103117 Gov McMaster tour Holly Hill

Gov. Henry McMaster is greeted by students at the start of a tour of Holly Hill-Roberts Middle School on Monday. More photos at TheT&D.com

CHRISTOPHER HUFF, T&D

HOLLY HILL -- Gov. Henry McMaster said his visit to Holly Hill-Roberts Middle School was fueled by his desire to better comprehend what South Carolina’s students need to become the productive workforce of tomorrow.

The Monday visit was the first stop on McMaster’s tour of schools in each of the eight districts affected by the South Carolina Supreme Court’s 2014 ruling on Abbeville County School District vs. State of South Carolina.

“I want to understand deeply what we are facing in the future with our workforce and the people who are going to be in it,” McMaster said.

“We have enormous opportunity coming our way in economic growth,” he said. “But if we’re not ready, if we’re not educated and trained for these jobs, we can miss it.”

Having a strong workforce is an important part of attracting industries to the state, McMaster said.

“I want to do all I can to understand exactly what we need to do to educate our young people better, stronger, quicker for the jobs that are out there now and tomorrow,” he said.

Earlier in the day, McMaster met privately with leaders of Orangeburg County Consolidated School District 3 to talk about some of the challenges facing the rural district.

Superintendent Dr. Jesulon Gibbs-Brown thanked him “for taking time to come here and actually witness what we encounter on a daily basis and see, as we have described for him, the ‘village’ that it takes to raise the students here in our community.”

She said that she is a native of the community who attended the former Holly Hill-Roberts High School in the very building that now houses the middle school.

“So it’s a very personal story for me, and I’m always delighted to share the story with others and have them see just how committed we are and the work that we’re going on behalf of the students that are sitting where I once sat,” Gibbs-Brown said.

Principal Robert Hemby said, “The visits like this, for me, are monumental because it gives us a chance to be seen.”

Hemby added that the district is “humbled” that the governor came to get a “firsthand look at Orangeburg 3.”

“He seems to be one who lives by our slogan, ‘Whatever it takes,’ in an effort to make sure there’s a commitment to excellence,” he said.

During a tour of the school’s STEM lab, state Sen. John Matthews, D-Bowman, said that exposing students to science and technology plays a valuable part in creating tomorrow’s workforce.

“I can tell you, when you go through this system, you just open up kids’ minds to new opportunities they never thought of,” Matthews said.

He recalled a recent event he attended at Howard Middle School in Orangeburg where a student who said he wanted to be a basketball player changed his mind after visiting the school’s STEM lab.

“So we went to the STEM lab and he saw all those new opportunities that he didn’t think about. Now he wants to be a nurse,” Matthews said.

“We’re very excited about having the lab and the investment that has been made,” Gibbs-Brown said.

She added that the district is planning to start an aerospace engineering track at Lake Marion High School, with some curriculum support from Orangeburg-Calhoun Technical College.

State Rep. Jerry Govan, D-Orangeburg, said the problems that prompted the Abbeville lawsuit are not new. The case began more than two decades ago with a lawsuit by rural districts alleging that the state was failing to provide the constitutionally mandated "minimally adequate" education.

“I’m glad to have the governor down here today to see firsthand some of the challenges that have been going on, and of course, see if we can work through the problems that we’re faced with, particularly in the rural parts of the districts across South Carolina,” Govan said.

McMaster said Orangeburg 3’s needs are the same as districts in many other parts of the state.

“The key to the whole thing seems to be good, strong teachers that stay – that is, a stable force of good, committed teachers,” he said. “That’s the key to a good education. It takes a lot of leadership at the district level, at the principal level.”

“We have lot of talent, but we have to recognize that we have to get organized,” he said “We’re going to have to consolidate some districts. We’re going to have to get the teachers to stay in the rural areas," McMaster said.

“If the rural areas get behind, all of us get behind."

Contact the writer: chuff@timesanddemocrat.com or 803-533-5543.

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