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Education leaders focus on finances, safety, standards and construction in upcoming year

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By Reece Murphy

Outstanding report cards for Lancaster County schools and recognition as the best two-year campus in the state for University of South Carolina Lancaster were among the many accomplishments that marked 2012 as a great year for local education. 

With 2012 gone, though, Lancaster County education officials are already looking forward to 2013 with a certainty that this year will be even better. Here’s what they’re saying:

Lancaster County School District

Lancaster County School District Superintendent Dr. Gene Moore said the district will begin the new year with a long, hard look at its finances during the budget planning session, scheduled for Feb. 1-2.

The two-day session will help the board get an overview of the district’s finances and where it stands, and will help the board shape the 2013-14 budget, which must be approved this summer.

But first, Moore said, the district is going to take a good, hard look at its schools’ safety, especially in light of the Dec. 14 school shooting in Newtown, Conn.

“When we come back from the holidays, we’ll conduct a safety audit of our schools and see what the needs are out there to enhance what we’re doing for safety,” Moore said. “Safety always has been a priority with me and the board and it will continue to be a priority.

“But as we go forward, we’ll see what our situation is and how we can improve it even more,” he said.

A third priority, Moore said, is to “stay on top” of the new elementary school construction in Indian Land, a project approved in 2011 that gained momentum in 2012. 

The $15.1 million, 95,000-square-foot elementary school on Harrisburg Road is scheduled for a fall 2014 opening and is on track for construction to begin in March. The school will have sufficient room for 1,000 students in pre-kindergarten through sixth grade.

Moore said the district will also continue its move toward implementation of  “common core standards” this year, a national curriculum mandated by the S.C. Department of Education as part of its mid-2012 federal waiver of some No Child Left Behind provisions. 

As part of the move toward common core standards, the district will have to begin using new testing models under development by the S.C. Departmen of Education. Coming off last year’s stellar performance by the district and its students, Moore said the move is paramount. 

Among the most exciting initiatives for 2013, Moore said, is the district’s upcoming studies of how to integrate more technology into classrooms.

“Technology is an area that we really want to give attention to this year. We’re going to be looking at all kinds of newer technologies,” Moore said. “A number of districts are piloting initiatives, so we’re going to be looking at what they’re doing and how we can open up, carefully, some of those new technologies students can bring to school themselves, such as tablets and even smartphones. 

“I really think it’s time to see how we can use some of these tools for education,” he said. “All these different technologies ... offer some pretty interesting opportunities for teaching, but we want to make sure that if we do that, we do it smartly.”

In all, Moore said he expects 2013 to be another great year for public education in Lancaster County.

“It really has been a good fall, and we certainly had some good news for the district (in 2012),” Moore said. “We want to continue in that track and I feel like our administrators and teachers are doing a good job – so we’re optimistic that our future is bright.”

USCL

USCL began the fall semester in 2012 with a record student body population of more than 2,000 this year and ended the semester being recognized as the most successful two-year campus in South Carolina. 

Starting this year at the university’s helm is interim dean Stan Emanuel, who took over for former dean, Dr. John Catalano, on Dec. 31. After 11 years as USCL dean, Catalano will remain with the university as a full-time professor of philosophy and logic. 

Emanuel said the new year will begin with the start of a long-awaited new construction project.

“Certainly, the big thing right off the bat is going to be the start of the new building, Founders Hall,” Emanuel said. “Everybody is excited about getting that completed because we’re pretty much out of space.

“It’s exciting because this new building is going to incorporate state-of-the-art technology,” he said. 

The $6.8 million building will be located between Medford Library and the James A. Bradley Arts and Sciences Building and will include 30,000 square feet of classroom and faculty office space. 

Emanuel said although privately owned student housing is already under way, the university will also likely begin discussions about on-campus student housing in 2013. The idea is part of a long-range plan to make the university more attractive to out-of-county students. 

Emanuel said the university will also begin implementing the USC system’s Palmetto College, an online-study program aimed at helping former students with sufficient credits complete their education. The program will also increase the number of four-year degrees available at USCL from three to eight.

“That’s going to be a big thing because it’s going to be able to let people with 60 credit hours go back to school without sitting in a classroom,” Emanuel said. “It’ll open up more options for our students that they wouldn’t be able to do otherwise.”

Finally, Emanuel said the search committee will continue its search for a new full-time dean, which he estimates will take three to six months. 

“Of course, 2012 was definitely another banner year and certainly, much of the credit goes to Dean Catalano,” Emanuel said. 

“The new year, as with any new year, will certainly have challenges, many of which we don’t anticipate, but at the same token, we’ll put our best foot forward and do the best for our students and the best for the community, because that’s what we do,” he said.

 

 Contact reporter Reece Murphy at (803) 283-1151