Molly Spearman shares school year’s progress, concerns during visit to Florence

Pee Dee

FLORENCE, S.C. (WBTW) — State Superintendent of Education Molly Spearman visited Florence Tuesday as she described the progress and concerns brought on by this unprecedented school year.

She spoke during a luncheon for the Greater Florence Chamber of Commerce.

“We have proven that school can be safe,” Spearman said. “Now I cannot guarantee 100 percent safety- but we never can do that. But it has been very well controlled and I think statistics really show that school is one of the safest places you can be. “

For one, Spearman said schools are the source of about four percent of COVID cases in the state, but make up around 20 percent of the population. She said districts have done a ‘wonderful job.’

Two districts in the Pee Dee– Marion County School District and Florence County School District Three- both shifted to virtual Monday. Marion’s shift was just for the week at this point, while FCSD3 will be remote until Jan. 5.

Superintendent Spearman hopes moves like these are not necessary often over the winter, as health experts anticipate a surge of COVID cases nationwide.

 “I know that children need to be in school with teachers as soon as possible,” she said. “It is a local decision. And I understand it needs to be that because the spread is different in different communities. But I think we have provided the PPE. We’ve provided plexiglass. And I think schools are a safe environment and I want schools to be in session as much as they possibly can.”

While Spearman was upbeat on the strides in safety and internet connectivity made through the pandemic, she did express concern over some ‘alarming’ trends in academics.

She said her office is looking at data coming in from assessments given during the first 10 days of school. She said more assessments are coming this month to help determine how well students have caught up.

“Our greatest loss seems to be in fourth, fifth grade years where students have really struggled,” she said. “And honestly the data shows they’ve struggled more in mathematics than in reading. So we are going to be offering and talking to the General Assembly about giving us some extra funding to do remediation and not just in reading, but in math.”

She said some have apparently lost up to three years.

Speaking of the General Assembly, Spearman says she hopes for action from lawmakers when asked about combating concerns surrounding teacher retention in the state.

 “I hope one of the first things will be that the General Assembly will do the two percent step increase,” she said. “I hope they will add an additional salary increase if the money is there and a promise to do it as soon as the money is there.”

Spearman also commented on the future of Florence County School District Four, which has faced issues in recent years. The state intervened about two years ago, and Spearman says she is ‘strongly considering’ a consolidation of the district. The consolidation would be with Florence One Schools. Count on News13 for updates.

When asked, Spearman she would suggest considering consolidation for all five Florence County districts sometime in the future, That would be a local decision, she said.

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