KERSHAW COUNTY SUPERINTENDENT PROMISES CHANGE

New Kershaw County school superintendent Herbert Berg says he will start from the ground up to reform education in the county.

Berg, who has led three other school districts over the past 30 years, said he will use his experience to enact “blueprints” for success at the primary and middle school levels.

He also is looking to improve the district’s technology plan.

The core goal of the primary school plan – the most important, according to Berg – is to ensure all students leaving the second grade are performing at their grade level in all basic areas of study.

“Right now, children can be and have been passed along just because they finished 180 days in the first grade or the second grade,” Berg said.

“There are some children who are not able to learn it in 180 (days). So what you have to do is have two weeks in the summertime, extended day, maybe Saturday school. You just have to give them more time.”

Jean Broom, a second-grade teacher at Blaney Elementary School in Elgin, favors Berg’s plan to focus on the first few years of school.

Broom, who has taught second grade for the past 17 years, said children who enter the third grade without basic reading skills have a more difficult time. That’s because third-graders have to do more independent work and read textbooks for comprehension.

“If they aren’t ready, they’re going to struggle,” said Broom, who taught third grade for five years.

Ami Borowski, president of the School Improvement Council for Lugoff Elementary School, said Berg’s plan is important in building a strong foundation for each student.

In her experience, third grade has been a turning point for students, said Borowski, who has children in the eighth, third and first grades. “If they’re not ready for it, they’re not going to succeed.”

Berg first enacted a primary school plan as superintendent of schools in Alexandria, Va., in the mid-’90s. He said the percentage of second-graders exiting at their grade level rose dramatically within the first few years.

Once the students get the basic building blocks of education in elementary school, the next challenge is helping them continue their success through middle school, he said.

“It’s a difficult time for everybody,” Berg said. “And very few school districts really have a plan or a vision or clear expectations for middle-level kids. . . .

“Middle schools are a consistent learning issue in American public schools. Everywhere you go, people ask, ‘What are you doing with your middle schools? How can we fix them? What’s the solution here?’

“In my view, what you have to do is just focus on them and identify what the problems are (and) try to fix as many of them as people bring up.”

Berg said solutions include coordinating curriculum so there are common expectations; setting high goals; and expecting outstanding performance.

District staff members have been working on the primary and middle school plans for the past few months. The plans will be reviewed by Berg during the holidays and are set to be enacted in January, the start of the second semester.

While some elements of the plan will require more time and money, others can be enacted at little or no cost, he said. For instance, regular teachers can be hired to work an extra hour with students who are behind.

The technology plan also is set to be complete by the end of the school year. But Berg said it will not be enacted before next school year, at the earliest, because of the cost.

A good technology program generally costs $200 to $250 per child each year. That could cost up to $2.5 million a year in Kershaw County, Berg said.

And that can wait, he added.

“It’s when you have kids learning on grade level, when you have an engaged middle program that’s successful and vibrant, that technology then adds to the environment.”

Reach Rupon at (803) 771-8622 or krupon@thestate.com.

October 6, 2003 | State, The (Columbia, SC)Author: KRISTY EPPLEY RUPON Staff Writer | Page: B1 | Section: METRO/REGION

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