Improved student achievement, innovative programs highlight Beaufort schools’ year

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By Jackie Rosswurm

Acting Superintendent, Beaufort County School District

For Beaufort County’s public schools, 2012 was another strong academic year that included broad-based improvements in student achievement and creative new instructional initiatives.

District schools posted higher 2012 ratings on state-issued School Report Cards recently released by the South Carolina Department of Education.  The improved ratings were the result of higher student test scores and improved on-time high school graduation rates, and long-term trends continue to be encouraging.

When South Carolina adopted a new statewide testing system three years ago for grades 3-8, 75 percent of Beaufort County’s public schools were rated Excellent, Good or Average on state School Report Cards.  This year, 94 percent are rated Excellent, Good or Average.  The number of district schools rated Good or Excellent has increased from seven to 22 (25 percent to 71 percent).

In newly restructured federal school accountability ratings for 2012, 87 percent of the district’s schools were graded A-C on an A-F scale.  Nearly half of the district’s schools received A’s.

In other high-profile academic news reported in 2012:

• On-time high school graduation rates improved to 75.1 percent, up from 69.7 percent five years ago.

• 81.4 percent of Beaufort County students passed both sections of the state’s high school exit exam on their first attempt.  That’s a significant improvement over 2007’s passing rate of 70.3 percent.

• On the Algebra 1 high school end-of-course exam, 80.7 percent of Beaufort County students posted passing grades in 2012 compared to 80.5 percent in 2011 and 71.2 percent in 2009.  In English 1, 74.9 percent passed compared to 73.2 percent in 2011 and 59.6 percent in 2009.

• High school seniors in the 2012 graduating class earned $14.8 million in college scholarships, up significantly from $10 million earned by graduating seniors in 2008.

• A record 27 district schools earned Palmetto Gold or Palmetto Silver awards from the South Carolina Department of Education to recognize student achievement.

Beaufort Middle School and Hilton Head High School were announced as winners of 2012 Palmetto’s Finest Schools Awards.  With the double victory in the middle and high school categories, Beaufort County became only the third South Carolina district in the award’s 34-year history to have two winners in the same year.

When Whale Branch Early College High School’s first graduating class was honored last spring, 83 percent of seniors graduated with college acceptance letters or military appointments.  Nearly half had enrolled in three or more college-level courses through the school’s partnership with the Technical College of the Lowcountry.

There were other bright spots in 2012:

• About 7,600 students at middle and high schools began using computer tablets as part of the district’s iPad initiative.

• More than 100 students enrolled in the district’s first middle school military magnet program at Robert Smalls Middle School.

• The Board of Education approved the installation of security cameras in all district school buses.

Although student achievement is improving, we have a long way to go.  As in other school districts across the nation, we are challenged by gaps in achievement between minority and non minority students and between high-poverty and more affluent students.  College entrance exam scores have remained flat despite significant improvements by high school students in their exit exam and end-of-course scores.

Other challenges ahead in 2013 include the Board of Education’s selection of a new district superintendent.

The budget cuts of recent years have resulted in significant reductions of staff positions, particularly at the district office.  But like many private-sector companies, we are working hard to do more with less.

Considerable financial savings have been realized with the installation of cutting-edge technology designed to conserve electrical power and water, and the refinancing of bonds for the district’s capital improvement plan will result in savings of about $2.4 million.  Beaufort County Council provided a financial boost when it approved the district’s budget request for a one-mill increase.

The continuing improvement in student test scores at all grade levels certainly are cause for optimism, and our educators, students, parents, community partners and volunteers are working hard to maintain the district’s positive momentum.  There’s no reason that 2013 cannot be just as academically successful as 2012.