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Barry Moulton, Sandra Shealey, King Laurence and Keith Liner listen to a presentation on the state report card ratings at the regular meeting of the Aiken County School Board on Tuesday.

Members of the Aiken County School Board unanimously voted Tuesday to move the only December meeting from Dec. 10 to Dec. 17.

Dec. 10 is the date of the special election to fill three vacant School Board seats for Districts 7, 8 and 9 in the attendance Area 1 in Aiken.

“This way, we can get the new members sworn in,” Board Chairman Keith Liner said.

Kate Olin, the school district's director of Accountability and Assessment, gave a detailed presentation of the state school report cards ratings released Oct. 1.

The report showed the district had the highest percentage of excellent, good and average schools among the state's 10 largest districts, and 80% of the district's schools showed gains and improvements in student achievement.

Eight candidates have filed for Aiken County School Board seats

Aiken County Public Schools also had the highest graduation rate – 91.3% – among the 10 largest districts, Olin said.

“I'll share something we talk about regularly as a leadership team,” Olin said. “When we look at data, it's sometimes really easy to get caught up in the graphs and the charts, but we never want to lose sight of the fact that these aren't data points. They're students; they're sons and daughters; and they have dreams and aspirations.

“So our focus as a leadership team is, as much as we're excited, it's more on the holes and gaps in the data than it is on the success story. We want to make sure that every student in Aiken County is on that path to college and career and is successful.”

Interim Superintendent King Laurence said the report card results were a cause for celebration but also an opportunity to address those “gaps” that need attention.

“So it's great to celebrate the great things that are going on in Aiken County, but it also points out to us where we need to continue to grow; and we are committed to that continued growth in Aiken County,” Laurence said.

Dr. Shawn Foster, the district's chief officer of Operations and Student Services, updated the board on construction projects.

Walls are going up on the new classroom building at Midland Valley High School, and the slab had been laid for the new auxiliary gym and cafeteria.

The site is being developed and cleared for the new gymnasium at North Augusta High School.

At Aiken High School, the flooring has been poured in the new training room, the score board is being hung and the ticket booth installed in the renovations for the James Taylor gymnasium.

At the new Ridge Spring-Monetta High, the new football stadium opened Friday, and the first coats of paint are going up in the academic areas.

“If you travel through Aiken County, you'll continue to see progress on our facilities projects,” Foster said. “We're still on budget. I'm not going to say under. I'm going to say on. We hope to stay that course. Things are going well.”

The board adopted the 2020-21 budget calendar as follows:

• Feb. 18, 2020 – budget workshop, if necessary

• April 14, 2020 – budget workshop to review preliminary state revenue and preliminary expenditures estimates

• April 21, 2020 – first reading of budget

• May 12, 2020 – public hearing on tentative budget and public hearing for raising millage, if necessary

• May 26, 2020 – second reading and adoption of 2020-21 budget.

The board approved grants and donations as follows:

• A $10,867 S.C. Arts Commission – Arts in Basic Curriculum Grant for East Aiken School of the Arts to fund substitute teachers for arts teachers to plan and implement arts integration strategies across all grade levels

• A $1,400 donation to Leavelle-McCampbell Middle School from Bridgestone to fund a robotics team and competition

• A $1,000 donation to Leavelle-McCampbell Middle School from the Giving Tree to help pay for material and supplies for a school musical.

During public participation, former School Board member Rosemary English congratulated the school district on its rating on the recently released state report cards.

“I'm glad to be able to come back to you and say congratulations, congratulations, congratulations,” she said. “Keep up the great work. We are already a premier district. Keep delivering on the promise. It is always rewarding.”

Moses Mims asked the School Board members to reconsider and re-evaluate its decision just before school started in August to discontinue the Waterford Early Learning program. Aiken County Public Schools used the computer-based program for three years to help improve the literacy skills of students in kindergarten through second grade.

“It is my belief based on what I learned about the Waterford program that the achievements that students have attained over this last grading period, some of that can be attributed to the Waterford program,” Mims said. “If that was good program, it doesn't seem reasonable that it would have been discontinued? If those students were achieving good results from that program, then why would be stop the program? If you determine that it was an effective program, I would implore you to re-institute the program.”

Larry Wood covers education for the Aiken Standard.