New super has big plans for Rock Hill

Published 9:40 am Thursday, August 13, 2009

ELIZABETH TOWNSHIP — The new school year will bring with it a full slate of new ideas, new programs and even new faces in the Rock Hill Local School District.

Incoming Superintendent Wes Hairston, hired late last month to lead the roughly 1,800-student public system, said most of the changes have to do with improving the district’s academic performance, better preparing older students for post-secondary education and/or the workplace and improving communications between the district and the community it serves.

A district-wide open house will be 6-8 p.m. Aug. 18. Classes start Aug. 19.

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Better lines of communication will start at the earliest level: Parents whose children attend the Rock Hill Child Development Center are invited to a series of parent academics nights this school year, beginning with one in early October.

Activities will center on math at the first event, language arts and science at future ones.

The parent academics nights dovetail with one of Hairston’s most pressing goals.

When they were interviewing candidates for a new superintendent, Hairston told board of education members he wanted to increase academics by getting parents more involved in their child’s education early on and keeping their interest through the high school years.

Teachers at the preschool have been working on curriculum mapping — making sure what is taught from one year to the next and one teacher to the next follows a logical and natural progression — and on progress reports.

“They’re always doing a lot of neat things at the preschool and I’m always amazed at the creativity they show,” Hairston said of the preschool staff.

Elementary grades

In an effort to bolster test scores, the elementary staff is expanding the accelerated reader program from kindergarten through the eighth grade, meaning the program will be carried over into middle school years. In this program, students read books based on reading ability and then take a test aimed at measuring vocabulary and comprehension.

Students are given progressively more difficult books as they master the fundamentals of reading.

In another effort to encourage reading and improve reading scores, the elementary library will be open after hours periodically to allow parents to come and check out books with their child — something they can’t do during the day.

The elementary staff plans to extend the parents night activities to grades 3-5 this school year, with parents being invited into the classroom to see what their child is learning — another example of the district’s endeavor to bring parents and teachers together for the benefit of the kids.

“I really feel this is crucial to the success of the school system,” Hairston said.

The elementary staff this summer has been working on developing best practices for academics and curriculum mapping.

Middle school grades

The old weight room is being transformed into a new computer lab. While the lab will be open to all grades and all classes, its primary purpose will be intervention for students who are struggling academically.

Hairston said more focus will be given this year to educating students on career choices.

High school grades

The high school staff this year is working on a dual credit program that will allow students to take college courses while enrolled in high school and have those classes count on both levels, a boost to those students who want and can manage more academic challenge than others and want an early start to their college years.

Hairston said he wants to build on academic success the high school has achieved over the last 3 to 4 years.

“The high school has done well, tested well and missed being a school of excellence by a half a point,” Hairston said.

College-bound students may take a new advanced placement biology class this year.

On the district level

In keeping with his goal of improving communication the district is in the process of purchasing a school messaging system.

The system would be used to alert parents in the event of calamity days, special events and other important announcements.

The district has also advertised to hire a special education coordinator, someone who will act as a liaison between the district and parents.

Hairston estimated the district has more than 300 special education students. He hopes to have the position filled within 2 to 3 weeks.