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Principals have big plans for year 2

By Sarah L. Smith
Coastal Observer

Waccamaw’s four new principals faced construction problems, new programs, budget and certification challenges this year.

Though their problems varied, they all were enthusiastic about their school’s future, particularly in light of the recent South Carolina Supreme Court decision that requires Gov. Mark Sanford to apply for stimulus funds.

Waccamaw Elementary School principal Vervatine Reid said she was thrilled when she heard the news.

While it wasn’t her first year at the school, it was her first year as principal. She said she’d never seen a year where the school’s PTO had to swoop in and pay for certification the district would usually fund.

As a result, the elementary school was able to get International Baccalaureate certification this school year.

Now, the school has to get a foreign language teacher, Reid said, since it is one of the requirements of IB schools.

Until the district can pay for another teacher, Reid said students watch a 20-minute Spanish lesson on TV each morning and can experience Spanish culture in the school’s Spanish resource room.

“You must expose them to the intercultural aspects,” Reid said, but the resource room is not enough.

“It’s not the same when you have someone who’s fluent. If you don’t expose them at an earlier age, they’ll have a harder time later,” she said.

Next school year Reid said the school is going “green.” They already recycle paper, ink cartridges and plastics.

Beginning in August, they’ll also have bins in the back of the school for parents to drop off products they want to recycle.

Reid’s rising fourth-graders will head to Waccamaw Intermediate School at the end of the summer. Unlike the elementary school that dates back to 1976, the intermediate school is only a year old.

In fact, when Georgetown County School District hired principal Tim Carnahan, he said it was like “giving him the keys to a new car and saying ‘don’t wreck it.’ ”

Carnahan didn’t have to learn the job – he had been principal at Pleasant Hill Elementary – but, he said teachers and staff had to overcome plenty of obstacles: continued construction, technical malfunctions, lack of computers, a front office and Web site that weren’t up and running at the beginning of the year, and lack of outdoor play areas for students.

By Thanksgiving, students had computer labs, the school had a Web site and day-to-day activities seemed to be running smoothly.

By Christmas, the PTO had raised enough money for a playground.

“They won’t have those road blocks next year,” Carnahan said.

He had to focus most of his energy on construction and fixing problems with the building this year, but Jennifer Kaylor, the PTO treasurer, said the kids adored him.

“My son kind of summed it up,” she said. “They love the fact that Dr. Carnahan would be in his suit and tie and be out throwing a football with the kids on the playground. He’s so into the kids and knowing the kids by name. You can really tell that his heart is really in the school. That makes a tremendous difference in the overall energy, excitement and enthusiasm you feel at the school.”

Next year, without the “road blocks,” Carnahan hopes he can get to know all the students.

“I wish I would have gotten to know the kids better, especially the sixth-graders,” he said. “It was so funny to watch them play together. They’ve just bonded.”

The close-knit group of sixth-graders will move up to Waccamaw Middle School in August.

Carnahan said they practiced opening lockers and toured the school, but are still nervous.

Middle school principal William Dwyer said the staff will give the new seventh-graders time to adjust to class changes and the newness of lockers that first week. Then, they’ll dive into the school year.

Dwyer, a Georgetown High alumnus who moved back home from West Virginia, knows how it feels. He dove into the middle school last summer, too.

“I was hitting my stride up there, so just having parents get to know me and getting to know the students here took time,” Dwyer said. “This year was challenging but not difficult.”

The challenge came when he had to implement the single-gender program the school’s last principal, David Hammel, had set in motion.

“We were unsure of how things were going to operate,” Dwyer said of the first semester.

After reading books on the subject and working with the state’s single-gender coordinator, David Chadwell, the program started, stopped, and then started again after students were given the option to take a mixed-gender class for English and math.

Dwyer said he’d like to expand the program to include science and social studies.

The school’s staff are also starting a club day for students who are interested in areas like golf, gardening and green living.

With the prospect of a growing single-gender program and a new math and English teacher coming to the school, Dwyer said the end of the year is anti-climatic in comparison.

“I’m excited about next year,” he said.

David Hammel said he is excited, too.

When school opens again, the Waccamaw High School principal will get a ninth-grade class he knew as seventh-graders at Waccamaw Middle.

“They came over to see the school, and they were like, ‘Mr. Hammel!’ ” Hammel said with a grin, recalling his year as middle school principal.

This year, Hammel said he had to work to win student approval, at least he felt like he did, until Christmas.

“They try you out,” Hammel said. “At the end, I feel like there was a lot more respect.”

Next year he would like to get an advisory period added for all students. During that time, students could talk to their advisor about college, a career, social or academic problems, Hammel said. He just needs district approval.

His efforts to get an Air Force or Navy ROTC at Waccamaw don’t need approval, but the program has been put on hold until more money is available to pay the teacher’s salary and get start-up equipment.

Strengthening the IB and AP programs at the school will also be a priority since he’d also like to find a way to build a safety net around students so they don’t fall through the cracks.

To build that net, Hammel is looking for ways to get the community, churches and parents involved in high school students’ lives.

“There are so many things that can take them off track,” he said.

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