DARLINGTON COUNTY, SC (WMBF) - The Darlington County School District hosted their annual education forum Friday to address current concerns in local and state education.
Teachers and principals from across Darlington County packed the Mayo High School conference center for the 20th annual education forum.
“We get to have positive discussions about challenges and barriers with the policy makers,” DCSD Teacher of the Year Laura Privette said. “We’re able to come and ask questions that matter to education and to our students, which is our No. 1 concern.”
Dr. Rainey Knight with the S.C. Education Oversight Committee; Emily Heatwole with the S.C. Department of Education; Dr. Tim Newman, DCSD superintendent; Jamie Morphis, chairman of the Darlington County Board of Education; and Jay Lucas, Speaker of the House of Representatives, made up this year’s panel.
During the forum, teachers asked about more funds for early childhood education, standardized testing accountability, and what officials are doing to help teacher recruitment and retention.
At the top of the concerns again this year was the statewide teacher shortage and pay. The average starting salary for South Carolina teachers is around $33,000, ranking 47th in the nation.
Lucas said students going into the teaching profession in South Carolina dropped 30 percent from last year and about 49,000 teachers, mostly young ones, left the profession.
While Lucas commented the reason for the ongoing issue is not all about the pay, other panelists said it’s a main factor.
“I do think we need to consistently be looking at pay,” Knight said. “The general assembly did increase that 2 percent this year and I think they’re going back to look again.”
A new topic of discussion this year was the recent state report cards released in November. It’s the first time they’ve been released with school ratings in four years, and it’s caused some varying views between state and local leaders.
“The intent is correct, but we’ve got to do a better job of really getting into the heart of what we want to explain and in very simple terms let our parents know we’re doing the best we can,” Newman said.
However, what both local and state officials fully agree on is the goal of having this type of discussion to help teachers better the lives of their students.
“Day to day, these same teachers, you know, have 25 to 30 students in a classroom that they’re teaching each and every day and they make the biggest difference in a child’s life,” Knight said.