Description of the School System
Richland School District Two (Richland Two) is located in Richland County in the city of Columbia, the state’s capitol. With almost 28,000 students and average yearly growth of 400, it is the largest and one of the fastest-growing public school districts in South Carolina. The district includes part of the city of Columbia and smaller municipalities including Arcadia Lakes, Forest Acres, Pontiac, Elgin, Blythewood and Dentsville. The district may be characterized as a growth area for both residences and businesses. A unique combination of factors tend to attract people to our area.
One of the dominant factors in residential growth is the historically excellent academic performance across the district. Our district leads the state in the number of National Board Certified Teachers with 701 educators who have earned this distinction. Also, according to The 2017 Best School Districts ranking, the district consistently ranks as one of the top 15 school districts in South Carolina. This ranking is based on rigorous analysis of key statistics and millions of reviews from students and parents using data from the U.S. Department of Education. Fourteen different schools have been named National Blue Ribbon Schools — also the most in South Carolina. Sixteen different schools have been named Palmetto’s Finest.
Richland Two’s economy is based on education, health care, finance, industry, telecommunications, and manufacturing. Richland County is home to employers such as Verizon Wireless and Blue Cross Blue Shield of South Carolina. Richland Two is also home to Fort Jackson, the U.S. Army’s most active Initial Entry Training Center in the country. Because Fort Jackson has only two elementary schools on base, Fort Jackson students in grades 7–12 have the opportunity to attend Richland Two schools--whether they live on base or elsewhere in the district. The 2016 Impact Aid records indicate that more than 10% of students attending Richland Two schools are military-connected.
The population of the northeast section of Richland County is made up of "young, frequent movers, prosperous older couples, urban working families, and prosperous baby boomers," according to demographics compiled by the Central Midlands Council of Governments. The number of individuals in each of these groups has grown along with the overall increases in population in the northeast part of the county. According to census data compiled by proximityone.com, the population in Richland Two increased by over 43,000 in the ten year period between 2000 and 2010. The report titled "Regional Population Projections" published in 2007 by the Central Midlands Council of Governments estimates the population of Northeast Richland will grow an additional 13% by the year 2020. Indeed, growth is synonymous with opportunity in Richland Two.
According to the National Center for Education Statistics, Richland Two has a total population of 128,949, and 22% are of school age. The total resident population is racially comprised of 47% African American, 43% White, 4% Asian, 3% two or more races, and 3% other. Of the 128,949 residents, 6% are of Hispanic or Latino descent. The median household value of owner occupied housing units in Richland County is $160,000, and the median household income is $58,837. Ten percent of persons living in Richland County live below the poverty level. The current unemployment rate is 5.6%. Approximately 93% of residents living in Richland County have a high school diploma with 39% having a bachelor’s degree or higher.
Richland Two is the fifth largest school district in the state. Currently, we serve 27,091 K-12 students in forty-one schools with an additional 756 in our pre-kindergarten Child Development program. Our adult education program serves approximately 700 students. The student population is comprised of 59% African American, 23% White, 3% Asian, 10% Hispanic, and 5% classified as other. Over the past five years, the district has seen a 4% increase in Hispanics and 3% increase of multi-racial or other. Approximately 49% of the students in Richland Two qualify for free/reduced lunch which is 3% higher than five years ago. More than sixty different languages are spoken by our students. District data indicate that 1.8% of students are homeless, and 5.1% of our students are living in temporary conditions with other family members. To educate and help support the needs of almost 28,000 students, the district employs 3,693 staff. The district has 2,076 certified staff, 1,449 support staff and 168 administrators.
Since the last district accreditation in 2012, several schools and programs have opened their doors in new facilities. In 2008, a community-driven campaign for passing a $306 million bond referendum was overwhelmingly successful. With this bond referendum, significant building improvements have been made to our facilities. The district has opened three new schools: Westwood HS in 2012, Lake Carolina ES Upper Campus in 2014 and the Richland Two Institute of Innovation in 2016. Jackson Creek ES will open in August 2017. The district’s 2015 Long-range Facilities Update projects the need for one new elementary school, one new high school, one new Child Development center, one new magnet center, and renovations and upgrades to existing facilities to accommodate projected growth.
In August 2016, Richland Two opened a one-of-a-kind educational facility — the Richland Two Institute of Innovation (R2i2). R2i2 is an innovative multi-use learning environment where students, parents, teachers and academic support personnel, community members, and businesses can engage in collaborative educational activities. The program weaves together community resources such as a public library, a lobby with seating areas that promote collaboration, a dining area, several district office departments, conference spaces with catering kitchen, a shared auditorium, and other educational spaces for both school and community use. A unique learning lab offers a variety of programs targeting juniors and seniors from our five high schools through engaging learning opportunities in the high-demand fields of Apple App Development, Computer-Aided Design & Manufacturing, Global Logistics & Supply Chain Management, Managerial Accounting & Finance, Next Energy & Fuel Cell Engineering, and Entrepreneurship through Mobile and Non-Traditional Food and Service.
Richland Two faces challenges like many other public school districts in the nation and state, including continued funding constraints and a growing teacher shortage. Along with shared common challenges, Richland Two has unique challenges as well. Being a district that encompasses multiple municipalities, large subdivisions, and large farms, the district could be considered urban, suburban, and rural.
Richland Two is considered a bedroom community, and the majority of the property is owner-occupied. With the passage of Act 388 in 2006, owner-occupied homes were exempted from taxes for school operations. This shift to collecting local revenue only from sales tax and commercial property has seen the district receive $100 million dollars less than if the law had not been enacted. To make up for this shortfall, the district has had to annually raise the millage rate on commercial property, which before Act 388 increased only twenty-five mils over a twenty year period.
As a bedroom community, our area has a shortage of public transportation. There are only a few bus routes, so families and students who want to participate in different programs, get to work, or attend a play downtown face transportation challenges. To better serve our students, we developed a partnership with the local public transportation authority and are able to provide free bus passes to all students in the district. With increased ridership, the transportation authority is working to expand the routes throughout our community.
Mission: In partnership with our community, Richland School District Two prepares all students for success by providing meaningful, challenging and engaging learning experiences.
Beliefs: Richland Two’s beliefs are captured neatly in a graphic: the Four Squares of Success. These four squares of Learning, Character, Community and Joy are at the heart of our goals, objectives and strategies.
Learning is the cornerstone on which all that we do in Richland Two is built. Educating our students is the highest priority for the district. We strive to provide an innovative environment to allow our students the opportunities to thrive both in and out of the classroom. The other three squares help to support this key square.
Character for both our students and staff is the building block to a great education. Character in our staff sets the example for our students which in turn creates positive productive members of our society. Without character, learning would be incomplete.
Public schools cannot go it alone. We know the power of working with our entire Community — parents, taxpayers, businesses, faith-based organizations, government entities and elected officials. These and many other partners all play an essential role in the education of our students. Working together, we provide the real-world knowledge our students need to be productive members of society.
What is success without celebration? We believe that honoring our accomplishments and sharing in the Joy of a job well done promotes future success. Just as fans revel in a game won, our Richland Two family should take time to revel in the great achievements made by our students and staff. A joyful environment produces happy and productive people who embrace innovation and learning.
Innovation has always been a trademark of Richland Two. The district has led the way across the state and nation with designing innovative approaches to instruction, implementing magnets and school choice over twenty years ago, and leading the way with technology integration at all schools and within classrooms.
A district of choice, where every school is a great choice, Richland Two offers thirty-seven magnet programs catering to the individual interests and needs of our learners. These programs include an elementary Montessori program, a middle school program focusing on zoological studies and a high school program for performing arts. The district also has an International Baccalaureate continuum from elementary to high and a Science, Technology, Engineering, Arts, Math (STEAM) pathway as well.
Recently, the district launched R2 Innovates. R2 Innovates gives time, space, resources, guidance, and leadership to faculty and staff across the district to take an idea and turn it into a reality. It provides a safe environment to develop and test ideas. Several ideas include developing and launching the student interpreter program, incorporating more movement into early learning classrooms, and implementing an early warning system to identify students who have needs that may not be addressed by an individualized education plan (IEP).
Notable Achievements and Areas of Improvement
Several notable achievements in Richland Two over the past three years are listed below. For a more comprehensive list, please visit www.richland2.org.
702 National Board Certified Teachers (ranked 1st in the state for the past three years)
Our four-year-old Child Development program was restructured and expanded to all elementary schools to serve students in greatest need and to enroll more students
2015–2016 88.5% graduation rate (fourth consecutive year of increase)
High school senior scored a 100 on the 2016 AP Calculus BC Exam, one of only eleven students in the world and the only female in the world to achieve this feat
Increased number of AP test takers and still rank above the national average
All five high schools named to the TransformSC Network
Twenty-one students recognized as 2017 National Merit Semi-finalists
The district was invited to join the Digital Promise League of Innovative Schools
1TWO1 rollout where all students in grades three through twelve were provided a personal computing device
Received 2014 Sylvia Charp Award for District Innovation in Technology presented by the International Society for Technology in Education (ISTE) and T.H.E. Journal
Curriculum Specialist in our Child Development program received the NEA Member Benefits Award for Teaching Excellence
Keels Elementary School received the 2015 ASCD Whole Child Award
Conder Elementary School received the 2016 SC ASCD Whole Child Award
Blythewood Middle School re-designated as a National School to Watch
Round Top Elementary selected as a 2014 National School of Character
Stacey Plotner, Westwood High School, was awarded the Frederick Douglass Foundation’s 2015 Human Rights Award
Anthony Frederick, Spring Valley High School, received the President's Volunteer Service Award
In October 2016, Dr. Hamm was one of eight community members honored by the Columbia Urban League for efforts that improve lives in what the organization calls “underserved communities” across South Carolina
The R2 Ready to Read initiative, through partnerships with the community and local businesses, collected 10,000 new and gently-used books and more than $1,000 in monetary donations so that each pre-kindergarten through second grade student in fourteen schools could be given two books to take home over the summer to promote reading
Blythewood High School Student Council won first place in the Community Service category at the South Carolina Association of Student Councils Convention and first place in the Community Service Outreach category at the Southern Association of Student Councils Convention for their community service project after the devastating floods in October 2015
R2i2 students in the Next Energy Engineering class are collaborating with Senegal students to develop solar energy technology for their school in Africa
Class of 2016 awarded $103 million in scholarships
In the past three years, district employees have raised more than $346,000 to benefit the United Way of the Midlands
Richland Two’s Child Development program was among the first in the nation to earn accreditation by the National Association for the Education of Young Children
Areas of Improvement in the last three years:
The district is proud of the many areas of improvement led by the vision of Dr. Hamm and her Four Squares and the nine priority areas that she launched three years ago. Three notable areas are: Diversity, Discipline, and Magnets.
Questions about race relations, equity, equality, diversity, access to opportunities, engagement, acceptance and tolerance are sweeping across our country. Richland Two showed leadership more than two years ago when we convened a diversity task force to proactively address these issues. Richland Two believes our diversity is a great strength. We can achieve our mission of preparing all students for success more quickly, more efficiently and with broader depth when we are inclusive of our many and varied cultures. In August 2015, the district hired Dr. Helen Nelson Grant as the Chief Diversity and Multicultural inclusion Officer as a direct result of the Diversity Task Force. Dr. Grant and the task force continue to work intentionally with partners to explore and maximize benefits from the diversity of our school district. To help ensure that the system is meeting the needs of the community, a series of Community Conversations were held to hear how the community felt about the system’s strengths and areas of needed improvement within the context of the Four Squares of Success.
The Richland Two Discipline Task Force, formed in 2014, brings together community stakeholders to rethink student discipline. Within a year, the task force drafted a comprehensive set of recommendations for developing a Discipline Matrix and Tiered Discipline Model — which included a recommendation for hiring district behavior interventionist specialists, with the first filled in 2015. The Behavioral Education Supports and Training (B.E.S.T.) program was created by the interventionists and initially piloted at four schools. Among other things, students are encouraged to set goals, reflect on their performance, and practice mindfulness. Faculty and staff have received training on de-escalation, restorative practices and positive classroom management. As the program’s first year closed, educators reported improvements in academic performance, decreases in negative behaviors, and increases in the sense of community within classrooms. Currently the program operates in thirteen schools. The district’s suspension and expulsion numbers are trending downward while our on-time graduation rate continues to climb.
In 2014 a Magnet Task Force comprised of administrators, magnet leads, teachers and parents was created. This task force focused on strengthening magnet programs by increasing interdepartmental communication, developing magnet monitoring and accountability procedures, improving application and acceptance procedures, investigating transportation for non-zoned students, and offering additional opportunities for Richland Two families to participate in the choice process. Under the guidance of this task force, the district created four new magnet programs, revised three other programs, expanded the Choice process and implemented a new accountability system.
Lack of sufficient funding has precluded providing bus transportation for students not attending their residentially zoned schools. District staff was challenged to look for innovative ways to address the transportation concern. Three buses were purchased for a pilot program, and feasibility studies were conducted. Unfortunately tight budgets continue to preclude purchasing additional buses, so the district looked outside of traditional school bus transportation to address this issue. In the fall of 2016, the district established a partnership with the local public transit authority, The COMET, which has the potential to provide a cost-effective solution. All high school and middle school students receive a free COMET ridership pass. Additionally, the replication of magnet offerings focused on providing nearby magnet choices for most students.
Areas of Improvement to strive to achieve in the next three years:
Continuous improvement is part of the Richland Two culture. The district is continuously reviewing its policies, practices, and procedures to determine areas for improvement. The AdvancED self-assessment process has been instrumental in advancing our continuous improvement process.
As a next step after Data Era 5 which focused on data-informed instruction, the district is working to strengthen its instructional framework. The district created a Benchmark Think Tank and will be piloting benchmark assessments during the 2017–2018 school year. The district is also clarifying instructional expectations. Professional development has been planned for the 2017–2018 school year to improve this focus area. Finally, professional development will expand with regard to data and making data-informed decisions to support the learning framework in the upcoming year.
The district is also working to improve administrative instructional leadership. The district, in partnership with the South Carolina Department of Education, is designing an annual innovative professional learning experience. These training sessions will provide in-depth experiences for administrators coupled with a monthly instructional leadership series. The first year will focus on the principals’ ability to identify, analyze, coach, and support teachers on effective data-informed decision-making. Programs in successive years will be customized to align with the district’s priorities.
Our teachers are the vital spark of our district. We recognize that the teacher shortage is felt not only in our state but on a national level. We will continue to expand our ability to recruit and retain top-notch teachers. Although the district supports new teachers by providing upfront training, mentoring, and ongoing coaching from trained educational coaches, we are committed to strengthening these efforts.
The Richland Two Executive Leadership Transition
Richland Two is currently experiencing a major transition. Like other districts across the state and nation, we face an aging workforce. Our current superintendent, Dr. Hamm, is retiring at the end of the 2016–2017 school year. Due to the vision of our superintendent and Richland Two Board of Trustees, Dr. Davis was immediately named superintendent-elect and will become superintendent in July 2017. Following a three-phase plan, Dr. Davis and Dr. Hamm have been working closely together for a smooth transition and have already begun implementing improvements for the 2017–2018 school year.
As part of this transition, Dr. Davis, with extensive stakeholder input, is crafting a new five-year strategic plan that addresses three areas of focus: Culture & Environment, Talent, and Achievement, which serve as the building blocks for goals and priorities and will bring together all critical elements into one clear, concise plan. Dr. Davis will continue to guide completion of the strategic plan and will use it as a guiding document for his July transition into the full time role of superintendent.
Preparing for the AdvancED Accreditation Visit
The AdvancED Accreditation preparation began with an update to the Richland Two Board of Trustees on planned accreditation activities in the fall of 2015. Dates were shared for district-wide training and implementation of eleot® for classroom observation. During the same period, district-level staff met with key leaders, district chairs and co-chairs, and all principals to explain their roles and responsibilities in the rollout and implementation of the continuous improvement process. All of the aforementioned groups, as well as many others from district-level departments, attended district-wide accreditation training by the South Carolina AdvancED director.
Throughout 2016, a district-level driven continuous improvement action plan was executed. In January 2016, during the public session of a Richland Two School Board meeting, the state AdvancED director shared an overview of the proposed AdvancED District Accreditation visit and addressed questions from the Board of Trustees. Each month thereafter focused on a different area of the self-assessment process. School Board members were continuously informed through Richland Two Board Briefs, Board agenda meetings, and workshop sessions. During the months where standards were the main focus, at a district-wide administrators’ meeting, the system-level chair and co-chair for their standard modeled exemplars of how principals could enact the self-assessment process at their schools. Schools were encouraged to include teachers, staff, parents, and community members in stakeholder meetings to ensure a complete and accurate self-reflection. Simultaneously, the system-level chair and co-chair held stakeholder meetings for their standard with district-wide staff, parents, and community members. Great care was taken to ensure no duplication of stakeholders within the standards; this attention to diversity allowed the district to collect feedback from hundreds of different individuals. During the months that a standard was not an area of focus, different parts of the continuous improvement process were modeled and implemented.
At the beginning of 2017, district leaders began the process of polishing system and school narratives, executive summaries, and stakeholder and student feedback analyses. Multiple meetings among district staff, principals, teachers, support staff, and stakeholders were organized to prepare for the AdvancED external review. The South Carolina AdvancED director was invited back to the district for ASSIST training for all of the principals and system accreditation team members. The district team then reviewed the final school-level self-assessment with each principal to ensure the school did not miss any important steps of the continuous improvement process.
The focus on support, review, and revision has been embedded throughout the process. Each school and system standard was assigned a “pulse checker” who visited multiple times with the school and system narrative chairpersons to provide support, review their progress, serve as a subject matter expert on accreditation questions, and act as a liaison to the district’s accreditation team. This high level of support was critical in maintaining a smooth, steady, inclusive, and truly accurate accounting of the self-assessments.
The AdvancED framework not only outlines the timeline and implementation of the continuous improvement process, it also emphasizes the need to use stakeholder feedback to improve district and school procedures and to constantly review and reflect upon original self-assessments. Through this comprehensive process, desired changes to district initiatives and procedures were identified by stakeholders and a systematic process is being developed to implement these improvements. In many cases because improvements could be made easily, they have already been put into place.