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Reflecting on a Year of Firsts for the BOE

It would be an understatement to say there was a great deal of talk about the Cherokee County Board of Education in 2013.  In fact, one might characterize the media coverage as unprecedented.  As we come to the close of this year, it is time to reflect on the milestones achieved that add up to tremendous progress.

This was the first Board where two members were elected solely by their districts and the Chairman was elected county-wide. Under this new model, Board members became accountable to their constituency and the Board Chair elected county-wide, which created the first ever opportunity for true representation.  Even with all of these changes, forward progress was made.

For the first time, members of the Board made recommendations for citizens to sit on school district committees which increased opportunities for community involvement and gave "we the people" a chance to offer ideas and solutions.  The Board changed the dynamic of the work sessions from lectures to learning opportunities with two-way communication. Board members introduced new policy ideas to increase transparency and assure the community that their voices are represented.  We’ve seen a steady increase in public participation at Board meetings, from custodians imploring the Board to save their jobs to concerned parents sharing ideas about the federal mandates of Common Core. This Board is hearing from the people and we are listening.  We’ve seen movement on graduation rates, bolstered communication, increased school choice, improved technology and so much more.

Disputation may sell more newspapers than consensus, but as a Board we have pushed through our challenges. We are growing into our roles and have shown that it’s okay to openly seek information, disagree and come to an understanding so that we can move forward.  For example, considering the recent discussion on the March of Dimes partnership. In response to concerns raised by parents over too much solicitation in our schools coupled with questions about past grants to Planned Parenthood, I raised the issues knowing the potential controversy and historical success an organization that helped to cure polio.  What is frequently not reported is what happens after the meeting.  The professionals at the March of Dimes, instead of fighting back with rhetoric and public insults, made sure that all of my questions were fully addressed so constituents concerns could be answered.

Of course there is always work to be done.  Cherokee students test well, but parents are beginning to express apprehension over the emphasis on high-stakes standardized tests. Our tax dollars have funded excellent and much needed new facilities, but will our ever-growing debt be a burden to our children for decades to come even after our growth rates have flattened over the last five years? Stakeholders have raised concerns over the financial health of our district and this certainly will be an important topic in 2014.

There has been a great deal of talk about polarization, voting blocks and party politics perhaps because there will always be those who are so personally enflamed and emotionally charged that they choose to attack on a personal level.  If we really are all about the children of Cherokee County, then we might see that our differing opinions are actually helping us to build a stronger foundation.  As we usher in a new year, let us take pause and reflect on the positive changes this Board has made so that we can look forward to the opportunities that will come from weathering the storms of 2013.