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Simpson to chair state board

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By Jesef Williams

A Lancaster resident will be chairman of the S.C. Board of Education in 2008.

Al Simpson has served on the board since 2006 and was elected as the 2008 chairman later that year.

The state board chooses its chairman a year in advance.

"I appreciate the confidence my colleagues on the board have put in me," said Simpson, the representative for the state's 6th Judicial Circuit, which includes Lancaster, Chester and Fairfield counties. "I'm somewhat humbled by it."

Simpson said he wants the 17-member board to continue its work to lower dropout rates. He also wants to provide districts with more school choice and to modify the state's standardized testing system.

He said the board may consider giving districts or schools incentives for improving the dropout rates.

A study group will be formed to look at various ways to help in that area, he said.

Simpson believes South Carolina tests students too much, and that those tests don't provide enough useful feedback. The Palmetto Achievement Challenge Test, for instance, is used more for ranking schools and districts than assessing individual students.

"PACT is not a diagnostic test," he said. "We need to be able to test the students and come up with a way to help them."

Simpson supports state Superintendent of Education Dr. Jim Rex's push to incorporate more school-choice options, such as charter schools.

"One of the biggest things we can do is work on the innovation in education. The whole idea is to make it easier for schools to do different things," he said.

Simpson said he looks forward to the reintroduction of committees, which the board had abandoned over the last few years. He believes that change will allow the meetings to run more efficiently.

Those committees are:

- Education profession

- Standards learning and accountability

- Finance and operation

- Policy and legislative

- Innovation in educational services, which aligns with the expanded school choice initiative

The board convenes Wednesday for the first time this year and will meet every second Wednesday of the month.

A Lancaster native, Simpson is vice president and general manager of SDL Atlas LLC in Rock Hill.

He and his wife, Sherrie, have three children - Elizabeth, 17, a Lancaster High School senior; Rebecca, 16, a Lancaster High junior; and Evan, a sixth-grader at Andrew Jackson Middle School.

Contact Jesef Williams at 283-1152 or jwilliams@thelancasternews.com