(Richland) Aug. 10, 2005 - Ridgeview High School is Northeast Richland County enjoys state of the art facilities, but officials say that's not their key to achievement.
When Ellie Muniz got to America, she knew what she wanted to do, "When I came from Germany, I knew that I wanted to teach."
And she knew where, " I was told when I was taking my courses, you need to go to Richland District Two."
And ever since she's been at Ridgeview High School. They've been excellent, literally. On school report cards they score high year after year. They're one of Palmetto's finest, and a school of promise. Graduation rates are among the highest in the state.
Principal Marty Martin speaks about his school, "About every kind of award you can think of that a high school can get, it's received."
Martin is particularly proud of his freshmen, "The highest failure rate in the state of South Carolina is among freshman. It's somewhere between 30 and 40 pecent. At Ridgeview High School the last two years, first time freshman failure rate has been between six and seven percent."
The secret to all the success, "You can probably count on one hand or less the teachers who leave because they prefer to be somewhere else."
He's got more board certified teachers in his high school than in most school districts. More than 60 percent have more than a college degree.
Recruiting quality teachers to Ridgeview isn't as difficult as it is in other parts of the states, "They drive up to the school and like the look of the facility."
Also, Martin says, "I think the pay helps some."
Average teacher pay at Ridgeview, $48,000. Average teacher pay in South Carolina, $42,000.
A few hundred miles south in Jasper, Marva Tigner has a different problem than Martin, "We are always fighting teacher turnover."
And they have to fight even harder to get new teachers, "Jasper County at this point doesn't have a lot to offer as far as recreation, entertainment, for young teachers."
Another reason, they can't offer as much money. The average teacher here makes about $40,000, that's $2,000 less than the state average.
Marva Tigner is director of curriculum instruction for Jasper County schools. She says she's frequently filling openings with subs, "It's really a challenge to expect a substitute to deliver the same kind of instruction as a classroom teacher with the training and experience."
Steve Morrison represents Jasper County and 35 other school districts suing South Carolina, claiming the state's school funding system makes it tough for rural districts to provide a minimally adequate education.
He says improving teacher quality in districts like Jasper is crucial, "To get top-quality teachers to go to the most rural and isolated school districts, it's going to cost more than it takes to get a great quality teacher in Irmo."
Back at Ridgeview, Ellie Muniz says something else would help, improved facilities. In one Jasper County Middle School lab, no gas or running water. In hers and every other science class at Ridgeview, state-of-the art equipment, "I don't know how those teachers are doing it. I really don't. Here at Ridgeview, we have equipment some colleges don't have. So we're ahead, we're way ahead."
But there are those schools that don't have top-notch facilities or the highest paid teachers, schools where despite the fact the vast majority of students live in poverty, but they still achieve.
Steve Wilson is the Principal at Columbia's Keenan High School, "We've managed to convince a lot of our students that education is the way out."
Reported by Craig Melvin