvantaged. Transfer requests are more frequent; recruiting becomes more of a challenge; schools get stigmatized; and students get labeled.

Seeking excellence

All of a sudden, the excellent school system we all want is not excellent for all students. This is not acceptable.

Everyone wants neighborhood schools. Another given. In a growing community such as ours, the definition of neighborhood schools must be clearly defined. The new definition may very well be going to school with children in your neighborhood.

The neighborhood school is a popular concept. However, what happens when growth creates neighborhoods that produce more students than seats in the nearest school? The inevitable line is then drawn, the definition changes and families are upset. That is an unfortunate byproduct of adding 400 to 450 new students every year.

Rapid growth

At our Oct. 1 public forum, several speakers mentioned moving to Rock Hill to avoid the growth and the school rezoning of larger districts. That movement is causing the very circumstances these families are trying to avoid. Horry County, a rapidly growing coastal school district, told its residents to expect rezoning every two years. Are we there yet? No, but you get the point.

This is the fifth reassignment process our district has taken on in the past 12 years. Each has featured parents passionate about their children's education. This one is no exception. Almost all of our recent forum participants indicated that their children's school is the best in the district because of the principal, faculty and environment at that school. When we balanced our schools in 2002, our goal was to hear this expressed by our entire education community. In some ways we are victims of our own success.

Whenever I attend any sporting event, I think the best seat in the house is the one where I'm sitting. As a school district and school board, we want everyone to think the best school in the district is the one their child attends. Having passionate parents and school volunteers at every school will make this happen.

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