Parents, educators and community leaders say Beaufort County public schools need a five-year plan to make education a community priority and bolster economic development.
A steering committee of 50 teachers, administrators, School Improvement Council members and Board of Education members says the district has done well to increase the percentage of students reading at or above grade level in recent years. It also is closing achievement gaps in math scores on state standardized tests.
However, a rising dropout rate and increasing demand for technical skills require more digital learning and programs customized for each student, it concluded.
"What is a high school diploma worth today, and how do we prepare students to be competitive ... globally?" district chief instructional officer Dereck Rhoads asked the group during a daylong work session Friday with the school board. "And how do we keep them engaged so they don't lose interest in school and drop out?"
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Friday's meeting was the group's first, and it came on the first of a two-day school board retreat to devise a five-year strategic plan for the district. The State Board of Education requires districts to develop such plans every five years, with the aim of increasing student achievement.
The district has until April to submit the new plan.
In addition to technical and customized education, the steering committee listed opportunities to receive college credit while in high school as another important priority.
"We have to prepare students for lifelong learning and productive employment to be successful and marketable in our ever-changing global society," said committee member and Sun City Hilton Head resident Jim Hoerner, professor emeritus at Virginia Tech.
Superintendent Jeffrey Moss proposed improving test scores and graduation rates by using technology to engage students and encourage creativity. Moss also called for more virtual learning, apprenticeship programs and foreign-language instruction.
"We also need to look at our teaching staff and make a conscious decision that our most at-risk population deserves our most experienced, or master, teachers," he said. "... (And) we need to expand our growth to get more out of what we're doing in the classroom and eliminate achievement gaps for all student demographics."
The committee reconvenes Saturday from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. at district offices at 2900 Mink Point Blvd. in Beaufort.
Follow reporter Tom Barton at twitter.com/IPBG_Tom.