MY WORD: Hard work, great progress

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By Doug Butler

As chairman of the Shelby County Board of Education, I have an interesting and unique view of the Shelby County Public School (SCPS) system. It is an eye-opening experience.

I am amazed at the dedication and commitment that the school’s administration and employees show for our students. Through the first full year of Unbridled Learning, the state’s accountability model, they simply got down to business and went about the tireless work of improving.

 The recently released scores solidified what I had surmised already, SCPS is a district on the move where teachers and parents do not settle for mediocrity. As Superintendent James Neihof puts it, “We are headed north.”

The big picture view is fairly clear. Last year, we wanted the scores to be higher; this year they are higher. I think it’s easy for some people to stop there, but let’s take a moment to look in a little closer.

I think it is important for folks to understand that this public school district knows where it is headed.

The board’s BIG goal is to graduate all students college or career ready by 2017. Along with this BIG goal are steps to college readiness for every grade level from preschool through high school. The familiar mantra – plan, act, check, correct – are in play. While the task is monumental, we have a very clear focus, a committed team and a very definite understanding of what it takes to get there.

Our teachers are working incredibly hard. They put in many hours and give so much of themselves. Do you remember the old bumper sticker that said “If you can read this, thank a teacher”?

When we consider the mix of strategies and programs, such as Rigorous Curriculum Design, new standards, accreditation, Thinking Strategies Institutes and District Instructional Leadership Teams, to name a few, we need to reprint those bumper stickers and spread them across Shelby County.

This says nothing of the work teachers do in their individual schools and classrooms. Teachers spend hours creating engaging lessons, working with teammates, and improving their skills through professional development. This work helps teachers to bring their “A” games to their individual schools and classrooms.

Recently I became a part of the District’s Strategic Leadership Committee. I am not in charge of it, but I am a learner just like the other 80 administrators, teachers, parents and students who participate. The goal of this committee is to help develop a vision for teaching and learning in the next five years for our school system. I share this to illustrate the district team concept I am witnessing.

Every day, I am seeing the team effort to better educate our students. Principals are empowering teacher leaders. Students are leading small groups. We intend to personalize learning for every student.

Another piece that stands out to me is the monitoring of student progress. In education, as with any field, it is critical to check how things are going. Teachers do it daily. It is like the ocean liner making adjustments along the way rather than having to turn the entire boat after it may be too late.

Administrators and teachers assess the students’ progress and then adjust the instruction to meet the individual students’ needs. Assessment tools like MAP and ACT, paired with the daily common Core Standard assessments give SCPS a very clear picture of where they are and how to adjust.

Last, but perhaps most importantly, it all revolves around the students and their parents and caregivers. There is no progress without their effort. As a proud citizen of our Shelby County community I say thank you – keep it going.

All in all, congratulations are in order for the improved test scores this year. As a board member, I am extremely pleased with results like these. We can be proud in knowing the school district knows how they got here and where they are going next. Again, with the intentional focus on planning, action, and monitoring I think the future is bright for Shelby County Public Schools.


Doug Butler, chair of the Shelby County School Board, lives in Simpsonville.