Published August 16, 2015
FLORENCE, S.C. — Florence School District One, The School Foundation and the Greater Florence Chamber of Commerce have partnered to start a Fellows in Education Program.
The program, whose first class will have orientation in mid-September, will give local leaders in business and the community a firsthand understanding of education in Florence One. After orientation, the group will meet once a month for nine months.
Debbie Hyler, executive director of The School Foundation, said she has seen the success of the fellows program at McLeod Health and wanted to implement one within Florence One. "I am familiar with that program because my husband is a McLeod physician," Hyler said. "I thought for a long time that it would be great to have a similar program for education. My children are well out of school, in their twenties, almost thirties; today's classroom is just so different than it used to be with all of the technology that is being used and the project based learning and different things like that."
Mike Miller, president of the Greater Florence Chamber of Commerce, said he feels the program is a natural extension of the work the chamber does, a connection that has perhaps gone unrecognized before. "There were a few different categories that we should have been involved in before and one of those was education," Miller said. "We have looked for opportunities to do that and we found opportunities to partner with strong organizations in town because of course what we wanted were successful programs."
Miller said people not directly involved with children may not have seen the changes made since they themselves were students. "The students who are in school today are the same people that are going to be in the workforce in a few years," Miller said. "It is a responsibility of the community to know what's going on in our schools and participate and be interactive. I think it is a logical thing to do, to bring people back into the schools who may have not had the opportunity in the last few years because maybe they have students already out of school and out of the home."
He said everyone in the community has a stake in local education even if they don't realize it. "It is important to keep the community, not just the business community but all of the community, involved in what's happening and this is a good way to do it," Miller said. "Frankly, it touches them every day. Whether you are going shopping at the mall or buying insurance, or going to the carwash, you are interacting with someone, somewhere that was educated in our system."
Hyler said that by working with The School Foundation she has gotten insight into the classroom that she hopes the fellows will see as well. "I know how much I, personally, enjoy going into the classrooms when we go and visit classrooms where we have given grants from The School Foundation," Hyler said. "This to me is a wonderful opportunity for other people who don't have children in the district to be able to go into the classrooms; it just makes you feel good to see what goes on in the classroom."
Randy Bridges, superintendent of Florence One, introduced the program to the board of trustees Thursday night.
"The mission of Fellows in Education is to select community leaders -- 20 is the number we have come up with for the first class -- to really take an in-depth look at what is going on in our school district," Bridges said. "At the same time, (we will be) building capacity within the community for our schools." Bridges said he will be involved heavily in the orientation for the fellows, telling them from his perspective what is going on in the district. Fellows will also have a chance to work with some school administration. "We have put a part in (the program) for them to choose, if they want to, to kind of be a principal for the day," Bridges said. "That means shadowing one of our administrators just to see what the life of a principal is like over the course of a day."
The program was an action item on the board agenda and it was approved, with slight reservation from board members Alexis Pipkins, Pat Gibson-Hye Moore and E.J. McIver over the selection process and the diversity of the fellows, though they had not seen a list of the inaugural group.
Hyler said that the program will touch all corners of the community and that the partners have worked to make sure that the fellows represent all areas of diversity.
Fellows will be introduced to every level of education in Florence One, including the International Baccalaureate Programs, early childhood education and the career center.
According to the mission statement,"Fellows in Education is designed to improve education for students by involving local leaders in the atmosphere and the experiences that our students share each day. The program seeks to create a community of leaders that can share first-hand knowledge and help collaborate with policy makers and the community on the educational concerns of the future."