FAIRFIELD COUNTY, S.C. — It is not time for more education reform, it's time for transformation.
That's what leaders at the University of South Carolina are saying following the announcement of a new partnership Wednesday with Fairfield County Schools.
It's a new approach in achieving student success with the help of not just school officials, but the entire community.
"This is an initiative around community improvement. This is an initiative around whole child education. We're kind of developing it as we go," said Dr. J.R. Green, Superintendent of Fairfield County School District.
The new collaboration between Fairfield schools and USC is called Accelerator for Learning and Leadership for South Carolina, or ALL4SC.
"Good things are happening. How do we accelerate the good things that are happening by bringing people, program, time, talent and treasure together to serve the needs of high needs school communities? How can the university model that for the rest of the state of South Carolina?" said Barnett Berry, USC Professor and Director of ALL4SC.
ALL4SC isn't a program, but rather the initiative of a flagship university helping students, parents and communities enhance their own strengths to meet every child's needs.
"Imagine if every student has a personalized growth plan," said Berry. "Imagine if there was integrated data and information that not just teachers, but the after school providers, the Vernon Kennedy shop all had access to to support that child? What if we had special programs that are designed to meet their needs and also ignite their passions?"
A growing number of communities in South Carolina are losing industries and jobs, similar to Fairfield County with the failed nuclear reactor project at VC Summer.
Paired with this, officials say, is a teacher shortage.
USC President, Robert Caslen says the initiative will also help ensure more students are academically ready for college, and that getting to a higher level institution like USC is more affordable.
"There's two separate issues we have to address. One is access so we can help develop young men and women in order to be eligible to attend higher education so we can expand the eligible population of the state," said Caslen. "I think we have a part and a responsibility in that. The other thing I think is essential that we address is affordability. This is part of the conversation we just had working with the legislature and working with some other sources of funds for affordability as well."
Creators say oftentimes when similar programs start up, it's just one school or one group of professors at the university that's involved. ALL4SC will bring together research and professionals from every part of USC's institution to close achievement and opportunity gaps for all students.
"This is about an entire university. From medicine to music, from education to engineering to bring those assets together to support this type of change," said Berry.
USC officials say student performance in South Carolina lags behind the national average, especially in rural schools serving low-income students.
Creators of the new initiative argue that if out-of-school factors account for about 80% of a student's success, we must look beyond school walls to help them.
"This is about community improvement. This is ensuring that our young people have an appropriate diet, that they have housing security, that they have stable health care," said Green. "We can really change their economic trajectory and their economic mobility over the course of time."
Under this 5-year research project, USC committed significant funds to support ALL4SC. The collaboration begins with Fairfield schools with the goal of helping more districts in the future.
Creators of ALL4SC say conversations are already underway with State Superintendent of Education, Molly Spearman.
"This is the ideal community to launch a brand new initiative that can be a model for communities throughout the State of South Carolina," said Green.
ALL4SC adds to Fairfield County School District's existing partnership with Midlands College and their STEM Early College program.
Dr. Green says the district also has one of the highest rates of high school students that graduate with associates degrees.