FLORENCE, S.C. -- After accepting the role of superintendent in Florence One Schools, I was eager to begin working with the school board to craft a vision for this district and start sharing it with the community.

We have named that vision Florence 1 in 2021, and it focuses on what the district is all about: providing first-class education. Looking back at 2018, I am proud of the collaboration and innovation our district and school-level leaders have embraced, pushing our schools and our students forward.

>> Community engagement : In my short time in Florence, I have met with more than 70 groups to share our vision. The district also produces weekly and monthly newsletters highlighting student achievement and programs. Weekly video recaps and bi-weekly program highlight videos take parents and community members inside the doors of our classrooms. We believe it is important for community members to know where we are going so they can come with us; community support is vital in the success of a school district.

>> Student achievement : I am a strong proponent of providing opportunities for all students at all levels, because I understand that they learn differently and will take diverse paths in life.

In the 2018-2019 school year, we implemented Imagine Forward, an initiative that puts the district on a track to being completely one-to-one with electronic devices for all students. This will allow seamless collaboration with peers and teachers and provides the framework for educational opportunities like the TEAM UP partnership with the Governor’s School for Science and Mathematics, where students can take classes virtually. It also bridges a technology gap experienced across our state.

In the 2019-2020 school year, we will have TWO magnet high schools in the district: one for the Arts and one for STEM, and West Florence will begin offering the distinguished Advanced Placement Capstone Diploma.

Not all of our students will graduate with a high school diploma, though, and McLeod Regional Medical Center has partnered with us to provide job skills training through Project Search, a transition-to-work program for students with special needs.

>> 21st century facilities and security: The importance of student safety cannot be understated. This school year we have moved from a responsive course of action to one of prevention and preparedness. It began with hiring Doug Nunnally as the director of security and school safety. Under his guidance, the district holds monthly lock-down drills at schools and has completed a security assessment of each location. Security upgrades have been made, such as converting analog camera systems to digital ones. The network-based Lynx Emergency Notification system allows pop-up messages to be sent to network computers with instructions for staff and students in emergency situations.

Physical safety is not the only concern anymore, and Florence One is using Gaggle to monitor district-owned devices, scanning images and text to alert district authorities to any potential threats.

>> Professional talent: Employing high-quality teachers with a passion for reaching our children will go a long way toward keeping students engaged and enrolled in school. We have made a commitment to reaching nationwide to find and bring talent to Florence One, attending, as well as hosting, teacher fairs to showcase the district’s programs and schools. Providing incentives, such as free lunches for teachers and a $2,000 perfect attendance bonus to classroom-based teachers, will help us remain competitive with neighboring districts.

We invite the community to catch our vision for what Florence One Schools can be. Volunteer in our schools, mentor our students, see their potential and help them reach it. We are very excited about what the district has done and the things taking place next school year and beyond.

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