Teacher Swap: Readiness and resources

(Richland) February 7, 2006 - Two teachers are swappings jobs for three days to compare a high-performing suburban school and a disadvantaged rural school. And this time WIS is focusing on the little ones, kindergartners.

About 8:00am at Harbison West, it's hello to school mom, and for today, a substitute mom, "My name is Ms. Stuckey."

WIS swapped Ms. Stuckey and Mrs. Westmoreland-Sipes. She's about 70 miles away in Rural Lee County.

It's usually all smiles in kindergarten at Lower Lee, and when they're not smiling, they're exercising, spelling, even sleeping.

Kindergarten isn't all fun and games though. In fact, according to the state teaching standards, by the time they leave kindergarten, all of the children should be able to "demonstrate the ability to retell stories, identify the purposes and characteristics of maps, globes, and graphs, and demonstrate the ability to copy or print letters and words, including his or her name."

But in Ms. Stuckey's class at Lower Lee, "Some of them came in and they did not even know how to recognize their name."

"And so when the child comes in and they don't know how to do that, we're ready to go on to letters and number recognition, and we have to go back and say okay, this is your name."

Some start off behind and never seem to catch up. Lower Lee has finished unsatisfactory every year but one on its school report card. The year they didn't, they were rated below average.

When asked about the school's score, Principal Brevard responded, "I can just kind of speculate."

So WIS' Craig Melvin went to a school board member, Jeff Varn, "That's a good question. I wish I was that smart."

Even Ms. Stuckey was stumped, "I'm not quite sure."

Before we swapped Stuckey, she told us what she thought might help readiness, "A lot of the challenges I'm facing as a teacher is with resources."

"As a matter of fact, I'm working on my masters in technology and we don't have all the stuff in place to implement all the things I'm learning in my technology course."

She also says she needs "more books, I need more science materials. I have a very weak science area. And we need more literacy materials. We need more leveled books for the children for me to do guided reading instruction."

After a few days, Stuckey realizes she could use more of something else, time. At Harbison West, for about an hour and half every school day, Stuckey can plan, "That's the time that you can just sit and think about, 'Well, did that lesson work that I just taught a minute ago?' You know that's time that you have to reflect and think about the things you've done that day."

She says they don't have that time at her school because, "We have to take our students to lunch and we don't have specials every day."

At Lower Lee, for Westmoreland-Sipes there were fewer specials like art, music, PE, and there were a few more students in her new class. Westmoreland-Sipes says a class that's too large can affect student readiness, "It's a challenge when you have so many children in your classroom and you do have children that you know need and an extra boost and extra help."

Despite increased challenges, Westmoreland-Sipes has stayed put. In fact, she's been at Harbison West more than 25 years and believes teacher experience and stability can also affect readiness.

Meanwhile at Lower Lee Harriet Brevard tells WIS, "I'm the third principal in four years"

Brevard says there's been some instability, "in the administration and in teachers."

Brevard says in 2002, six of Lower Lee's 24 teachers didn't come back, "If teachers are pulled away to other districts, then the professional training and the development goes with them and then we start all over."

Keeping teachers has gotten slightly easier for Lower Lee, but attracting them has not. Brevard admits cotton fields coupled with the charm of Main Street Bishopville doesn't appeal to most would-be teachers.

Tamela Stuckey grew up and still lives nearby, but she says, "I spend most of my time in Columbia as a matter-of-fact. Columbia and Sumter, because there's really nothing to do."

And there's other reasons as well, "I really think a lot of teachers do not want to come to the rural area because of salary."

Average salary for a Lee County teacher is about $34,700. About an hour away, the average teacher in Lexington-Richland Five gets about $47,500.

Jeff Varn is a Lee County School Board member, "The one area Lee County can't compete in with the Spartanburgs and Richlands. We can fund salaries, but we can't compete on a facilities basis."

That's the crux of the problem, according to Varn, "Would you rather live in a rundown 900 square-foot rental house or nice brand new 2,000 square-foot home?"

Better facilities, more money for teachers, smaller classes, more resources in the classroom. Many say those are the things that get five year olds a better education.

But just a few miles away, old computers, no fancy buildings, teachers who make only about $24,000 a year at Robert E. Lee Academy, a rural private school. There they say the secret to success is not what happens in school, but at home, "Our parents are very involved and it makes a difference."

Reported by Craig Melvin

Posted 5:55pm by Chantelle Janelle