Column: Finding the best way to fix S.C. education

  • Posted: Friday, October 25, 2013 12:01 a.m.

A couple of years ago, a movie came out called “Waiting for Superman.” It was about how education in this country is broken and too many of us are simply waiting for a Superman to come flying out of the sky to fix it for us.

Well, he doesn’t have a red cape, but you should know about my education super hero – his name is Trip DuBard.

DuBard first had a very distinguished career in journalism, including earning a degree from the Kennedy School of Government, but his second career in education is his real passion.

He is a shy, self-effacing 50-something-year-old guy who usually sits quietly in the back of the room. When he talks about his work in education, he never uses the word “I;” it’s always “we.” He would not like it that this column features him and doesn’t solely focus on the work – but he’s the one who makes it all happen.

Initially, DuBard served one term on the State Board of Education, but was largely frustrated by his inability to have a real impact. So he then focused on this hometown of Florence. In 2000, he started The School Foundation to support public education and today they have an endowment that tops $1.5 million and gives more than $100,000 a year to good public education projects in Florence County. It was his brain child; he set up the foundation and he raised most of the money. The foundation is the only one of its kind in the state supporting public education. Every county should have such a foundation. But he did not stop there. In 2008, he started S.C. Future Minds to expand his advocacy and support for public education statewide. S.C. Future Minds is a unique and innovative group with the purpose of making it easier for people, businesses and organizations to support and help public education – in all kinds of interesting and new ways.

Think of it this way – The state’s public schools literally have several million “alumni” all across the state, but they are not really connected and supporting their former schools, as happens with colleges and universities. Clemson, the University of South Carolina and all the rest have hundreds of people working every day to help and support the university – alumni associations, fundraising departments, communications and PR staff, athletic booster clubs and on and on it goes. But what about the 1,218 public elementary, secondary and high schools? Nada, nothing. Other than attending a class reunion every few years, most graduates have no connection with the school once they walk out the door at graduation.

So what does S.C. Future Minds actually do? The answer is lots.

Here are just a few of their activities.

• S.C. Teacher of the Year – an annual celebration that honors the best teachers from all local school districts; one is chosen as the S.C. Teacher of the Year.

• Teacher Appreciation Month – is proclaimed each year by the governor and the legislature and there are dozens of local projects that recognize and support teachers with such partners as Bojangles, Mueller’s pasta, Piggly Wiggly, Security Federal Bank, Darlington Raceway and many others.

• An online ‘Donate Now’ button – has been developed to use digital tools to encourage more online giving to public schools. To date, more than 100 schools have signed up and are using the technology. S.C. Future Minds provides all of the back-end infrastructure, collecting and forwarding donations to the school.

• The S.C. Public Education Partners Conference – brings together annually over 60 different organizations to swap best practices, discuss collaborations, and explore and develop new ways to improve education in our state. Last week,more than 200 people came to the 2013 conference.

• The Dick and Tunky Riley WhatWorksSC Award – is both a clearinghouse of innovative education programs and also an awards program to recognize the most effective and innovative education projects in the Palmetto state.

What’s most amazing about what Trip has done is the way that he has done it. First, he’s done it all without one penny of government funding. Along with the Chairwoman of S.C. Future Minds, Nella Barkley of Charleston, he has worked tirelessly to bring together over 70 diverse organizations, businesses and people to support the organization. Second, SC Future Minds has had a big impact without getting bogged down in the partisan political swamp that is South Carolina politics. They are respected by people all across the political spectrum.

And third, S.C. Future Minds has creatively leveraged many different partners in achieving results in new and different ways. Too often the first reaction is to ask, “How can we get more money from the state or local government?” Trip and company ask, “What are the best ideas and how can we get more new partners to pitch in and help?”

The Rev. Terry Alexander from Florence is also a state representative and is a leading advocate for public education in the state legislature.

He has watched and worked with Trip for years and says, “Trip has transformed education in Florence, and now with SC Future Minds, he is helping us see what public education can be statewide.”

So the next time you think about education in our state and are tempted to throw up your hands and say, “What’s the use, what can I do?”

Well the answer is “a lot.” Trip DuBard has shown that one person with a passion can make a difference – a huge difference.

Like Clark Kent, he is a quiet and shy guy. But in the world of S.C. education, he’s also a modern day super hero – without the red cape.

Phil Noble is a businessman in Charleston and president of the S.C. New Democrats, an independent reform group.

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