FLORENCE, S.C. — University of South Carolina President Robert Caslen visited South Florence High School on Monday morning as part of the iLEAD initiative.

iLEAD, which stands for improvement, leadership, education and development, is an initiative sponsored by the Carnegie Corporation that partners universities with school districts.

The iLEAD initiative began with Florence One Schools two years ago and aims to research problems teachers have and connect teachers with best practices to better educate students, said Jon Pedersen, the dean of the USC College of Education.

During Caslen’s visit to South Florence, he met with South Florence teachers and administrators and discussed what problems teachers face when engaging students and ways to better inspire students to pursue higher education. Caslen also heard how the school is engaging with the students’ parents.

While visiting the campus, Caslen toured several classes, including the school’s broadcast class, the Bruin News Network, and some music classes.

In addition to the iLEAD initiative, Caslen said the university shares the responsibility of developing high school students. He said his vision is to improve the relationship between a high school and college students.

“We have a responsibility to help with the development of the young men and women in high school to be able to have access to higher education,” Caslen said. “So, we’re not just waiting on the best to apply for us, but we’re out there working with the men and women, helping inspire them so they can see their high school diploma as a means to gain access to higher education.”

Caslen said he hopes to host conferences for high school students, where USC students will work with high school students and hopefully inspire them to pursue higher education.

“Because of that relationship, they are now motivated to be like their mentor and to be like their role model,” Caslen said. “So, we share in the developmental responsibility. We want to partner with you.”

Caslen previously was the superintendent at the U.S. Military Academy in West Point, New York. While there, he began a program where cadets traveled to high schools and hosted leadership, STEM and athletic conferences, which helped draw more minority students to the school.

Caslen said his goal is not to take students who might consider other universities, but he would rather see more students motivated to pursue higher education as a whole across the state.

Caslen describes it as a pie. USC has one spot of the pie, but rather than making USC’s portion of the pie larger, Caslen said he wants to make the entire pie bigger.

Principal Kimberly Mack said she is excited about the possibility of new partnerships with USC.

“I’m really excited on the possibility of partnering with USC on a different level,” Mack said. “The president mentioned a mentoring program between USC students and our students. I’m just excited about the prospects.”

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