Last week I attended my 40th High School Reunion. It was an enjoyable weekend in Charleston with classmates and spouses who have been friends for 52 years. Perhaps our class is different from others in that our group is compiled of an assortment of folks who began school in 1960, yet went on to graduate from a variety of high schools in 1972. Our class has been very successful because of a good education, good parents, and a caring community. During our visit last weekend most conversations focused on memories of younger days, good times in Kingstree, and family. As I think back over past reunions, our conversations have always centered on family and how our lives have focused on our children. At previous reunions we talked at length about our children, but now as we are older, we share pictures and stories of our grandchildren. It is clear that much of what we have done for the past 40 years, and all we do now, is for the children.
I entered first grade in 1960 at the Salters School with four other students; one boy and three girls. Mrs. Blakely was our teacher and Mrs. Floyd prepared wonderful lunches for us. There was no custodian, no principal or anyone else in the entire school building. The preceding year, all older students attending the community school were sent to Kingstree, but for some reason, first graders were allowed to begin in Salters. It was a good year, and we did all the things one does in first grade. We learned, went out for recess, had a Christmas Program for our parents, and made new friends. All throughout the year, Mr. Rogers, from the district office, would come by and check on the school and our progress. 1961 was the grand finale at the Salters Community School. Even though the school had been open for many years, I do not remember hearing concerns or complaints about the school closing. Our parents recognized the importance of a good education and understood that the move to Kingstree would be beneficial. Perhaps, had my classmates and I stayed in Salters, Mot would have not become a doctor, Debbie would not have become a teacher, and I would have not had the chance for a good career. The move to Kingstree Elementary was a good decision by the county and our parents and was made basically for the children.
The Salters School was not the only public school that has closed in our county. Other schools include: Williamsburg, Lane, Hebron, Cedar Swamp, and more recently, Cades, St. Mark, and Battery Park. No doubt, at one time these schools were a vital part of a community, but as time passed, funding, technology, and populations changed, thus creating different educational needs.
Recently I perused a study entitled Public Schools and Economic Development; What Research Shows. There were several points that had significance for Williamsburg County that are worth sharing. The four topics under discussion were: Education enhances productivity; Quality public schools make state and localities more economically competitive; public schools influence property values, and public schools influence economic development. The study proceeded to show that good public schools can lower crime rates, create community pride, and benefit families. It was noted that public school facilities also impact economic development particularly in distressed areas, and that excellence in education is often a factor in determining a community’s quality of life. Evidence also suggested that poorly maintained facilities contribute to a neighborhood’s decline, but well maintained facilities boost student’s performance. Another major factor was that public schools are educating the future workforce and it helps make a community competitive. The study also recognized that when considering economic development, schools are a major community employer.
From a community development standpoint, it is obvious that good public schools are necessary for our county to move forward. If we want to bring in more industries and good jobs, our schools have to be appealing to residents. It is unfortunate that at this time in our history many people who work in Williamsburg County live in surrounding counties in order to send their children to other public schools.
Each time I talk with my friend Dr. Jefferson Barnes she explains that everything she does, she does for the children. Her educational mission here is not based on money, popularity, or future career opportunities; she simply is working for the children in Williamsburg County and their education. As much as I respect and trust Dr. Jefferson Barnes, it is a fact that she can not fix this school system alone. It will take everyone from board members, administration, teachers, parents, students, and the community working together for better schools.
My classmates and I received a good education 40 years ago because of great teachers, excellent principals, supportive parents, and a caring community. But to be fair, as students, we also had a desire to succeed. When current first graders in this county have their 40th high school reunion, I hope they will look back and know they were successful because this community helped them do well. As I see it, it’s really a very selfish ambition. We can make Williamsburg County grow and prosper when we help make the children successful. Let’s do it for our community and for the children.