DARLINGTON, S.C. -- Two major events dominated the second half of the 2017-18 school year at the Darlington County School District. Plans were announced for three new elementary campuses and a new superintendent was hired.
In June 2017, the district hosted school construction meetings for Hartsville, Darlington and Lamar. At the Hartsville meetings, some members of the audience were bent on site selection, a topic that the school board had not touched on in open meetings.
The Hartsville combination involved West Hartsville Elementary and Washington Elementary schools. There were two meetings just for the Hartsville sites.
What lacked at the noon meeting at Hartsville High School was made up for in the evening session held at the Butler Auditorium.
The noon meeting drew fewer than 20 people while the dinner-time group numbered over 50 people, and some of them were very vocal.
In about the same time frame, the Darlington County Board of Education voted unanimously to hire two architectural firms for the projects. Goforth Brown & Associates will complete design services for the schools in Hartsville and Lamar for a contract fee of $1,589,350.
More than eight months went by with hardly more than a scant update on the three projects.
But in March 2018, the board released building site information.
The Darlington County Board of Education announced the locations of three new public elementary schools to be built in the Hartsville, Darlington and Lamar areas.
Darlington County voters overwhelmingly approved construction of the new schools in a 2016 referendum calling for a $60 million general obligation bond to be funded with a one-cent sales and use tax to pay for the schools.
The three new schools will replace six smaller aging elementary schools, all of them over 50 years old.
The schools that will be replaced also have smaller enrollments.
The new Hartsville school will combine Washington Street Elementary School and West Hartsville Elementary School at a site on Bay Road between Bobo Newsom Highway and Westwinds Drive.
Lamar’s new school will combine Lamar Elementary School and Spaulding Elementary at a site on Lamar Highway (U.S. Highway 401) across from the intersection of 401 and Country Club Road.
The new school in Darlington will combine Brunson-Dargan Elementary and Cain Elementary on the existing Cain site in Darlington.
“We have closed, we have titles,” said board Chairman Jamie Morphis.
“We’re glad to have this behind us. We’re glad to have the superintendent search behind us,” Morphis said.
The district followed up that announcement with a series of meetings with the public about the sites for all three campuses.
In August, after serving four years as the superintendent in Darlington County, Eddie Ingram left to become the Berkeley County School District superintendent. Willie “Bill” Boyd Sr., the district’s associate superintendent, filled in as interim superintendent.
In March, Tim Nelson from the Orangeburg School District was named the new superintendent. He will start on July 1.
In addition to finding campus sites and a new superintendent, the district contended with a drop in 2015 test scores. Schools across the state have struggled to regain lost ground.
The 2017 assessment data showed that in a five-year comparison of English/language arts and mathematics scores from grades three through nine, the 2015 assessment drop in all grades except ninth, and in some cases by as much as 50 points.
The district fell in rankings from the upper third of schools in the state to the lower third.
Assistant superintendent of curriculum Carlita Davis said principals were on board with a program to improve numbers.