Schools unite to help students

Dr. Teresa Pope (center), superintendent of Barnwell District 19, speaks during a meeting last week with other districts, the career center and county to discuss ways to help students without increasing costs.

Dr. Teresa Pope (center), superintendent of Barnwell District 19, speaks during a meeting last week with other districts, the career center and county to discuss ways to help students without increasing costs.

First Byline: 
Jonathan Vickery - Managing Editor

In an effort to provide more opportunities for students without increasing costs, officials from Barnwell County, its three public school districts, and the career center are joining forces.
"The opportunities are limitless if we work together," said Jay Grissom, superintendent of Barnwell District 45, to the crowd of educators and politicians gathered April 29 at the Merge Student Center.
A key component of the discussion centered on utilizing the Barnwell County Career Center more. The school, which offers 12 programs, is funded by the county and three districts.
While the county and districts may be financially unable to come up with more money to expand the career center's buildings and services, Grissom said they can look at applying jointly for grants. Tim Hicks, the district's grant writer, was at the meeting and is looking at possible grants they can apply for. "There are grants out there, big grants," Grissom said, citing how Clinton schools recently received a $6.5 million grant for science, technology and math education.
Even without grants, there are ways the schools can work together to expand opportunities, including with AP classes - the courses that earn high school students college credit.
Currently, Barnwell and Blackville-Hilda High schools offer one AP class each while Williston-Elko offers three. "I want my kids to have access to more than one AP class," Grissom said.
Allowing students to register for classes at other schools where there is room would do just that by increasing opportunities, not costs. Or, he said, they could teach classes at the career center, something BCCC Director Sam McKay said there is space for. They are going to form a committee to see if the idea is acceptable to the AP teachers.
Special education was another area the group discussed sharing. Grissom said they could implement a vocational rehab program at the career center by partnering with a similar program in Aiken. Since all districts send buses throughout the day to the career center already, travel would not be too costly.
Aside from helping students in the classroom, the partnership could pay off by creating jobs for high school graduates.
"This goes beyond school," said Grissom, referencing the opportunity for economic development.
He said they could work with SouthernCarolina Alliance - an agency focused on economic development for six counties, including Barnwell - to attract new industries. One idea is tailoring a program to the needs of an industry looking to move to the county. "That could be attractive to a company," said Grissom, who plans to invite SCA officials to the next meeting.
Barnwell County Council Jerry Creech said the idea could be beneficial to the entire community. "Without qualified employees you're not going to get industry," he said.
County Councilman Joe Smith said he thinks all kids should take at least one course at the career center to learn some basic skills and be better prepared for life.
Working together may have another benefit for the three districts. "If we work together we can have all advantages of consolidation without consolidating," said Grissom, referencing a topic that has been brought up over the years.
He said Rep. Lonnie Hosey told him the topic was brought up again recently in the state legislature.
Creech said the schools can either be forced by the state to consolidate or do something on their own. "Help each other rise to the top instead of moving into the ground," he said.
"I'm very excited with the spirit of cooperation we all had," said Grissom. "It's got to be a joint effort."
The group plans to meet quarterly with the next meetings to be held in July. Jefferson Davis Academy, which has at least one student enrolled at the career center, is invited to participate, but was not at the meeting.