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School leaders consider direction for 2013-14

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By Reece Murphy

Lancaster County School District officials began laying the groundwork for the coming school year last weekend during the annual school board/superintendent’s planning session

This year’s meeting, attended by board members and school administrators, was held Friday, Feb. 1, and Saturday, Feb. 2,  at the Home Place Bed and Breakfast in the Tradesville community.

Among the many topics under consideration during the two-day meeting were school safety, technology and the 2013-14 school year calendar.

School safety

First up soon after the meeting began Friday afternoon was a topic that’s been on the minds of parents and school officials alike since December’s Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting: school safety.

During the session,  Bryan Vaughn, school district public safety director, presented school board members with the results of a recently completed comprehensive safety audit of the county’s public schools, along with five other facilities and the district offices on Catawba Street.

Vaughn said the audits showed the district excelled in areas such as safety practices, procedures, drills and locking systems, but needed improvements in others.

“The one thing we did realize, because of the age of our buildings, is we have some design considerations at some of our schools, such as at the entrances to our buildings,” Vaughn said.

“We’ve made some recommendations to the board and at this point we’re going to be able to include some of the design improvements in our capital improvement plans,” he said, “and hopefully we’ll be able to implement some of those things after our budget is approved (in June).”

Vaughn said he also recommended mandatory annual safety training for school staff members “from A to Z.” This training, he said, should include cafeteria staff, classroom assistants, bus drivers and anybody else “who has a function with the school district.”

The training would cover everything from school safety procedures to the district and schools’ expectations for staff members regarding student safety.

Vaughn said there was also considerable discussion of resource officers at all school campuses.

Right now,  the district has law enforcement resource officers assigned to its four high schools and at two middle schools. 

Other middle schools and some elementary schools are covered by resource officers from nearby high schools who can respond if needed.

Vaughn said he gave school board members an estimate of the costs to implement such coverage, which he classified as “substantial.”

Pending the outcome of legislation before both the S.C. General Assembly and U.S. Congress – and funds to help implement it – Vaughn said the proposition may be something the district would seriously consider.

“I think it’s the desire of every one of the board to have some kind of protection at the elementary schools,” Vaughn said. 

“It’s still under discussion about who the person would be, what their role would be and that kind of thing ... but right now, we’re focusing on procedures and structural improvements.”

Technology

Lydia Quinn, the district’s director of planning and accountability, updated school board members on the use of technology.

While much of the discussion focused on such mundane concerns as what kind of software and equipment are used at various schools, the discussion revolved around a facet of modern education that is the norm in today’s schools.

Quinn said not only do schools and students still use technology for more traditional uses, such as calculators and computer programs to track students progress, but there has been an increasing trend toward more mobile technology in the classroom, such as the use of iPods, iPads, Kindles, netbooks, tablets and now chromebooks.

Other cutting edge technology already in use across the district, Quinn said, were such systems as “smart tables” in K-2 classrooms, and “polling response systems” in other grade levels.

The latter lets students use individual remote control-like “clickers” to respond to teachers’ questions, providing real time data on a screen. 

Teachers are already using the devices for tests and quizzes, or to get an instantaneous read on whether their students are understanding the lesson, and more.

Students these days, Quinn said, are capable of using technology such as flip cameras to shoot videos for class projects, or computers to retrieve homework assignments left at school, all of it as if by second nature.

“Technology is something that is used throughout our classrooms,” Quinn said. “It’s not something that is added on anymore; it’s not like it was when we were in school, it’s part of their culture.

“It’s not technology for technology’s sake anymore,” she said. “Just like the technology of two years ago is not the technology of today ... it takes money and people to maintain it all.”

Quinn said as the district moves forward in its use of technology, officials will explore facets such as standardizing mobile technology, whether to allow students to bring their own devices and a myriad of other concerns from infrastructure and bandwidth to Internet safety.

“We’ve got to make sure the kids are safe while we get ready for the technology, that’s the most important thing,” Quinn said. “Technology is a way to enhance what we do in the classroom, it helps us engage students and address individual needs.

“Technology enhances what we do in an everyday manner,” she said.

2013-14 school calendar

School year calendar

Excluding teacher work days, the following are major dates for the 2013-2014 school year:

– Aug. 16 – Sixth- and ninth-grade orientation 

– Aug. 19 – Students’ first day of school

– Nov. 27 – Student’s off-comp for parent/teacher conferences – make-up day if needed 

– Nov. 28-29 – Thanksgiving holiday

– Dec. 23 to Jan. 3 – Christmas holiday break 

– Jan. 6 – Schools reopen

– Jan. 20 – Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. holiday 

– April 14 –16 – Spring break (make-up days if needed) 

– April 17–18 – Guaranteed spring break

– May 29 – Students’ last day of school

– May 30 – Graduation

 

For a detailed 2013-14 school year calendar, visit the Lancaster County School District website at www.lancastercsd.com.

 

Contact reporter Reece Murphy at (803) 283-1151