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School Year Preview: What's new in the Waccamaw Schools

Waccamaw Elementary
Waccamaw Intermediate
Waccamaw Middle
Waccamaw High

Waccamaw Elementary: Fewer potholes, more technology

By Roger Greene
Coastal Observer

Accidents are common for students in elementary school.

When they happen, children sometimes need a comforting environment where they can find solace. Students at Waccamaw Elementary will certainly be able to find that during the new year in the school’s renovated nurse’s clinic.

Sponsored by the PTA, the “face-lift” to the nurse’s clinic includes new cabinet space, Formica countertops and a fresh coat of sage paint. According to the principal, Vervatine Reid, the improvements are simply another way of making students feel more at peace and relaxed in times of need.

“We have to thank our PTA for being so involved in the project,” Reid said. “With the extra cabinet space, we no longer have to store supplies or clothes in crates or in boxes. The new paint on the walls and cabinets makes it seem like a brighter, more welcoming room. Students should feel at ease when they have to enter.”

Another capital improvement over the summer was the paving of the school’s rear parking lot. The paving should provide extra room in spaces, and more allotted parking spots for parents, staff and visitors and make the area more accessible.

“Our parents and staff won’t have to deal with all the potholes anymore,” Reid said. “Standing water after a storm shouldn’t be as much of an issue and it should also eliminate the time our maintenance staff has to spend back there filling the potholes and clearing the area after a storm. Having the lot paved is a welcome upgrade.”

Technological enhancements include the acquisition of seven new Promethean boards and equipping 16 more teachers with laptop computers. The laptop acquisition was the second phase of a three phase plan implemented by the Georgetown County School District to supply all of its teachers with new computers. A total of 31 teachers at Waccamaw Elementary now have laptops and the project is slated to be completed next year.

“The laptops have been a wonderful asset for our teachers,” Reid said. “They can get more done, build better lesson plans and increase the quality of their instructional techniques.”

Though the teaching staff remains intact, there will be several enhancements to the curriculum during the school year. As part of a school district initiative, Common Core State Standards will be implemented for kindergartners and students will be able to access a phonics kit that has been provided to boost the district’s balanced literacy efforts. Also, students can expect to receive more everyday math instruction.

“We feel good about what is happening in the classroom,” Reid said. “We have dedicated parents, a wonderful faculty and staff and we share a vision of providing the best learning environment we can for our students.”

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Waccamaw Intermediate: Green initiatives earn attention

By Roger Greene
Coastal Observer

Students at Waccamaw Intermediate School have always benefitted from the strong working relationship between the administration, faculty and the PTO. This year will be no exception.

With help from the PTO a mulch made from recycled tires is in place around the playground equipment to enhance safety as well as aesthetics. Planned upgrades include the installation of blinds in some classrooms, the acquisition of a second mobile computer lab and a sound system for the multi-purpose room.

Both the PTO president, Becky Fico, and the principal, Tim Carnahan, say a cohesive working relationship is essential in an era when budget cuts are becoming the norm.

“The working relationship between the PTO and the administration and faculty at Waccamaw Intermediate is unique,” Fico said. “There is a high degree of collaboration and that has resulted in a positive impact on the school and the students.”

“Everything being done is for the benefit of our students,” Carnahan said. “We’re fortunate to have a group of dedicated parents who are committed to improving the quality of education for their children.”

Spreading mulch in the playground area is part of the environmentally friendly “going green” campaign at the school. With its rubber base, the mulch absorbs impact and makes for a safer landing zone for children and its easy maintenance and drainage will enhance the playground’s visual appeal.

“It’s a safety issue,” Fico said. “Parents want a safer place for their children to play. It also provides an example of how the PTO can fill in the gap in terms of some of the budget cuts. A few years ago, the district may have been able to pay for this on its own. Now, we split the cost.”

“The playground looks great,” Carnahan said. “And, we don’t have to put new mulch down every year. What we have is designed to maintain its quality and stay in place.”

Waccamaw Intermediate started its “going green” campaign in earnest in January and the results have been impressive.

From January to June, 3.5 tons of paper, aluminum, plastic, cardboard and tin were recycled.

February’s green fashion show – where students modeled fashions made from 100 percent recyclable material – was selected by PTO Today as its “Family Event of the Year” and will be featured in an upcoming issue.

On the technology front, Fico said the PTO is working to purchase a second mobile computer lab – the first was delivered in February – and a sound system that would improve acoustics in the multi-purpose room.

The mobile labs would work in conjunction with the 30 iPADs that were provided by the school district last spring as part of a pilot program aimed at discovering their potential for improving student engagement and achievement in the classroom.

“We received very positive feedback from our teachers regarding the iPADs,” said the assistant principal, Barbara Nesmith. “We want to see more usage this year, either in entire classrooms or with groups of students in different classrooms.”

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Waccamaw Middle: Sports teams help keep kids connected

By Roger Greene
Coastal Observer

When discussing possible budget cuts for the 2011-2012 school year, B-team sports was among the first expenditures to be considered. The elimination of the programs – which serve seventh and eighth grade students – was agreed to by the Georgetown County School Board, but before plans could be put in motion a strong outpouring of support by parents prevented any number crunching from taking effect.

Waccamaw Middle School principal Bill Dwyer praised parents for their support and credited their efforts for ensuring the Wildcats would continue to field football, boys and girls basketball and baseball squads this year.

“When we found out we were going to keep B-team sports, everyone at our school, and probably the other middle schools in the county, let out a sigh of relief,” Dwyer said. “We’d had conversations with the park and rec department about stepping up and filling the void, but I don’t know if it would have been the same. Ultimately, parents saw the value of what these programs offered and spoke out.”

Dwyer believes B-team sports benefit not only high schools – serving as feeder programs for competition at the varsity level – but also instill a sense of purpose and commitment in the students that participate.

“Middle school can be a tough time for kids,” Dwyer said. “Being able to be involved in sports allows them to be connected to the school and the community. It gives them a sense of belonging, boosts confidence and can keep them involved, and increase their interest, in the educational process.”

While the faculty and staff at Waccamaw Middle remain virtually unchanged from last year, there will be one new face on the administrative team, as Darryl Stanley has replaced Alicia Johnson as assistant principal. Stanley held a district position last year and is a former principal at Carvers Bay Middle School.

“I’ve known Darryl for a few years,” Dwyer said. “We’ve worked together as colleagues and he brings a lot of experience and wisdom to our school. He has an outstanding work ethic and is interested in doing whatever he can to benefit our students.”

Though cosmetic changes to Waccamaw Middle have been limited over the summer, there has been a security upgrade with eight new cameras installed in the middle of each hallway.

“We have 24 cameras now,” Dwyer said. “This was an important upgrade for us. We’ve had cameras at the front and back of each hall, and now we’ll have an even greater level of detail.”

Enrollment at Waccamaw Middle is around 417 and Dwyer expects that number to increase by around 20 by the end of August. Thirty of Waccamaw Middle students have taken advantage of the district’s school choice program and another 15 are intra-district transfers.

“Our school has an outstanding reputation,” Dwyer said. “We have dedicated ourselves to maintaining that.”

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Waccamaw High: Shorter classes, but more of them

By Roger Greene
Coastal Observer

A new academic schedule will be the biggest change for students, faculty and administrators at Waccamaw High School this year. Three of the four county high schools have changed from a four-period block schedule with 90-minute classes to seven periods of 53 minutes.

Instead of changing courses in the middle of the year, students will now be in the same classes for the entire year.

Principal David Hammel was a proponent of the change when it was debated by the school board and within the district and expects the switch to yield positive results, particularly in test scores. Freshmen followed the seven-period schedule last year.

“Most of our teachers agree with what is being done,” Hammel said. “They see it as something that will enable them to better meet standards and consequently improve results on standardized tests.”

The emphasis on a standards-based curriculum is what drove the change, he said. When the 90-minute block was implemented in 1995, teachers had more leeway in terms of classroom instruction and on exams.

With more weight placed on state-mandated end-of-course exams that measure achievement in core subjects, teachers had a difficult time covering all the material.

“With the block scheduling, teachers were presenting roughly an hour of new material each day, and about a half hour on things like homework and review,” Hammel said. “With 90 days in a semester, it’s a challenge to get through all the material.

“And it”s tough to keep students engaged for 90 minutes. Having shorter classes will benefit both the quality of instruction and interactivity.”

Year-round classes should also provide more continuity in core subjects like English and math. With block scheduling, a student could take an English course during the fall of their sophomore year and not have another until the spring of their junior year.

“The lack of continuity was hurting some students,” Hammel said. “Think about not having an English class for more than a year. You’re trying to learn new material at the same time you really need a review of previous concepts.”

The switch to the seven-period day did not come without complaints. Parents of honor students and those taking Advanced Placement courses questioned whether their children would have sufficient time to schedule all of their required courses. Another issue was the impact on graduation rates, as the block schedule provided opportunities to retake failed courses.

Though WHS typically has test scores and graduation rates that exceed state averages and set the standard for Georgetown County, Hammel said the school should be proactive and not rest on its laurels.

“We’re proud of our track record,” he said. “But we are also always looking for ways we can improve. Switching to a seven-period day enables us to do that and also allows us to better serve to our students.”

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