Beaufort County initiatives spotlighted at 2015 State of the Schools

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More than 130 community members, business and government representatives, elected officials, Board of Education members, educators and students were briefed today on the status of Beaufort County’s public schools at the district’s annual State of the Schools breakfast.

“Just a few years ago, Beaufort County’s schools were basically in the middle of the pack or lower when compared to other South Carolina districts,” said Superintendent Jeff Moss. “But that’s changing, and changing very quickly. The positive momentum in our schools today is amazing to see.”

District achievements highlighted at the 2015 State of the Schools Breakfast included:

· Student achievement and the district’s on-time high school graduation rates continue to improve.

· The district has created “schools of choice” in all buildings, meaning that parents can apply to send their children to any academic program at any school in district, regardless of where they live. Nearly 2,200 students took advantage of the opportunity this school year.

· The Connect2Learn program has put a mobile computer in the hands of every student in grades K-12.

· The district has added 260 full-day prekindergarten slots over the past two years, which has allowed schools to reduce or even eliminate waiting lists of at-risk children who need focused attention before they start classes. Earlier this month, the district accepted the 2015 Champions for Children Award from the Institute of Child Success for its efforts to improve early childhood education.

· The district celebrated its fourth Palmetto’s Finest Award winner in as many years, making Beaufort one of only two districts statewide to claim that distinction.

· Graduating seniors in the Class of 2015 earned a record $30 million in college scholarships.

· The district is dramatically expanding career and technology courses designed to prepare students for high-paying jobs and industry certifications in rapidly emerging fields. New high-tech facilities are being built at Battery Creek High School and the under-construction May River High School.

· Two new cutting-edge schools will serve the fast-growing Bluffton community. PreK-Grade 8 River Ridge Academy opened in August, and May River High School will open in August 2016.

Newly announced District Teacher of the Year Cely Johnson, a fifth-grade teacher at Beaufort Elementary, said a key challenge in Beaufort County and across the nation is attracting and retaining high-quality professionals in the classroom.

Bluffton High School senior Ebony Gadson, named as South Carolina’s 2015 Youth of the Year by the Boys and Girls Clubs and awarded thousands of dollars in college scholarships, talked about her recent trip to Africa and her future plans.

Narendra Sharma, founder and director of Neighborhood Outreach Connection, outlined his organization’s efforts to provide after-school and summer learning programs for children in high-poverty communities across the district.

“We face a number of challenges, there’s no doubt about that,” Moss said. “We serve a rapidly growing number of students – 350 this school year alone. We serve increasing numbers of students whose primary language isn’t English. And just like other school systems across the nation, we have persistent achievement gaps for our minority students and students from low-income families. But the good news is that we’re making progress. Our assessment results show that we’re moving in the right direction. And we have a great team – the strongest team I’ve worked with in my 30-plus years in education – that’s focused on doing what’s right for kids each and every day. My challenge as superintendent is to maintain that focus, each and every day.”

Breakfast participants also watched Beaufort High School drama students perform sketches that promote strong anti-bullying messages, and also listened to musical performances by the high school’s strings ensembles.