Beaufort News

School board chairman offers plan to foster closer community

A policy change endorsed by chairman Fred Washington Jr. would require the Beaufort County Board of Education to make better use of school improvement councils to engage parents and communities.

It would require board members to conduct community "sharing sessions" in the geographic areas they represent. The superintendent would develop a protocol for communication between SICs and the district and report annually on its effectiveness.

"This is an effort to try to clarify roles and responsibilities," Washington said, "and for us to develop processes so communication can flourish and not be stifled."

School improvement councils, mandated by state law, are advisory committees of parents, teachers, students and community representatives. They develop and monitor school-improvement plans.

In Beaufort County, the organizations sometimes have not operated as they should, Washington said.

"All SICs are not as active and vibrant as they should be or could be," he said.

Washington presented his proposal to the school board and a few dozen SIC members from schools across the district during a meeting Tuesday.

He said he developed the plan in response to concerns from residents worried about potential school closings and attendance zone changes. Many felt they were being left out of the decisions, he said.

Washington said he also considered a similar proposal by a group of parents from Shell Point Elementary, Beaufort Middle, Robert Smalls Middle and Beaufort High schools that was distributed to schools last month.

Their proposal, called the Parent/Stakeholder Involvement Policy, would require school board members to meet four times a year with SIC representatives in the geographic areas the members represent. The meetings would be grouped by school cluster: Battery Creek, Beaufort, Bluffton, Hilton Head Island and Whale Branch. That proposal also requires the superintendent and school board chairman to hold at least two "town hall" meetings per year for SIC members across the district.

Washington said he wanted a less prescriptive plan. He doesn't want to regulate how many meetings board members should have or how they are set up. Some might want to schedule them by cluster, others might want to work with smaller groups of schools, he said.

Deeni Everly, an SIC representative from Whale Branch Middle School, said she wants the plan to include district-wide meetings that aren't limited to a single geographic area. Beaufort County is too split and needs to develop unity, she said.

"The people from Hilton Head need to hear my concerns from Whale Branch," she said. "It's about this whole county."

Kim Boyce, a SIC representative from Hilton Head Island Elementary School, cautioned board members that more meetings won't replace the insight they would gain by spending more time in schools meeting teachers and students.

"I would encourage you to come and have lunch at school, talk to the principal and meet the kids and see their faces and the diversity we have in the district," she said. "You will be changed for the better."

Washington said he hopes the board will debate his proposal at its Feb. 15 meeting.