Jasper County superintendent cites progress, challenges for school district

tbarton@beaufortgazette.comApril 29, 2013 

Jasper County schools superintendent Vashti Washington rattled off a two-page list of highlights for the school year before a standing-room-only crowd Monday assembled for a meeting of the county's legislative delegation.

Among the highlights:

  • Teacher Margaret McClain was named one of 13 "honor roll" teachers in the state by the S.C. Department of Education -- the second year in a row a Jasper County teacher has earned the award.

  • Ridgeland Elementary School students placed fifth out of 58 schools in the state for solving the most math problems through the online education tool "First in Math."

  • Not mentioned, however, was progress made to lift the high-poverty district above a failing grade in meeting federal academic goals.

    "My job was to bring about change, but change takes time," Washington told the assembled state legislators who represent the county. She acknowledged that more than half of students failed to meet state and federal proficiency goals in English, math, science and social studies last school year.

    "This system has been divided; irregardless of funding, you can't accomplish what you want in a short period of time," Washington said, noting that she became the fifth superintendent in six years when hired in 2010. "There are school districts like ours with high poverty and have had high success, but there are a number of factors that contribute to that," longevity and community support being key among them.

    "If you ask people here to raise their hand how many have been in our schools to see what really happens on a day-to-day basis, you'd be surprised by the minimal participation," she said.

    The district received an "F" last fall when the state released a new system of assessing progress toward federal accountability goals.

    Since 2004, the district earned an "at risk" or "below average" rating on state report cards. The district's growth ratings on the report cards have fluctuated from "excellent" or "at risk" over the same period.

    Students in third, fifth and ninth grades posted stronger gains in reading from fall to spring on Measures of Academic Performance results, according to Washington. Ninth-graders also improved in math, but students still lag peers in similar districts.

    The MAP test is given to Jasper County public school students in kindergarten through eighth grade at the start, middle and end of each school year. It measures reading and math skills and is used to help teachers identify students' weaknesses and tailor instruction to address them.

    Improved performance on the MAP test does not necessarily translate into improved performance on Palmetto Assessment of State Standards exams that figure more prominently in federal standards. But there is a strong correlation to suggest students who improve on the MAP test also tend to improve on PASS, Washington said.

    "It's not an exact science," Washington said, adding, "It takes years to overcome illiteracy."

    Delegation and community members applauded Washington for partnering with businesses, churches and community groups to provide more than 100 tutors, as well as offering more high-level courses at the high school.

    "Keep up the good work," said state Rep. Weston Newton, R-Bluffton, who represents part of Jasper County. "It's not an easy task, and I applaud your efforts."

    The Island Packet is pleased to provide this opportunity to share information, experiences and observations about what's in the news. Some of the comments may be reprinted elsewhere in the site or in the newspaper. We encourage lively, open debate on the issues of the day, and ask that you refrain from profanity, hate speech, personal comments and remarks that are off point. Thank you for taking the time to offer your thoughts.

    Commenting FAQs | Terms of Service