Florence Start SMART program receives investment from state

on Wednesday, 26 March 2014. Posted in News

Posted: Monday, March 24, 2014 12:43 pm

FLORENCE, S.C. – Start SMART, a program unveiled by The School Foundation last September, is moving full steam ahead according to an update Florence School District 1 gave educators, supporters and board members Monday at the R.N. Beck Center.

S.C. Sen. Hugh K. Leatherman presented an installment check from the state for $147,500 to see that the program continues to prepare children for kindergarten.

An essential part of the Start SMART program is the availability of resources for families and educators to ensure that all children in the Florence area are developmentally ready for school by the time they enter kindergarten. Some of those resources include psychological services, health and nutrition, early childhood professional development to assist child care centers and the availability of parent workshops.

School Readiness Director Dr. Floyd Creech said that the program, which kicked off last September, has already met many goals and is on track to surpass others.

Currently there are 369 preschool children signed up for the program, which exceeds the goal of 300. Creech said one reason for the success is offering online registration. That service has more than doubled the number of applications organizers would have expected at this point.

One of the highlights announced was the Start 2 Read program that will send a Start SMART-certified early childhood teacher to a business to talk to parents of one, two or three year old children. The teacher will share with the parent one of eight children's books, tips for effective reading aloud to their child and a reading tip sheet. Creech said it's a unique initiative in the workplace. To date, books have been distributed to more than 200 families.
"People sometimes think parents in poverty don't work but that's not true," he said. "Parents in poverty work two jobs and may not have time for home visitors. They do have time on their breaks at work."

School District Board of Trustees Chairman Porter Stewart said the Start SMART program really starts from birth.
"We are seeking to reach these children in their developmental stages," Stewart said. "It makes perfectly logical sense to reach them while they are developing before they get to kindergarten, instead of having to catch up."

Leatherman, chairman of the senate finance committee, was instrumental in getting the $590,000 grant from the state for the program. As a father and grandfather he was a little skeptical at first but, "When I saw the results it was phenomenal what children can do when they have access to these kinds of programs."

Start SMART receives over 2,000 books

on Monday, 17 February 2014. Posted in News

The News Journal

Barnes and Noble presented The School Foundation and Florence One’s School Readiness Program with over 2,000 books for the Start SMART initiative on Feb. 6 at the R.N. Beck Child Development Center. The books were donated by Barnes and Noble customers during their annual holiday book drive, said Michele Rogers, community relations manager with Barnes and Noble. The Start SMART program is designed to give parents in our community the resources they need to prepare their children for kindergarten, explained Debbie Hyler, executive director of The School Foundation. “Education doesn’t just begin when a child reaches kindergarten – it begins at birth, Hyler commented.  

“So much has got to happen between the ages of birth and three.” Over the years, The School Foundation has prided itself on supporting and contributing to FSD1’s K-12 teachers and students. With the creation of the Start SMART program, they’ve added a new goal – assisting parents in preparing their children for kindergarten. These books will be distributed to parents, along with reading tips to help them know how to read to their children. For more information about the Start Smart Initiative you may call Mrs. Hyler at 843-662-9996 or visit the website at The website offers resources to help parents chart their child's development.

Florence early reading program gets big donation

on Sunday, 09 February 2014. Posted in News

Ellen Meder, Morning News
Posted: Thursday, February 6, 2014 

More than 2,000 books purchased by Barnes and Noble customers given to Start Smart

FLORENCE, S.C. — Florence's Barnes & Noble book store donated more than 2,000 books purchased by its customers to the Start Smart initiative Thursday, the result of the store's annual holiday drive.  Community relations manager Michele Rogers said the store makes a point every year to encourage customers to donate books to a local nonprofit that promotes literacy, and this year the newly formed Start Smart struck her as the way to go.  "I heard about them through the radio advertisements they had, so I contacted Debbie (Hyler) and she explained the program to me and we knew it was a perfect fit," Rogers said.

Smart Start is an effort launched last year by The School Foundation, in conjunction with Florence School District 1, with the aim of getting all children in the area ready to learn by the time they start kindergarten.  Hyler, the director of The School Foundation, said the program and its website are all about letting parents know what is developmentally good for infants and toddlers, and giving them resources and tips on how to play with and read to children to help them learn early.  The 2,117 books purchased for the drive by Barnes & Noble customers will be sorted and catalogued by district staff to be distributed to parents of young children in the community.

Start Smart has just kicked off one of its main programs, Start 2 Read, which will access these parents through their employers who have agreed to participate and set up learning sessions with district reading coaches. Hyler said that not only will parents of children who are 1, 2 and 3 years old get copies of the eight books on the Start 2 Read list for the year — the classic "Goodnight Moon" is first up — but the reading coaches will explain and parents see developmentally appropriate teaching opportunities on every page, even the pages with few words.  "Often in those picture books, there's not a lot of words on the page but there are so many opportunities to talk about maybe body parts on a face or the stripes or patterns. I mean there are just so many words that you can use, but often people might not know better ways to read with young children," Hyler said.  She said Start Smart wants to make it clear that a lot of important development and learning happens in the first three years, and that all parents should seek information on how to foster play that helps with brain development.

So far the program will be piloted with employees of Assurant, city of Florence, BlueCross BlueShield, and Johnson Controls. Hyler said Start Smart will work with the business community to set up more parent sessions and to gain donations for books to distribute.

For more information or to take a developmental quiz to gauge your child's readiness, visit

Dancing With the Stars of Florence back for another spin on the dance floor

on Monday, 13 January 2014. Posted in News

Posted: Tuesday, January 7, 2014 9:28 pm
Ellen Meder Morning News

FLORENCE, S.C. — Dancing With the Stars of Florence will be back for another year of tangos, cha chas and  jives this spring, but for the 12 pairs  competing for the coveted mirror ball trophy, the journey to greatness  started this week.

The annual fundraiser for The School  Foundation is set for April 10 and will  feature 12 sets of local "celebrities" or  business people about town and area  "professional dancers" or gracious  student dancers and theatre buffs. Tuesday night the pairings got to find out who they would be dancing with and choose their songs.

Michelle Cato of Roche Carolina Inc. said that she decided to dance because it's a great cause to raise money for children and their education. "I've seen the real show on TV and it looks cool and fun and it's going to be a blast," Cato said. "I'm incredibly nervous too. I've never done anything like this before other than like getting on a dance floor a little if music is playing at an event. I think I have some rhythm." Her dance partner CJ Miller, who is a theatre teacher in Kingstree and has performed in many local production said he too was roped in by the good cause. "I was contacted by Rebecca Kelley [another dancer] and when she asked if I'd do it I freaked out," Miller said. "I was so excited because I do theatre around here and thought I was a Florence star now and she said 'No, no you're going to be a dancer,' so that was funny but I was excited. And then I found out it was to raise money and that was even better."

Debbie Hyler, the executive director of The School Foundation, worked with Burnadene Kelley of Kelley's Fine Arts to match up dancers and stars based on mutual interest — in Cato and Miller's case they are both military veterans.

At the event, where video of last year's DWTSF played in the background, there was an air of nervous excitement as many of the non-dancers came to terms with the fact that they will soon be strutting their stuff in front of an audience.

Southside Middle School principal Craig Washington, who is no stranger to the arts as a musician and the leader of an arts-centric school, still said it's going to be an exciting and nerve-wracking event. "I've got to get my feet moving to the music now, not my fingers," Washington said.

The School Foundation will be posting photos of the couples on their Facebook page and giving updates until April 10 so that the public can keep up with the dancers' progress with their new students.

Dance pairs for the 2014 Dancing With The Starts of Florence Competition:

(Celebrity, company they represent, professional dancer)

-Rob Ardis, Pee Dee Electric Cooperative, Inc, with Sara Johnson
-Jason Carrico, Sexton Dental Clinic, Inc, with Tiffany Welsh
-Michelle Cato, Roche Carolina Inc., with CJ Miller
-John Chase, Wells Fargo Advisors, with Lynsie Daniels
-Rakesh Chokshi, Pee Dee Spine Center, with Brandi Williamson
-Trina Folk, GE Healthcare, with Frankie Sullivan
-Fred Krainin, Pee Dee Cardiology Associates, P.A., with Brea Boatwright
-Dana Lecznar, Assurant Specialty Property, with Phillip Rast
-FitzLee McEachin, McEachin & McEachin, P.A., with Shandi Cox
-Jeff Stevens, Carolina Canners, Inc., with Rebecca Kelley
-Nick Townsend, Carolinas Hospital System, with Meggie Baker
-Craig Washington, Southside Middle School, with Cheyanne Beck

Beginning February 1 can cast votes for their favorite couple at for $10 a vote. At the show three couples will receive mirror balls for "The People's Choice." That night a panel of expert judges will also crown a "Technical Skills Winner" and a "Most Entertaining" couple.

The School Foundation's board member Ed Love and local celebrity Audra Coble will be master and mistress of ceremonies. The 2013 celebrities will perform the opening act and the KFA Extreme team will provide special entertainment throughout the evening.

The night of Dancing With The Starts of Florence, April 10, will begin with a 6 p.m. reception with food drinks and prizes and the competition begins at 7 p.m. A limited number of individual tickets and tables will go on sale to the public Jan. 13. Individual tickets are $75 and tables for eight guests begin at $1,000.

For more information visit

The School Foundation is a nonprofit that awards grants to schools and teachers in Florence School District 1 to support education innovation and has also championed early childhood education in the area, recently kicking off the Start Smart initiative to encourage school readiness of all children.

School Foundation announces its 2014 Dancing With the Stars of Florence dance couples

on Saturday, 11 January 2014. Posted in News

Published in The News Journal
January 8, 2013

Local celebrities and their professional dance partners will square off on April 10 at SiMT for a chance to win the coveted mirror ball trophy at the fourth annual Dancing With The Stars of Florence. The reception will begin at 6 p.m. and the competition will begin at 7 p.m. Guests will enjoy food, beverages, fellowship, and an opportunity to win a Kindle Fire, donated by BB&T. A limited number of tables and individual tickets will go on sale to the public on Jan. 13. Pricing for tables of eight guests begin at $1,000 and individual tickets sell for $75.

This year's dancers, celebrities and professionals, are: Rob Ardis, Pee Dee Electric Cooperative Inc., and Sara Johnson Michelle Cato, Roche Carolina Inc., and CJ Miller John Chase, Wells Fargo Advisors, and Lynsie Daniels Rakesh Chokshi, Pee Dee Spine Center, a division of Pee Dee Orthopaedic Associates, and Brandi Williamson Trina Folk, GE Healthcare, and Frankie Sullivan Fred Krainin, Pee Dee Cardiology Associates, P.A., and Brea Boatwright Dana Lecznar, Assurant Specialty Property, and Phillip Rast FitzLee McEachin, McEachin & McEachin, P.A., and Shandi Cox Jeff Stevens, Carolina Canners Inc. and Rebecca Kelley Nick Townsend, Carolinas Hospital System, and Meggie Baker Craig Washington, Southside Middle School, and Cheyanne Beck Jason Carrico, Sexton Dental Clinic Inc. and Tiffany Welsh

You can follow the dancers' progress on Facebook at!/ TheSchoolFoundation?fref=ts.!/TheSchoolFoundation?fref=ts. After Feb. 1, fans can vote online for their favorite couple(s) at for $10 per vote.

The "People's Choice" mirror ball trophies will be awarded to the three couples raising the most votes. A panel of judges will name one couple "Technical Skills Winner" based on the contestants' overall skills. This year, an additional category "Most Entertaining" will be added and voted on by the judges. The School Foundation's board member Ed Love and local celebrity Audra Coble will be master and mistress of ceremonies. The 2013 celebrities will perform the opening act and the KFA Extreme team will provide special entertainment throughout the evening.

About The School Foundation

Founded in 2000, The School Foundation promotes educational excellence in Florence, SC School District 1 through grants for innovative learning and through high impact initiatives designed to prepare all students for success. To learn more about The School Foundation, visit their website at To date, the foundation has provided over $810,000 in grants to FSD1 educators.

School Foundation Receives Early Childhood Champion Award

on Monday, 05 August 2013. Posted in News

School Foundation Receives Early Childhood Champion Award

The School Foundation in Florence received an Early Childhood Champion Award at the Institute for Child Success's Annual Celebration on April 22 at the Hyatt Regency on Main Street in downtown Greenville.

The School Foundation was recognized for their outstanding commitment to fostering the success of young children in South Carolina.

The Institute for Child Success is a research and policy organization working across South Carolina to create a culture that facilitates and fosters the success of young children.

The ICS Early Childhood Champion Award is awarded annually to an individual, individuals, or organizations demonstrating outstanding efforts toward fostering positive change through their work to strengthen the early childhood system in South Carolina. Recipients are chosen annually by the ICS Board of Directors.

Recipients may represent any discipline or sector and may be engaged in the early childhood system as a volunteer and/or as a paid professional.

The keynote address for the annual meeting was delivered by Robert Dugger, Managing Partner, Hanover Investment Corporation and Chairman of the ReadyNation National Advisory Board. Rob is a former partner in Tudor Investment Corporation and is a highly respected investor.

In addition to Dugger's address, Dr. Susan Thomson Shi, Chair of the Institute's Board of Directors, and Jamie Moon, ICS President made remarks and presented an update on the Institute's work and upcoming projects. The Early Learning Council of Georgetown County also received an Early Childhood Champion Award.

About ICS - Through research, advocacy and integration the Institute for Child Success leads public and private partnerships to coordinate, enhance and improve resources for the success of all children. A partnership of the Greenville Health System Children's Hospital and the United Way of Greenville County, ICS supports service providers and advocates focused on early childhood development, healthcare, and education – all to coordinate, enhance, and improve those efforts for the maximum effect in the lives of young people.

For more information: www.

Throw Money at Schools? Let's Pick the Best Target

on Monday, 10 June 2013. Posted in News

Throw Money at Schools? Let's Pick the Best Target

Our children need to be ready to enter Kindergarten. Read this interesting article published in The Morning News - Throw Money at Schools - Let's pick the best target.


on Wednesday, 15 May 2013. Posted in News


Join us in taking the ReadyNation pledge signaling your belief in the importance of quality early childhood development programs and a commitment to work to ensure children are ready to succeed.

Grant Approval

on Wednesday, 13 March 2013. Posted in News

Grant Approval

Our Board of Directors has approved $99,440.79 to be distributed in grants for the 2013-2014 school year. We are excited to support FSD1 educators. To date, The School Foundation has donated over $810,000 to FSD1 schools!

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