Student academic achievement headlines Penelope Martin-Knox's goals as she further transitions into her role as Sumter School District's superintendent.
About five months into the job, Martin-Knox laid out her top three goals moving forward for …
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About five months into the job, Martin-Knox laid out her top three goals moving forward for the district earlier this month at the Dec. 9 board meeting. Goals No. 2 and No. 3 target school climate and culture and financial management, but all three, she said, lead to the "Profile of the South Carolina Graduate," which as adopted by the state Department of Education, is a child who is college and career ready in today's high-skills economy.
High levels of academic achievement in a 21st-century learning environment requires access and exposure for all students to programs and options, such as STEM and others, that are engaging and build problem-solving and critical-thinking skills.
"When we are looking at making sure our children are college, career, and/or military ready," Martin-Knox said, "they really need to have that exposure to STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Math). And STEM is really good teaching in making those cross-curricular connections to get students to understand how math is connected to English, how English is connected to social studies, and so on. I do believe that those are some approaches that all our kids need to be exposed to."
That across-the-board access is essential in the elementary- and middle-school grades so kids can have a "strong foundation," she said, before entering high school and ultimately choosing a pathway after high school.
However, achievement is not going to occur if a school's environment is not safe, secure and orderly and the social and emotional well-being of children isn't taken into consideration, Martin-Knox added.
She said she hit the ground running in this focus area. Currently, district leadership is looking into how it can better help students overcome adverse childhood experiences as part of the social and emotional piece, while also providing appropriate academics.
"We must understand if children aren't emotionally ready and prepared, they're not going to learn no matter how good the quality of instruction is," she said. "We need to understand the whole child."
On the financial front, the district is much more fiscally sound now than in years past, but it must still be fiscally responsible in order to deliver instruction and attract and retain quality teachers and personnel, Martin-Knox said.
With technology costs in the K-12 environment continuing to soar, prioritization between "needs" and "wants" is critical, she said, while still giving students new and innovative ways to learn in order to be more marketable in the workplace.
Financial decisions can be difficult, but that's what leadership is about, she added. Ultimately, she said, all decisions in her administration will be made in the best interests of children.
"I typically say when I am speaking to people, and I truly mean it, 'Every conversation we have will begin and end with children.' Everything else, in between, is minutiae. It has to be about children."
The district's first board meeting of the new year will be Monday, Jan. 13, at Hillcrest Middle School in Dalzell.
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