New initiatives, upgrades for Florence schools as students head back to class

New initiatives, upgrades for Florence schools as students head back to class

FLORENCE, S.C. (WMBF) - Children in Florence County headed to back class Monday morning for their first day of school.

In Florence School District One, Superintendent Dr. Richard O’Malley said the district is focusing on four main things for the 2019-2020 school year.

First, increasing student achievement continues to be a top priority. O’Malley noted the district added more than 40 new programs this year, including more AP classes.

Next, 21st century classrooms, which means upgraded technology in classrooms and making sure every student in every school has a chrome book.

Along with the technology upgrades comes a feature where parents can track their kids as they get on and off the school bus.

“This year, kindergarten students will have a little tag on their backpack so that when they get on the bus and when they get off the bus, it can ping us so we know," O’Malley said. "We’re also going to be able to ping parents on their phone, so if they’re working, they can be reassured where they got off on the bus and whether they got home safely.”

Then, professional development, which includes incentives to attract and retain teachers like a $2,000 perfect attendance bonus for all district employees and free preschool for employees’ children.

Finally, more engagement between schools and the community.

“I came here to bring some rigor and to really move this school district to be one of the premiere school districts, so I’m hoping that they see these programs and the opportunities and the resources that their children have,” O’Malley said.

Around $500,000 will go toward each school in the district for maintenance and upgrades for a total of $8.5 million.

Bathrooms, floors, water fountains and windows are just some of the items on the list. New furniture and smart boards in every classroom are also part of the renovations.

Three buildings in downtown Florence will be repurposed for the school district: The McClenaghan building for adult and community education; the Poynor Building, which is currently used for adult education, will be turned into a magnet high school; and the old library on Irby Street to house district staff.

O’Malley said after the $198 million referendum failed back in February to fund new schools and upgrades, the district went back to the drawing board to figure out a better plan.

“The community said to us, ‘Take a look again at what you can do,’ so we spent a couple of months trying to challenge ourselves intellectually on how we can prioritize some things and do some things in our current facilities with our current money.” O’Malley said.

O’Malley also talked about school safety, saying it’s a top priority.

“We put security guards … three at each high school," O’Malley said. "One at each middle school. We have cameras. We have metal detectors. The state only requires we have two lockdown drills a year. We do them monthly, because we want to make sure everyone’s prepared.”

O’Malley stressed the importance of comfortable learning conditions for students, saying the number of mobile classrooms has to go down this year.

“We have far too many mobiles and far too many mobiles that are basically not safe and in bad conditions, so we want to retire as many mobiles as we can,” he said.

Copyright 2019 WMBF. All rights reserved.