Wednesday, April 9, 2014
In March, a Town Hall-style meting was organized at the depot building at Doty Park so the public could get some face-time with Mayor Bill Collins and ask questions about the goings-on in the community.
A similar meeting was put together April 2, this time with Dorchester School District Two Superintendent Joe Pye, who was scheduled to spend an hour answering similar types of questions the public had for the school district. Pye was joined on the panel by Louis Smith, founder of the Community Resource Center, and Janie Colleton, office manager at the Center.
While many residents posed questions for the superintendent to answer, attendees also took it as an opportunity to express a variety of concerns they have for the district.
A rule was established prior to the start of the meeting: people were not allowed to discuss issues with a specific student, similar to the rule that exists during the public comments session of DD2’s board meetings.
The first person to address Pye was Dorchester County resident Alvenia Smalls who was speaking on behalf of her daughter, who was also at the meeting. Smalls questioned Pye on students with disabilities at Summerville’s Adult Learning Center.
Smalls let the crowd know that in January 2013 she filed a complaint with the South Carolina Department of Education alleging that DD2 violated the rights of her daughter, who has been a student with a health impairment and at one point attended the Adult Learning Center, rights that were afforded to her as a student under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA), the applicable federal and State Board of Education (SBE) regulations and SCDE policies and procedures, by failing to provide clear and appropriate measurable post-secondary goals that are annually updated and based upon age-appropriate transition assessments. Smalls said that her daughter is not currently a DD2 student.
Smalls informed attendees that she plans to follow up with a civil lawsuit. She had several questions for Pye regarding students with disabilities, such as: What goals do you have for the Adult Education Center’s students with disabilities? What is the percentage of high school students with disabilities in our adult education program? What type of programs are in place for students with disabilities after high school?
“They (students with disabilities) are treated like all the students that we deal with,” Pye said. “We are in full compliance with any federal regulation. I don’t know of anything in our district that we are not in compliance with.”
Summerville resident Louis Fowler asked the superintendent about the reasoning behind the school district letting go of M.B. Kahn, the contractor who had been in charge of the district’s building project.
Pye explained that M.B. Kahn organized the pricing for the district’s building project, and had come up with a reasonable price.
However, as it turns out, cost prices ended up being different than what had been perceived, to the point where it appeared prices were going $2 to 3 million over budget.
“Our relationship with M.B. Kahn is fine, they didn’t do anything wrong,” Pye said. “It’s just we don’t have that kind of money.”
There was also a question about the new aquatic center, which still has not received a site location. Pye said while the pool situation is not at the top of the district’s priority list, the district is not “married” to any venue or entity yet for a pool location – such as the YMCA.
“We are open to whatever the district thinks is in the best interest of the district,” he said.
There were many concerns over the school district implementing Common Core Standards. Worried parents informed the superintendent that some of their own children were already struggling with homework assignments – even the parents themselves are struggling with helping kids with their homework because they themselves cannot answer the questions.
Assistant Superintendent Sean Alford was invited to explain more about Common Core Standards.
“Common Core is a set of learning expectations that were adopted and ratified by the South Carolina State Board of Education – that was done in July 2010,” Alford said. “What it is, is a common set of learning expectations…in the area of English/Language Arts and mathematics.”
Alford went on to explain that the state asked DD2 to prepare a written statement on its stance on Common Core Standards. With that the district organized a survey for district employees to express their beliefs, and that survey determined that a majority (65 percent) of survey responders felt the district needs a set of expectations.
“As far as our district we’ve been implementing Common Core Standards for the past two years,” Alford said, adding teachers appear to support it because Common Core Standards requires more rigorous work and makes students think at a higher level. For teachers who answered that they did not know how they felt on the matter it is possible those teachers do not teach English/Language Arts or Math.
“It really only addresses two subject areas,” he said. “They may not have had the training or exposure the other teachers had, so we felt really good.”
Pye himself said he is grateful that the district has the opportunity to test Common Core.
“How cruel would it be if we didn’t do anything – if they came out in the spring and said, ‘Starting in fall we do Common Core’?” he said. “At least we have had two years to massage it.”
Resident Tasha Curry said her family moved to the area in 2012 from Texas. Curry said Common Core has been really tough on her kids, saying her daughter once answered a problem correctly on her homework but her statement for the answer was not good enough and therefore she did not get full credit.
“I think as a parent I’ve seen more parents here who are saying, ‘I’m pulling my kids out of the public school system for homeschooling,’” she said.
Despite some heated discussions Pye felt the meeting went well, saying he took it as an opportunity to find out general concerns and learn about real issues within the district.
“Overall I thought it was a very positive experience,” he said. “I do try to listen.”