Scotland County’s best educators of 2011-2012 were recognized by the Scotland County Board of Education on Monday.
Scotland High School Principal Beth Ammons was named Principal of the Year for the third time during her tenure as a Scotland County principal. Melissa Creed, a second grade teacher at Covington Street Elementary School, was named countywide Teacher of the Year.
The board also heard a presentation from Monica Whitehead, technology teacher at Sycamore Lane Middle School, on the STEM labs installed in all three county middle schools this school year.
“The STEM labs are now in all three middle schools, this is the first year for them, and all of the children in all three middle schools rotate through these labs,” said Whitehead.
Through the STEM labs, students are introduced to several different science and engineering fields. Modules include biotechnology, plastics and polymers, alternative energy, engineering towers, computer-generated drafting and design, robotics, and forensic science. Available modules vary slightly between the schools.
“Our goal in using these modules is to give the kids real-life, hands-on practice with equipment they would use in an industry right now, at a young age, to spark their interest so they can say ‘I need this math, I need this science,’ and they can see why they need it,” Whitehead said.
Each school’s lab houses its own equipment and library of reference materials. Students work in teams of two.
“The STEM labs encourage the students to ask questions, and then to try and find answers on their own,” Whitehead said. “We think this is 21st century learning for 21st century jobs.”
So far, the robotics and forensic science modules are the most popular among students.
“We talked about robotics and talked about how assembly lines are highly robotic now, and they saw that the bad side was people losing jobs,” said Whitehead. “But then they realize that there are people who build robots, who train robots, who keep them up and running. It gets rid of some jobs, and it creates others.”
Board member James Underwood expressed concern that focusing on technology may detract from instruction of more traditional skilled trades.
“I don’t think robots are at the point where they’re laying bricks or doing basic carpentry, and I think we’ve cut those from our repertoire,” said Underwood.
Board member Paul Rush replied that emphasis on STEM fields at a young age is preparing students for the realities of the labor market and the jobs currently offering comfortable salaries.
“We are lifting people up and making them realize that the jobs available now are technical jobs that are going to require these kinds of skills,” Rush said. “We do need people to lay brick, we do need people to be basic carpenters, and we have provided those opportunities to kids.”
In other business, the board approved a request for $300,000 of lottery funding to be directed toward repayment of the debt incurred during the recent addition to Wagram Primary School.
The board also approved the 2012-2013 budget resolution, which included a total reduction of $6 million in funds. State funding was reduced from $39.7 million to $39.1 million, with a $1.4 million discretionary reduction. Federal funding decreased by $2.5 million, or 29 percent.
In local funding, the county’s contribution decreased to $10.7 million, and the school board appropriated $1.9 in fund balance to support locally paid teachers, transportation, and instructional and non-instructional support.
The decrease in funding is due in part to a decrease in average daily membership from 6,220 students in 2011-2012 to 6,120 in 2012-2013. Rush cautioned that the decrease in students enrolled in Scotland County’s public schools is not due simply to attrition.
“Look at those kids and they’re all going to home schooling or private school or Christian academy, whatever it is, what do we need to do as an industry to get those kids back,” Rush asked. “We’ve got kids leaving for certain reasons, not all about education. We have got to continue to enhance things like our early college and these other programs to keep these kids in our schools. It’s our industry, and we’ve got very little left: our health care system and our educational system that provide the majority of these jobs in this community and we’ve got to continue to protect it.”