Beaufort County School Board takes steps to unite

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To start the New Year, the Beaufort County Board of Education is taking a new approach to moving the school district forward. 

This month the board members begin a process designed to identify ways to work together, despite an admitted divide, to better serve the 22,000 students in the county’s public school system. 

They are engaging nationally known facilitator Dr. Wayne Worner, an experienced school district superintendent, principal, teacher, college professor and dean who has helped other school boards successfully change dynamics that were hindering progress. 

“This is an important process, and I am glad the board is taking this step,” said Earl Campbell, chairman of the Beaufort County Board of Education and its longest-serving member with more than 20 years on the panel. “Our students and our teachers depend on us to lead the school system, and we haven’t been doing a very good job of that.” 

In recent years, Dr. Worner has facilitated school board retreats in South Carolina districts – Richland District 2, Rock Hill, Pickens and Anderson District 4 – as well as districts in other states. He is based in Blacksburg, Virginia, where he taught on faculty at Virginia Tech and became the first department head of Curriculum and Instruction in the university’s new College of Education. Later he served as Dean of the college for short periods. 

Before a retreat is scheduled, Dr. Worner will conduct private interviews with each board member. There are four key elements to these conversations: 

1. Learn more about the individuals who will be participating, because backgrounds make a difference in the way board members view the world and their roles as board members. 

2. Determine whether the members are interested in and willing to participate in an activity that seeks to resolve issues and move forward, rather than only looking through the rear-view mirror. 

3. Ask members what items they think need to be addressed at the retreat. 

4. Ask members what they hope will be the outcomes of the work. 

After interviewing board members, Dr. Worner will summarize comments under headings such as “all of the board members said…” and “two or three board members believe …” None of the board member comments will be attributed, encouraging open sharing. 

Based on the interviews, he will propose an agenda for a full retreat to work through differences and find areas of common ground necessary to move the school system forward. 

Dr. Worner said he sees his role as that of a facilitator, not a consultant. 

Campbell said the board has critical work ahead in 2018, including plans and financing for facility improvements and expansions needed to address overcrowding at Bluffton schools and facility needs across the county. 

Last month the board approved asking voters on April 21 for $76 million in school bonds to fund a new Bluffton school, expansions to River Ridge Academy and May River High School (both in Bluffton) and the construction of Career and Technical Education (CATE) buildings at Beaufort, Bluffton and Hilton Head Island high schools. 

Dr. Worner earned his bachelor’s degree in chemistry from North Dakota State University, his Master’s in secondary education from North Dakota State and his educational doctorate in school administration from the University of North Dakota. He also attended the Teachers College at Columbia University and Stanford University. 

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