Change needed at St. Helena Elementary, community members say

rheaton@beaufortgazette.comSeptember 19, 2012 

One thing was clear at a Wednesday night meeting of community members concerned about St. Helena Elementary School student achievement: things need to change.

"If there is any one of us who is comfortable with the way things are at St. Helena, then we need to check ourselves," said Board of Education member Michael Rivers, who represents St. Helena Island and called the meeting.

Rivers urged the about 100 parents, grandparents, teachers and Beaufort County residents gathered at the Frissell Community House at Penn Center to encourage school district leaders to find ways to help the struggling school.

The meeting was the second Rivers had called in response to community concerns over the school's recent "F" grade in meeting federal accountability standards. St. Helena Elementary was the only school to receive an "F" in the school district.

Attendees called on parents and community members to rally around the school and become involved in making it a success.

William S. Young Jr., a former teacher and school board member, said to change the school, the root of the problems must be identified first. He suggested reviewing staff qualifications to ensure students are getting the best available instruction.

"We need to find out who our strongest staff is," he said. "We need that information."

Those attending a community meeting in late August had called for a change in the school's principal.

Rivers said Wednesday that the goal is not to demonize principal Kay Keeler.

"No one here is saying Mrs. Keeler is a bad person," he said. "Quite frankly, it's not about Mrs. Keeler. It's not even about me. It's about the kids and what we can do to help them."

Young said after the meeting he could remember a time when the school performed well -- so well that in the 1990s, he said, college professors visited to observe how students living in poverty had flourished.

There's got to be a way to get back to that, he said.

In recent years, the school has struggled.

Since 2007, it has earned an "at risk" or "below average" rating on state report cards, which are based on standardized test scores, student-teacher ratios, and the amount of instructional time among other criteria.

On Wednesday, attendees said those struggles have to stop -- whether that means forming a committee to recommend changes, insisting on more parental involvement, or something else.

Rivers said the next step is getting community members to attend the full school board meeting on the issue planned for 6:30 p.m. Tuesday at the school.

"The time is then for people to come in and dictate to (the board) what is best for us," he said. "We should know what is best for us."

Related content

  1. Meetings planned to discuss St. Helena Elementary concerns; Sept. 14, 2012
  2. St. Helena community rallies for change at elementary school; Sept. 9, 2012

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