Sentinel Progress

Taking a hard look at SDPC numbers

Dear editor,

You have recently read about the annual report card for the Pickens County School District. As noted by the district administration, the graduation rate rose to 84.0 percent, up from 71.2 percent about ten years ago.

Bravo.

What they didn’t say in their press release was, the percentage of students reading at or above grade level peaked in 2008 at 82.8 percent and fell to 79.5 percent in 2016. Instead of now setting a 95 percent target, the board should have ordered a review to determine if higher graduation rate indicative of improving academic performance, are they pushing more students through, or a combination of both?

Another point is the percentage of school district spending making it to the classroom continues to tumble: 2012: 60.0 percent, 2013: 59.0 percent, 2014: 58.4 percent, 2015: 55.7 percent, 2016: 54.4 percent, 2017: 53.4 percent (a new low).

The number of classroom teachers fell to 1,008 or the lowest since I’ve been pulling this figure off the report card (15 years now).

When Superintendent Dr. Merck presented his first five year plan in November 2014, some of the priorities were closing schools, cutting classroom teachers (raising class sizes) and raising tax rates. They’ve raised taxes three times in a row now. They closed two schools and were looking to close more, but the public had enough.

Class sizes are rising too.

This new direction is resulting in higher teacher turnover — 10.6 percent is also a new high for that stat, and this is most worrisome.

Teachers chose the field because they want the freedom to teach children in their classroom as they see fit.

Unfortunately the administration is stomping on that freedom, telling teachers what to teach, how long to teach it, when to teach it, and how to test it all. And administrators are looking over their shoulders, training, observing and evaluating them every step of the way.

This is hurting morale.

Looking at the latest teacher survey from the report card, on average 85.4 percent of teachers were satisfied with the learning environment, 89.7 percent with the social environment, and 85.8 percent with school-home relations. That averages to 87.0 percent or the lowest average since I have been pulling these figures off the district’s report card.

As a side note, in 2015-16 the five elementary schools in the Pickens area had 1,348 students. In 2017-18, two years after closing AR Lewis and Holly Springs, only 1,264 students are in the three remaining schools. That’s 84 students less and it is not that they went to surrounding schools. Enrollment there is unchanged. After the closures, many parents just voted with their feet and left.

Chairman Brian Swords declared their new direction is working. This data says otherwise. The next test will be how well the new charter school Lakes and Bridges does in Easley.

Will it have trouble wooing students away from the school district? Or will it fill up their classrooms in short order? Lakes and Bridges opens in August.

Alex Saitta

Pickens