BCSB announces 44 District Teachers of the Year, addresses Blackburn resignation at recent meeting
By Charlie Morrison
Just days removed from a special Friday night meeting in which the Berkeley County School Board (BCSB) unexpectedly and unanimously voted to accept the resignation of Berkeley County Superintendent Brenda Blackburn, the Board met again last Tuesday, March 14 and under much different circumstances.
The meeting Tuesday was a regularly scheduled Board meeting, but held remotely at the new Philip Simmons Elementary and Middle School, and it was the Iron Horses who greeted the huge crowd that had assembled in their multi-purpose room. Following the Pledge of Allegiance led by Philip Simmons Middle School Students Destiny Singleton and Natalie Gonzales and a pair of song sung by the Iron Horse Elementary School Choir “Iron Horses” the Board proceeded into what several called “their favorite meeting of the year.”
That was because at last Tuesday’s meeting was the meeting in which the School District announced their list of winners of 2017 school level Teachers of the Year awards. The Board handed out a total of 44 awards to district teachers who’d won the annual award this year, including eight finalists for the overall District Teacher of the Year award, to be named March 24.
An emotional BCSB Chair Sally Wofford welcomed the awardees and thanked them for their service to the district.
“I’m very blessed to have multiple Teachers of the Year teach my kids and when you start talking about your own kids it’s very touching,” said Wofford, her voice quivering with emotion. “So, if you’re touching someone’s kids whether they’re sitting on this board or sitting out in the audience you’re making a big difference and I’m saying that as a mom not as a board member so thank you so much from the bottom of my heart.”
Board member Shannon Lee echoed Wofford’s words. “This is a big deal for you guys but it’s also a big deal for us,” said Lee. “We don’t get to say thank you enough the teachers should do what we wish we could do.”
The awardees had their names called and they formed a procession shaking Board members’ hands, receiving flowers and having their photos taken. The group included Daniel Island School Teach of the Year Patty Fisher, Doretha Garland the Teacher of the Year for Philip Simmons Elementary, and Philip Simmons Middle School Teacher of the Year Dylan Hudson.
Following their announcement, the meeting took a break to allow them to go home while the Board proceeded on the business of the evening. First however, a couple of individuals in the room turned the Board’s attention to the elephant in the room during the citizen comments, that of Blackburn’s mysterious departure.
“I’m here to share my concern about the abrupt departure of Mrs. Blackburn,” began former School Board candidate Rindy Ryan, the first to address the body. “She had only just begun her work for the children of Berkeley County, her last performance review with quite favorable and I have heard no criticisms of the job she was doing for the District.”
“I am worried because Mrs. Blackburn’s departure appears to be an example of election cycle scapegoating. If this board has real problems with her performance please publicly disclose that information,” Ryan continued.
“Our teachers need consistency in policies and expectations in order to focus on student achievement. over the past five years are teachers have been struggling to learn, teach and test to how many different sets of standards and under how many different superintendents and interims?” said Ryan in conclusion. “Consistency and expectations in leadership matters and has a great impact on student outcomes as well as teacher morale.”
“To Mr. Jackson, we’re in great hands with you,” said Patricia Eckstein. “You have a hard job to do but you did it unanimously the other night so it was a unanimous action. I said prayers for you I know you want to get down to the bottom of this so you can get back to educating our children supporting our teachers and our administrators.”
Deion Jackson, named Friday night to serve as the District’s Interim Superintendent until the body is able to conduct a search for a new leader to head up the District spoke publicly for the first time in his new role.
“As many of you know I did not seek this incredible responsibility of coming in and serving as interim superintendent but I do want you to know that I’m dedicated and committed to working with our board, our employees and members of the Berkeley County community in order to ensure that we make our vision and our mission come to light,” said Jackson. “I believe that the time is now to come together and work as a team, more now than ever before because we are one Berkley.”
And for their part, the Board members themselves weren’t silent on the issue either. School Board Chair Wofford took the issue on head-on in her comments, which closed the meeting before the body proceeded on to an executive session period to address expulsions.
“We want to thank Mr. Jackson for taking on this incredible responsibility taking on the intern position for our district during this time of transition,” said Board Chair Wofford. “Publicly the board wants to commit to Mr. Jackson the full support of the board. We have faith in your ability to lead with integrity and have the best interest of our students at heart,” she continued before turning to the topic of Blackburn and former Berkeley County Chief Financial Officer Brantley Thomas, who last month confessed to pilfering nearly $400,000 from the District.
“We are currently working with forensic auditor Cherry Bekaert. There were boots on the ground yesterday and we fully commit to the public to address transparently the findings of this audit,” Wofford continued. “As we go through this process we’re committed to be publicly transparent to you. for our employees for our teachers and our principals, we’re committed to you, you and the children of Berkeley County are why we serve.”