Lady's Island school board candidates address business group

The two veteran educators vying to represent Lady's Island on the Beaufort County Board of Education opined on the county's dropout rate, school discipline issues and teacher pay at a debate Tuesday morning hosted by the Lady's Island Business and Professional Association.

Bill Evans and Robert White told about 40 residents their background and priorities, and encouraged them to vote in the District 7 school board election Nov. 2.

Evans, 63, spent about 40 years in public education, 24 of them in Beaufort County. He was principal of Hilton Head Island High School from 1986 to 1998 and held several positions at the district's central office, most recently working as an ombudsman.

White, 66, retired to Beaufort County eight years ago after spending more than 35 years at schools in northern Virginia. He opened and led for 17 years a 2,100-student high school and retired as an assistant superintendent for human resources.

Among the questions they were asked at Tuesday's debate:

How would you address the county's high dropout rate?

Evans said the number of students who drop out of high school in Beaufort County is unacceptable. The district's on-time graduation rate is 69 percent, according to the 2010 data required by the federal No Child Left Behind law.

Part of the problem, Evans said, is schools lose sight of students as individuals as they grow older and move from the elementary schools to larger middle and high schools.

He said Beaufort High's efforts to divide its 1,600 students into several "small schools" with a specific academic focus begins to remedy that problem, but the district should focus on making sure disadvantaged students have what they need to be successful.

Evans also said offering more school choice -- such as charter schools, magnet programs and online instruction -- could help.

White said he helped reduce the dropout rate at the school he led in Virginia -- North Stafford High School -- to 1 percent by the time he left in 1997. He said it was 7.5 percent when he opened the school in 1981.

White said the school created individual education plans -- like those that are required for students with disabilities -- for its at-risk students. Students and their parents signed a "performance contract" outlining the steps they would take to achieve in school.

Parental involvement is key, and White said staff made efforts to show parents of at-risk students they are part of the school. Parents often were required by the contracts to visit their child's school during each grading period, he said.

How do you respond to rumors that infractions at Beaufort High School that should be reported to the police are being "swept under the rug"?

Evans, who served for one year as an interim principal at Beaufort High, said state law regulates what crimes and infractions should be reported to law enforcement. School administrators should be working with the school resource officer to report issues, he said.

"There are problems at any major high school, but if there is evidence that things are being swept under the rug, that needs to be corrected," Evans said.

White said serious infractions should not be hidden. Open discussion will help the school cope with and reduce incidents, he said.

"In every problem, there is an opportunity," he said. "If you look at it that way, the last thing you want to do is sweep it under the rug."

Are Beaufort County teachers paid enough?

Evans and White agreed teacher salaries in Beaufort County are too low, relative to the high cost of living in Beaufort County. That affects the district's ability to recruit good employees, they said.

Evans said a first-year teacher in Beaufort County makes about $33,000 a year and a teacher with 22 years experience and a doctorate tops out at about $68,000. He said about eight or nine other S.C. school districts pay more.

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