Dress codes will remain the same at Orangeburg County schools for the 2019-20 inaugural year for the Orangeburg County School District.
"We don't think the students will see a difference this year from what they saw last year," OCSD Interim Superintendent Dr. Darrell Johnson said Tuesday at the regularly scheduled board meeting. "If they wore uniforms at a particular school last year, they will wear them this year. If they didn't, they won't."
Johnson, who was serving his first board meeting as superintendent, said the district has received a number of calls and questions.
If there is a need or a desire for an individual school to change its dress code, it will be left to the individual schools to provide the district a rationale for any changes, Johnson said.
"They have had an opportunity to be independent and unique schools that are autonomous and that shall continue," Johnson said. "Parents need to get involved through the PTA. That is the appropriate way to make a change if a change is needed."
In other matters, following a closed session, trustees unanimously agreed to hire two certified teachers and approved the request of about seven teachers and principals to leave to serve in another district. The request is pending the OCSD's ability to find suitable replacements.
"This late in the year, most districts are going to say if you want to go somewhere, you find something different. If we can find a suitable replacement, we will let you go. Or if you move way out of the state, of course we will let you go," Johnson said.
Johnson said the district is where it was last year in terms of teacher staffing.
"We have a little more than 80 vacancies," he said. "That sounds like a high number, but you have to consider you are multiplying three. It is about the same average that it would have been last year."
Johnson said specific vacancies are under review.
At Johnson's first meeting, he was introduced to the public and promised his commitment to work for what is best for the district's children.
"I just believe if we work together for the children of Orangeburg School District, we will be fine,"he said.
Quoting R&B artist Frank Beverly, Johnson said, "We are one."
"Right now we have an opportunity to unite and become one school district," Johnson said, following the meeting. "It won't be Orangeburg central, east or west. This is Orangeburg County School District."
A product of South Carolina State University, where he received his doctorate in 2004, Johnson said his new role "gives me a chance to give back to an area that gave me an opportunity."
Johnson has 32 years of experience in education. He served as the Greenwood School District 50 superintendent for the past 13 years.
During the public comment period, former Orangeburg Consolidated School District 5 Chairman Vernon Stephens reminded trustees to make sure priority schools -- schools identified by the state in need of improvement -- receive the appropriate state and financial assistance due them.
"Please let's not drop the ball on this one," Stephens said. "We are being monitored by the state department to make sure we are in compliance when we receive the funds for priority schools."
Stephens also reminded the board that it has a "huge task" before it and to make sure the best interest of students is a priority.
"It is apparent that we have been in some instances not concentrating on what is best for children," he said, not providing specific details of his concerns. "With you, we can make it happen."
Trustee Vernell Goodwin said the new board did not made any official decisions "until July 1."
"This is our first board meeting, so decisions that happened were made from District 3, 4 and 5," she said. "We are just coming on making decisions. The decisions that were made were not because of the board."
Trustee Mary Ulmer disagreed.
"As a board, we took office November 2018," she said. "From that point, this board had some decisions to make and we did make decisions."
In other business:
- Johnson said 840 students graduated from high school throughout the district this spring. Lake Marion High School and Orangeburg-Wilkinson High School had the most graduates.
- Trustees unanimously agreed to hire Dr. Liana N. Calloway to serve as district's chief of special services. Calloway served as director of special services for the former Orangeburg Consolidated School District 3.
- District Chief of Staff Dr. Jesse Washington informed trustees the new district will utilize a temporary website until a new district website is built. Information will be gathered from the existing websites for review by committee before going live.
Lexington-based Splash Omnimedia, which was hired by the board at its last meeting, is handling the website transition.
- Washington also informed attendees the district's new email system would be active within days. He also said the district's iVisions web portal and finance software will be updated and operational in time to meet the district's first payroll July 15.
- Trustees introduced representatives of Columbia-based law firm Halligan Mahoney & Williams. The law firm has been hired by the district to serve as its legal counsel.
- The district's administrative retreat has been scheduled for July 31-Aug. 1.
- The district-wide convocation of all district employees will be held Thursday, Aug. 15, at 9 a.m. A venue for the convocation has yet to be determined.
- The next school board meeting will be a special called meeting and will be announced at a future date.