Celebrating Public (More than Simply) Education

Celebrating Public (More than Simply) Education

by Catherine Schumacher, President & CEO, Public Education Partners

I’m writing this blog post from my home office, where I am enjoying one of the two benefits of working from home (the other being the dress code): windows.

I never thought I would miss my windowless office at Public Education Partners so much. I took the quiet space, free of distractions, for granted. I took my brilliant and funny colleagues, the quick convenings in the hallway and the rather grim breakroom, for granted. Lots of things…taken for granted.

As our communities come together to respond to COVID-19 and its wide-ranging impact, all of us at Public Education Partners hope that there is one thing that no one will take for granted ever again: the essential role that public schools play in our society. Not just as places of learning, but as anchors of our communities.

Schools are, first and foremost, a safe space where our children learn to be educated, engaged, empathetic members of society. What we have seen in the last few weeks, however, is all of the OTHER things our schools do as well. Kids receive healthy meals that keep their bodies strong and minds sharp. They turn to school-based health centers to receive medical care and mental health supports. Families are connected to a broad network of social service providers that help with everything from homelessness to job training.

All from one, chronically underfunded system.

Our school districts–our teachers, counselors, principals, staff, administrators, and superintendents–are superheroes. As Greenville County Schools Superintendent Dr. Burke Royster observed in this op-ed published last week in the Greenville News, the efforts to transform learning and other support for our students on a very short timeframe are nothing short of “heroic.”

In Greenville County alone, we have 81 different locations where the district is providing not only two meals per day for students, but also free wi-fi access so that kids who don’t have it at home can download new content to their school-issued Chromebooks, submit assignments to teachers, and continue learning. Special education teachers, counselors, and school social workers are all keeping a close eye on their students, checking in just as they would if schools were in session as usual. These efforts are being replicated at districts across the Upstate, and they powerfully demonstrate the ways in which public education is about so much more than academics.

Public Education Partners of Greenville County is proud to serve as co-facilitator with Ten at the Top of the Upstate Education Spectrum, which convenes key stakeholders to discuss critical needs in education that impact our Upstate Counties. Over the last year, we have been focusing on the teacher shortage, working together to develop strategies for recruiting and retaining the best teachers for our Upstate classrooms—inviting them to #TeachattheTop.

The Teach at the Top brand was developed in partnership with our friends at Duke Brands and will be the heart of collaborative messaging about the benefits of teaching in the Upstate. Like PEP’s #Teach864 campaign, Teach at the Top will celebrate the terrific work of teachers and schools in our communities. Keep an eye out for news from #TeachattheTop on social media platforms in the weeks to come—now is the perfect time to shine a bright spotlight on these superheroes among us.

I also want to ask our Upstate community to keep a close eye on how we can support our public schools, teachers and administrators, and the students and families that they serve over the next several weeks. In particular, our Upstate United Ways are helping to coordinate strategic supports for children and families during this time. Public Education Partners will be doing everything that we can to be a good partner to Greenville County Schools, our colleagues at Ten at the Top, and others as we navigate this crisis. I invite you to follow us on our social media platforms (@PEPGreenville) and website for critical information relating to COVID-19, along with updates about our own programming.

Be well. Stay safe. Thank a teacher.

 

 

Public Education Partners (PEP), founded in 1985, leads our community in acting collectively to support, strengthen, and advance public education and student achievement in Greenville County Schools. To that end, its work focuses on Elevating Teachers, Empowering Advocates, and Engaging Communities.

Go on a Butterfly Adventure at Roper Mountain Science Center!

Go on a Butterfly Adventure at Roper Mountain Science Center!

Roper Mountain Science Center is a great place to visit no matter when you go, but if you go now through July 12th, there’s a treat in store for you—the Butterfly Adventure, now in its 4th year.

As you enter the natural rainforest habitat area, which is now covered in netting, you’ll receive a “magic wand”—a cotton swab dipped in red Gatorade—to attract the butterflies. There are hundreds of butterflies of several species native to our region, along with plants that are brought in specially for the species of butterflies to feed on, rest on, lay eggs on, and do what butterflies do.

Zebra Longwing butterfly

After you leave the netted area (making sure you’re not taking any butterflies with you on your clothes), you’ll enter the Rainforest Classroom, which right now is full of glass tanks and netted enclosures where all manner of caterpillars, cocoons, and moths and butterflies are in various stages of metamorphosis—all presided over by Anne Howell, the “butterfly lady,” who breeds a lot of the butterflies for the exhibit and is happy to pass along her knowledge to visitors young and old.

Anne Howell, the “Butterfly Lady”

The exhibit is open Tuesday through Saturday from 9:00 a.m. to 3:00 p.m., closed only on the 4th of July. Admission is: $8 for teens and adults (ages 13-59); $7 for children (ages 4-12) and for senior citizens (age 60 and over). Free for children age 3 and under, Roper Mountain Science Center members, and school district employees.

Want even more butterfly adventure? Three special Monday Butterfly Bonanza parent/child events will take place on June 17th, June 24th, and July 8th, from 10:00-11:00 a.m. The Butterfly Bonanza ticket ($40 for a parent and one child) includes a special butterfly-themed craft and sweet treat.

And, of course, year-round, the butterfly garden outside of Harrison Hall contains plants that attract butterflies and bees. In 2002, it was certified as a National Wildlife Federation Schoolyard Habitat.

While you’re there, you’ll want to explore the rest of the Harrison Hall of Natural Science, the nature trails, living history farm, and much more.

Article by Sharon Purvis

Addressing the Teacher Shortage: Supply, Demand, and Perception

Addressing the Teacher Shortage: Supply, Demand, and Perception

by Sharon Purvis

One of Ten at the Top’s focus areas for 2019 will be convening various stakeholders to address what is becoming a serious problem in South Carolina: a shortage of teachers to meet the growing demand.

Working with Ten at the Top to spearhead this initiative is Ansel Sanders, president and CEO of Public Education Partners, whose mission is “to lead our community in acting collectively to support, strengthen and advance public education and student achievement in Greenville County Schools.” That mission positions Sanders ideally to gather interested parties to address the shortage.

Ten at the Top has for some time been convening district superintendents and business leaders in the Upstate, but it has been with a workforce development focus in the past. The group evolved to include leaders in higher education in an effort to bridge the gap between K-12 and higher education institutions.

After several meetings with representatives from those three sectors, it became clear that the state’s teacher shortage—which is only projected to worsen if steps are not taken to address it—is an issue that needs focused attention.

The problem is two-pronged: the over-all student population in South Carolina public schools has grown by an average of 7,400 students per year over the last 5 years, and higher turn-over and fewer teacher graduates means a diminishing supply of teachers to meet the demand. (For an in-depth analysis of the issue, click here.)

In an effort to get their arms around what is needed to tackle this issue, the group began by forming three committees to address the following:

  1. Understanding the challenge—why is there a shortage? What are teachers actually saying?
  2. Thinking about elevating the profession. How do we better tell the story of teachers? This a marketing strategy, both to potential teachers and the public.
  3. Thinking specifically about teacher retention and recruitment strategies.

The first is important because, Sanders says, the shortage is really a symptom of an underlying problem, and without an understanding of what’s causing it, any measures taken to address it will be ineffective—or at least not as effective as they could be. Teacher pay gets a lot of press, but it is far from the only issue. Public perception of teachers and education is also a factor, as is a lack of stature for the profession, and the 2nd and 3rd  committees seek to address those issues.

The key, says Sanders, is “how to elevate, modernize, and professionalize teaching.” What makes a profession a profession? Compensation is a piece of the puzzle, certainly, but it’s also training and the autonomy to do one’s job, as well as the respect that is afforded to other professions, Sanders says. He continues: “We respect them, but do we respect and honor them the way we do, say, our military, or other highly honored professions? Are we telling our own children that they should aspire to be teachers, or are we not?”

Alternate routes to certification are another piece of the puzzle—not to replace the traditional route through colleges of education, but to supplement it as a source of teachers. An added benefit of that is that the pool of teachers entering the profession will have added diversity, with older teachers who have had other professional experience to draw on.

The three committees are just underway and will meet in January and early February and will report to the larger group, called the Education Spectrum Forum, in April. Each has 10-12 members, comprised of K-12, higher education, and business sectors. Although Sanders hopes to engage policymakers, the outcome of the committees is not policy recommendations, but the hope is that policy will emerge from the process.

This group’s efforts are running parallel to legislative efforts, in fact, with education being at the forefront of policy initiatives in Columbia. South Carolina Public Radio reports that Gov. McMaster’s budget recommendation calls for a 5% pay raise for teachers among other things as part of his promise to fix education in the state. The money to pay for the proposed reforms comes from a budget surplus as well as increased tax revenues from a growing economy. And McMaster promised in his State of the State address to sign into law reform bills that have been proposed in the state assembly.

Ten at the Top and Public Education Partners will continue to focus on this issue throughout 2019 and will continue to use this space to update constituents on the progress.