Let's share good news about our schools

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Education is something of a fraught topic in our state. So, when there is good news on the education front, I want to talk about it.

To that end, the Beaufort County School District recently announced the 2018-2019 Teacher of the Year is Karen McKenzie, a Social Studies teacher at H.E. McCracken Middle School in Bluffton.

Ms. McKenzie is a National Board Certified teacher with more than 20 years of classroom experience. She says her teaching style is built on sharing her studies and demonstrating her commitment to learning.

Asked about the impact of awards such as the Teacher of the Year, her response was that it was the beginning of a much-needed community conversation.

With this comes a major responsibility to let the community, our state, know the positive things going on in Beaufort County. Being at a school that has so many choices available to our students and so many excellent educators working diligently every day, it's my goal to represent that well and to share all that goes on in our Beaufort County schools.

In addition to giving welcome visibility to the quality education made available in our schools, Ms. McKenzie was also presented with a $5,000 check by representatives from Hilton Head Buick GMC Cadillac as a token of their appreciation for her excellent work and academic leadership.

Friends, I am a person whose educational career was elevated by my having more than my share of life-changing teachers. From kindergarten to law school and beyond, great teachers helped me to understand and appreciate the necessity of passing along the best of our culture and civilization to the next generations.

We cannot maintain our place in the world without superior teachers working in well-functioning schools.

We have a bit of catching up to do in this area, but recently I learned that 23 education stakeholders, as I write this, are visiting Finland under a program led by Public Education Partners, Furman University's Department of Education, and the Riley Institute at Furman (of which I am a proud Fellow).

Michael Svec, professor of education at Furman, tells us that Finland's approach to teacher education is relevant in South Carolina, where public schools face a growing teacher shortage. Furman has offered a five-year program for teachers in training since 2000, an approach that significantly reduces the rate at which teachers leave the profession during their first five years in the classroom.

It seems that Finnish schools, consistently rated among the best in the world, do things quite differently than most American public schools. Some examples: shorter school days, at least 90 minutes of recess per day, fewer standardized tests, with those administered not tied to accountability, and first grade does not start until age 7.

In my view, our schools can benefit by looking at how other nations approach this essential process. As much as we admire the Karen McKenzie-type heroes, and I certainly do, we can't expect our education system to be consistently excellent solely through the efforts of heroes, who, by definition, are brilliant but rare.

We must organize our system so that bright, appropriately compensated and respected professional teachers can perform at the level of heroes.

Weston Newton is the representative for District 120 in the State House of Representatives.

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