State takeover of Williamsburg Co. schools to enter 3rd year

The Berkeley County School District will vote Tuesday on how to use $6.7 million of funding...
The Berkeley County School District will vote Tuesday on how to use $6.7 million of funding coming from the CARES Act.(Live 5/File)
Updated: Jun. 1, 2021 at 6:13 PM EDT
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KINGSTREE, S.C. (WCSC) - When Williamsburg County students enter their classrooms this fall, their schools will be entering their third year under control of the state’s Department of Education.

The state stepped in after the district failed to meet state standards back in 2018.

State Schools Superintendent Molly Spearman declared a state of emergency in the district, fired the school board and superintendent and installed Dr. Rose Wilder as the new superintendent.

“When I arrived, I found that the district had 64 non-compliance concerns in special services,” Wilder said. “Of those 64 non-compliances there are now just two that we are still working on.”

In addition to special services, Wilder has focused in on addressing the district’s financial needs. Despite the rural nature of Williamsburg County, Wilder says they’re making progress.

“The district is doing well financially,” Wilder said. “The past three audits have had no findings and we are very pleased with that.”

The jury is still out on whether this has translated to student success. A comparison of data the year before the state took over and the 2019-2020 shows many of early education metrics that indicate how prepared a child is for success have seen marked decreases. For example, second grade students who are on track for success in English Language Arts at the third grade dropped from 32.6% to 19.1%. Second grade students who are on track for success in Mathematics at the third grade also dropped from 29.9% to 14.5%. It should be noted that there were similar percentage drops statewide in those metrics.

“I will be the first to say the areas of student achievement and teacher quality are two areas that we are still struggling with,” Wilder said.

National data that measures math and reading skills shows the number of students that are considered “below basic” has gone dropped by about 2 percentage points for 4th grade reading, 4th grade math, and 8th grade math - indicating positive growth. However, 8th grade reading went up by about the same margin.

Wilder says academic success data for this year is slim right now because many tests were waived during the pandemic. She says looking for hard and fast numbers to show growth may be slightly misleading. However, she says there is some preliminary data she has seen that suggest things are improving.

“Based on the preliminary data I have received thus far I am going to say 80% or higher of our 3rd graders met standard for our reading criteria,” Wilder said.

Graduation rates have increased slightly from 83.8% in 2017 to 84.3% in 2020. The number of graduates heading to college or a technical school also increased from 45.6% to 55%. Despite this, Wilder says she’s not quite comfortable with where the district is leaving graduating seniors.

“They have less opportunity to have exposure to advance placement courses, college prep courses and so forth. That’s a major challenge we have in rural school districts to attract AP teachers or CP teachers,” Wilder said. “So if you are asking me if I am comfortable with the course level that our middle and high schools have access to, no I am not.”

There is still an elected school board in Williamsburg County, but there is no formal relationship with the superintendent.

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