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South Carolina editorial roundup

December 26, 2018

Recent editorials from South Carolina newspapers:

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Dec. 23

The Times and Democrat of Orangeburg on the importance of communication, framed by how the city has served as a litmus test for community and race relations:

The year was 1968. The community experienced one of the worst tragedies of the civil rights era when three students were killed and 28 others were wounded in the Orangeburg Massacre.

That Orangeburg County did not explode in further violence following the incident in which state troopers fired shots at anti-segregation protesters is considered miraculous to this day. To the credit of many, it did not.

And even through the ensuing years of transition with race-based battles over education, government representation and equal access, Orangeburg showed violence would not be an agent of change.

A valuable tool 50 years ago was the Orangeburg Human Relations Council made up of black and white leaders and citizens. Its goal was to promote communications and understanding in dealing with fundamental changes that are taken for granted today as the norm.

Orangeburg wants to continue as a model for change in an era that has produced new racial tensions.

That was stated in 2016 during a downtown march by a group of citizens and pastors calling for solidarity and unity following violent episodes around the country.

The Rev. H.T. Gainey of Good Shepherd Community Ministries said it is important for citizens in Orangeburg to come together and know “it’s not us against them or you against me but we are together.”

“When all groups come together on one accord with a common ground to having peace, unity and love . nothing but great results can come from it,” Gainey said.

“We want Orangeburg to be the pillar where other cities and counties across the state and nation can look and see how we’ve done it and how they can do it as well.”

The march came as Orangeburg County Council was looking at reinvigorating the process whereby people can communicate -- on any and all issues, not just race. As 2018 comes to a close, the council is making reality of the Orangeburg County Human Relations Council. One final vote of approval is needed.

“It’s basically the brainchild of Councilman (Willie B.) Owens, who was basically saying that a lot of the issues and stuff that we have sometimes between certain neighborhoods, certain groups, should be assigned to the human relations council because it’ll be a group of diverse people that would have better insight on why certain things are done a certain way,” Orangeburg County Administrator Harold Young said.

The panel will be made up of 14 members: seven appointed from the corresponding county council districts; two members appointed from the City of Orangeburg; one member (student body president) appointed from Claflin University, South Carolina State University and Orangeburg-Calhoun Technical College; one member appointed from the Community of Character; and one member appointed from the Orangeburg County Chamber of Commerce.

The human relations council would “be given assignments to look at and prepare reports based on those assignments,” Young said. Reports and recommendations of the human relations council would be brought before the county council, which would then vote on the recommendations, he said.

“That takes the individual council group, people’s personal issues or feelings out of the way when it comes to certain things,” Young said.

Orangeburg has long been a litmus test regarding issues of community and race relations. It is a role that we should continue to welcome in striving to be a model of how a community can work harmoniously for the good of all.

Further direct communication among and leadership by people of good will via the Orangeburg County Human Relations Council will enhance the effort.

Online: https://thetandd.com/

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Dec. 21

The Post and Courier of Charleston on school class sizes:

Class size: It’s a complicated subject. But common sense goes a long way, and veteran teachers usually have a good idea about what works for them.

There are always trade-offs and sometimes unintended consequences. When the pool of teachers expands, class size falls but costs rise because there are more teachers to pay and more classroom space is needed.

When the pool of teachers shrinks, class size increases, student achievement tends to suffer but costs typically go down. Or overwhelmed teachers get frustrated and quit, further shrinking the pool, which creates pressure to raise wages to recruit more teachers.

The latter is where South Carolina is today: struggling to recruit and retain teachers while striving to improve student achievement and keep class sizes down.

Teachers are asking for raises, new caps on the numbers of students per class, guaranteed work breaks and fewer unpaid duties.

State caps now limit K-3 classes to 30 students, and allow up to 35 students in middle and high school classes. That’s probably a little too high, causing some teachers to spend an inordinate amount of time on managing behavior instead of teaching.

The group SC for Ed wants to limit K-2 classes to 18 students; grades 3-8 to 20 students; and high schools to 35 students. That may be a little low for some grades, but it’s probably closer to an optimum. For reference, the national average is about 16 students per class.

Maimonides’ rule, named for the 12th century scholar, says 40 students per class is the limit. After that, the class should be split in two with 20 students each. Modern-day scholars haven’t come too far since then. But they have learned that small adjustments can have big effects, both on student achievement and costs.

The much-referenced STAR study, done in Tennessee in the late 1980s, showed that reducing class size from 22 to 15 students increased student achievement equivalent to about three additional months of schooling after four years. A cost-benefit analysis of the study cited by the Brookings Institution found that the gains in student achievement slightly outweighed the increased cost of paying more teachers.

The effects were greatest in the earliest grades and for students from disadvantaged backgrounds, something that should be of particular interest in our state.

The takeaway is that South Carolina would likely benefit most from reducing class size by 7-10 students in early grades at high-poverty schools. Targeted class size reductions would be less costly than systemwide reductions.

Likewise, retaining teachers is more cost effective than training new ones.

That means lawmakers under renewed pressure to improve public education will need to make smart choices that stretch dollars. Targeted class size reduction combined with improved wages should improve student outcomes and help retain experienced teachers.

But those are just some of the factors among many affecting the quality of education in South Carolina.

Vacancies at some schools have caused class sizes to grow to about 40 students, Richland County high school teacher Lisa Ellis, founder of SC for Ed, told a Senate panel recently. Obviously, those numbers also need to be brought down, and districts must find a way to adhere to state caps. One of Ms. Ellis’ own classrooms with 28 students, she said, was nearly unmanageable.

More than 100 bills aimed at improving public education have been filed in advance of the legislative session that starts Jan. 8. Reducing class sizes and raising teacher pay should be at the top of the list.

Online: https://www.postandcourier.com/

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Dec. 19

The Index-Journal of Greenwood on keeping history alive:

For a while, it appeared Trinity Episcopal Church in Abbeville might not have a wing or a prayer, but now it appears prayers are, in fact, being answered. It also appears the restoration project ... will save the structure from certain demise.

The beautiful and historic church, which has stood for nearly 160 years but has fallen into such a state of disrepair that it was deemed unsafe for use, necessitating that services be moved, appears headed for a rebirth of sorts. Finally.

Friends of Trinity has ponied up $43,000 it raised toward the church’s restoration, putting the funds in the hands of Preservation South Carolina. That organization is teaming with the Episcopal Diocese of Upper South Carolina to get the project started, with first priority being given to saving the steeple from imminent collapse.

But the best news is that this is not a one-time fix; rather, a plan is in place that will ensure funds are in place going forward, funds that will maintain the church and avoid another dire situation such as it’s facing now.

The formal agreement signed by the parties puts Preservation South Carolina as the tenant and the diocese as the landlord while the church remains owner. A more formal fundraising plan will be put in place as well, as outlined by Preservation South Carolina’s Mike Bedenbaugh. “People will know what they are giving to and what the goals will be,” he said last week during a community meeting to announce the project’s launch.

Anyone who has ever visited Trinity bears witness to its rich history and beauty. It would be tragic if the church were not saved. Anyone who has yet to visit the church will have to wait until it is once again safe to enter, again safe for its congregation to worship within. But we wholeheartedly recommend you do just that. And, if you’re so inclined, we wholeheartedly support your donating to the cause.

Certainly not every structure of historic significance can be salvaged and preserved, but Trinity Episcopal should be stabilized and rehabilitated while there remains an opportunity to do so. It should stand for another 160 years and more.

Online: http://www.indexjournal.com/

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