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SC-SIC Celebrating 35 Years of Insight, Impact and Innovation

The College of Education faculty and staff are vested in educational outreach and innovative instructional methods as evidenced by the presentations given at the South Carolina School Improvement Council's (SC-SIC) 2013 Annual Meeting on Saturday, March 23rd at the St. Andrews Middle School in Columbia, SC. As it was the 35th anniversary of SC-SIC, there was much to discuss, many to recognize, and even more to thank for their contributions.

SC-SIC Executive Director Cassie Barber, S.C. House Rep. Nathan Ballentine, SC-SIC Associate Director Tom Hudson. Rep. Nathan Ballentine was the chief sponsor of the resolution honoring SC-SIC and all state SICs for 35 years of valued service to SC's public schools.

So significant was this event that Governor Nikki Haley issued a proclamation that March 2013 was School Improvement Council month!

Located in the USC's College of Education, the SC-SIC provides the member training, technical assistance, statutory accountability and operational resources vital to the continued success of the community-based School Improvement Councils mandated by statute in each of the state's 1,100-plus K-12 public Schools. Longtime child advocacy leader and clinical instructor at the college, Cassie Barber is also the executive director of the SC-SIC. The mission of SC-SIC is "to facilitate meaningful parent and community involvement in our state's public schools by providing resources, tools and strategies to local School Improvement Councils and other stakeholder groups." Barber has dedicated herself to upholding that premise in various capacities for the past twenty years.

The 2013 SC-SIC annual meeting was an opportunity for the statewide SICs to converge and celebrate successes achieved while learning how to improve their processes. Three of the presentations were given by college faculty – Dr. Diane M. Monrad (co-authored by COE graduate research assistants Elizabeth Leighton and Mihaela Ene) on The Relationship Between School Climate and School Performance, Dr. Susi Long on the 21st Century Family-School Involvement: Families and Communities: Experts in the Learning of our students, and Cassie Barber explained the origins and significance of the Dick and Tunky Riley Award for Excellence as well as recognizing this year's winner of that award.

Monrad is the director of the South Carolina Educational Policy Center (SCEPC) in the College of Education at USC-Columbia and a research associate professor in the Department of Educational Leadership and Policies. The mission of the SCEPC, now in its 26th year of operation, is to improve education for the state's students by conducting research and providing research-based information to inform educational decision making at all levels. Monrad addressed one of the SCEPC's most significant educational policy projects – the relationship between school climate and school achievement. School climate surveys are administered to teachers, students, and parents in every state public school each year in response to a requirement of the Education Accountability Act of 1998. The Act requires that school report cards include a variety of information including evaluation of the school by parents, teachers, and students. Only three items from the surveys are included on state report cards, leaving great deal of data that can be used by school improvement council members to examine the climate of their schools and plan needed improvements.

Research conducted by the SCEPC demonstrates that better school climate is associated with increased school success. Schools with better school climate have higher levels of student achievement, higher graduation rates, higher student and teacher attendance rates, and meet a greater percentage of federal Adequate Yearly Progress (AYP) objectives. School climate is important because it has a direct relationship to school performance and can be modified to improve school achievement.

In conclusion of her presentation, Monrad enunciated the role of the individual SC-SICs in examining their school's school climate survey data. SICs should develop strategies to ensure adequate response rates from teachers, parents and students. SC-SICs review survey data and use information from the surveys to identify areas of strength and concern. The climate data is then shared with teachers, parents and students to clarify perceptions and solicit suggestions for needed improvements. Strategies are formed from this feedback and cross-referenced with the collected data to formulate a school's improvement plan. By monitoring data each year, SC-SIC's can evaluate if strategies have been effective and determine if additional modifications of school climate need to be considered.

Long addressed another focus needed in SC-SICs, diversity. The demographics in South Carolina and the rest of the nation are changing. Building strong relationships between families with schools requires a collaboration that emphasizes that family and community members are the experts concerning their social and cultural resources in their homes and communities.

Long teaches early childhood education & language literacy courses within the College of Education's Instruction and Teacher Education Department. Long says "I have come to believe that if we truly want to be successful in supporting every student, we must be sincere in our efforts to join together schools, communities and families." She feels that SC-SICs are perfectly positioned to set a model for such collaborations by ensuring that representations are diverse in terms of language, socioeconomic, racial and cultural backgrounds; spending time getting to know each other and understanding the rich resources that exist in homes and communities; and creating models for relationship building between home and school that changes the dynamic from a top-down/school-as-the-expert dynamic. Why is diversity important? Long believes that "misperceptions keep us from knowing each other and working together."

The bottom line from Long's presentation was to convey that "the common goal is to create spaces in an out of school where every student feels that there is a community of educators – family members, community members, teachers and administrators – who, together, send every child the message that they are believed in, capable, supported and are of tremendous value in this world."

Barber described how the SC-SICs continue to do great things across the state and how individuals and school districts deserve to be recognized for their meaningful contributions. Barber had the honor of acknowledging those who had advanced the SC-SIC initiatives throughout the year. The Board of Trustees Legislator of the Year was awarded to S.C. State Representative Nathan Ballentine, District 71 of Lexington and Richland Counties. Board of Trustees gratefully recognized S.C. State Senator Nikki G. Setzler with its SC-SIC Champion Award. The SC-SIC Advocate of the Year Award was bestowed to Dr. Baron Holmes.

There were five finalist schools for the Dick & Tunky Riley Award for SIC Excellence who made presentations. They were: Beck Academy Middle SIC, Greenville (Greenville County Schools); Brushy Creek Elementary SIC, Taylors (Greenville County Schools); Eagle Nest Elementary SIC, North Charleston (Dorchester School District 2); North Augusta High SIC, North Augusta (Aiken County Public School District); and Richland Northeast High SIC, Columbia (Richland School District 2). This award, created in 2002, recognizes significant contributions made to public education by the nearly 15,000 local School Improvement Council members who volunteer in the state's 1,100-plus K-12 public schools.

It is named for the former U.S. Secretary of Education and Gov. Dick Riley and his late wife, Tunky, and recognizes the couple's long-standing commitment to public education.

Ultimately, Richland Northeast High SIC was selected as the winner of the Riley Award for its significant and unique work serving an economically re-emerging area with an international flavor.

Richland Northeast High SIC: (L to R) SC-SIC Executive Director Cassie Barber; RNE SIC Secretary Suzanne O'Dell; Dowling Riley, Ted Riley, Charlie Riley; RNE Principal Sabrina Suber; RNE SIC Chair Machael Peterson; RNE SIC Student Member Michaela Peterson; SC-SIC Associate Director Tom Hudson

In the last year, this SIC partnered with local elected and other officials, as well as school board members and district administrators, to maintain a well-balanced student population during a school rezoning process. It also worked extensively with school and district staff to promote the school's International Baccalaureate (IB) program throughout the community and on continuing efforts to revitalize and enhance the physical appearance and facilities at the school. Additionally, the SIC worked with marketing firm to re-brand the school and improve public perception, and undertook a variety of strategies to increase effective internal and external communications, resulting in positive feedback. This School Improvement Council is the first two-time recipient of the SC-SIC Riley Award for SIC Excellence having previously received this recognition in 2003.

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Columbia, SC 29208 • 803-777-7000 •