Thursday, March 13, 2014
On Thursday, those who were interested to see what the Aiken County School District has in mind for the next five years met at North Augusta Elementary School.
The event was part of a number of stakeholder meetings that occurred around the county, with others taking place at Leavelle McCampbell Middle, Aiken Middle, Ridge Spring-Monetta Elementary and Silver Bluff High. The district also has another scheduled before its regular school board meeting on Tuesday night.
Peggy Trivelas, elementary school academic officer for the area, led the meeting.
“We are getting ready to go through some exciting times,” she said. “We are about ready to have our visit, which we get every five years, from AdvancED. That is our accrediting organization and it is important to us that our schools are accredited. Through this process, we are able to make sure our standards are where they need to be for our kids to graduate from accredited high schools. We do a districtwide process, and we are all working together to make sure we get input from all of the stakeholders.”
That visit is scheduled for Nov. 16 to 19. Trivelas said the team coming in will be from out of the state. The information from the meeting showed that Aiken County has a large number of strengths, including highly qualified teachers, course offerings and programs, among other things.
However, the weaknesses are familiar to those who have kept up with the school district in recent years. Many of the school buildings are older, have a number of problems and need major renovations.
Also, many teachers and personnel are leaving for more prosperous horizons. Funding has been an issue for many districts, but in Aiken County, a larger percent of dollars have to go into maintenance and upkeep. Three-fourths of the schools in the county are more than 40 years old, half are older than 50 and three are at least 65 years old.
The renovations at North Augusta High School are one example of the district making the best of its budget, but it's facing a timetable that could stretch more than 30 or 40 years. Hammond Hill Elementary, despite having won state and national awards, has many portables on its campus. Belvedere Elementary is turning 60 this year and has maintenance issues in connection with its age. North Augusta Elementary has problem areas and a lack of curb appeal.
Board of Education members Ray Fleming and Keith Liner attended the event and pointed out that the problems are not in the classroom.
“Sometimes we lose sight of the fact that a large portion of our students are earning millions of dollars of scholarships,” Fleming said. “They go off to good-paying jobs or college. We are doing well by a large segment of our student body. Not to say that there isn't work to be done, but we don't want to lose sight of the good that's being done.”
Another challenge stems from one of the major strengths of the district. Liner pointed out that all of the county schools have done great jobs at identifying and helping students who may need tutoring or other aid in their early high school years. However, one thing that can be improved is noticing those students sooner – possibly at the middle school level.
“If you can capture them before they get disinterested in high school, you can graduate them on time,” Liner said. “Getting further down into the middle schools to capture them and say that, ‘Hey, college may not be for me, but I can be a welder, plumber or carpenter' and keep their attention in high school.”
The district continues to invite public input, and it can be done by going to the website at acps.schoolfusion.us. From that page click on “Community Input Opportunity for the District's Five-Year Strategic Plan” and fill out the form.
Scott Rodgers is the news editor at The North Augusta Star.