CONWAY — Whittemore Park Middle School is one of six schools in the state chosen to pilot TransformSC, a statewide initiative to redesign public education and ensure that students have the skills they need for life after high school.
The schools were selected because they already have some innovative practices in place, and TransformSC will support them over the next two years as they try new approaches for learning and assessments to help develop policies and change those that educators say can hinder efforts to personalize a student’s education or to let students progress at their own pace.
“The system no longer fits the modern world – it’s outdated and outmoded,” said Gerrita Postlewait, representing the Education and Workforce Development Initiative of New Carolina, as she introduced the initiative at the school Tuesday morning. “There’s no desire to disrupt what works, but 60 percent of kids are not having great choices after high school.”
TransformSC is an initiative of New Carolina, South Carolina’s Council on Competitiveness, a nonprofit group focused on increasing the state’s economic competitiveness. The group works with business, government and academic leaders to aid education and business development.
The purpose of the initiative is not to raise test scores but to ensure students get the essential knowledge, skills and work ethic they need to be self-directed, said Postlewait, a former superintendent of Horry County Schools. Perseverance and grit must be developed in students who don’t hold high aspirations or identify with academics, and assessments must be more well-rounded than they are now to measure what kids know versus what they need to know, whether for college or to go into a career, she said.
“There are thousands of jobs that can’t be filled and thousands of people out of work,” she said. “What’s wrong with that picture?”
Whittemore Park has a year of innovation under its belt, spurred last year by a Next Generation Learning Challenges grant, the only school in the state ever to do so. The grant allowed for more technology, a digital curriculum and staff development, and the school’s state assessment grade rose from a D to a B.
“We know it’s going to be a little messy at first,” said Judy Beard, principal at Whittemore Park, as she talked about the initiative, which is still being developed but with a definite end game of engaging students and meeting their specific needs.
The initiative will require a lot of observation to see what is working with the kids, as well as accountability indicators, Beard said. School rooms will be utilized differently, such as the media center, which will include stations where students can create work with real-world relevance, present their work to others and get assistance from other students.
The school also has a new learning management system that will allow teachers to have data on each student at their fingertips, allowing them to quickly redirect students to help those who need it and to allow the more advanced to move on, Beard said. The system also will provide a computer dashboard for students, which will simplify access to all of their programs with one login.
An education summit will be held in September, and statewide business and education leaders will meet monthly over the two years as information comes in from the six schools. The group then will use the data to recommend policy changes from practices that have seen success.
Beard said that until now, students – digital natives born in 2001 and 2002 – have literally had to power down when they came to school, but that won’t be the case anymore. The district has launched its Personalized Digital Learning initiative, which will put 10,000 digital devices in the hands of each student over the next three years, and has been moving toward blended learning, which combines face-to-face teacher time with online learning.
“What we’re learning at Whittemore Park is helping us to develop a system plan,” said HCS Superintendent Cindy Elsberry. “We’re trying to get up to speed with the rest of the world and develop a customized pathway for learning. … We are the highest-performing countywide school system in the state – we’re proven. I hope the community and state leaders are willing to take a bet on us.”
Contact VICKI GROOMS at 443-2401 or follow her at Twitter.com/TSN_VickiGrooms.