Dr. Shawn Foster says he understands Orangeburg County parents want their children to have a solid educational foundation.
"It is about children," Foster said Monday. "It about the young man and young lady who are standing at a bus stop trying to get to school."
"It is about a parent wanting the very best for their children," he said. "Even though there are barriers along the way and even though there are things they may not understand."
Foster is one of two candidates to become the next superintendent of the Orangeburg County School District. He spoke to the public at three events Monday, including addressing a couple dozen people at Orangeburg-Wilkinson High School.
Foster told those gathered that his life was not easy when he was growing up. He grew up in poverty in a single-parent home.
His mother worked and did not drive. She would give Foster a house key tied to a shoe lace and 35 cents so he could take the city bus to the school bus stop.
"I remember my mom always saying, 'You be good, you do what is right, you work hard and you make good decisions,’" Foster said.
He is passing those lessons to his own children.
"That is why I am who I am today. It is why I lead and why I have been leading the past two decades," he said. "It's who I am."
Foster says he has been engaged with Orangeburg County schools long before the superintendent position opened up, as he sat in on town hall meetings before consolidation.
"My communication style is simple," he said. "You tell people what you are going to do, give them an update on where you are and then you tell them when it is done. If I don't tell people it is done, then it ain't done."
Ensuring students are college-ready is about, “turning our school system from being a product-driven school system to a solutions-focused school system."
"It is my goal to make sure not only do we have students earn their diploma, but they graduate with the skill that someone is willing to pay them for so they can make a living wage and provide for their family," he said.
Foster said apprenticeship opportunities need to start as early as the 10th grade.
Foster said he helped write the district’s Summer Youth Jumpstart Program. The program helps high school seniors get job experiences to enhance their work skills.
If he’s selected to be the next superintendent, Foster said he’ll focus on facility improvement, financial solvency, personnel, technology and instruction for the next five years as part of his strategic plan. He said it will take a team effort involving the entire community and stakeholders.
Foster said an early focus on social and emotional skills will help students struggling academically.
"We have to teach them behaviors just as well as we teach them application," he said.
Foster said adult mentoring is also needed.
"We can't suspend children just for the sake of suspending them, but we can't love them into failure either. We can't allow ourselves to feel sorry for a children because of a circumstance,” he said.
To help close achievement gaps, Foster says he would like for retired teachers to take books to young mothers at the Regional Medical Center.
"They get a book, they get information on the school district, they get a list of resources to help them with early literacy," Foster said.
For older grades, he said there needs to be a universal identifier or screener that can identify a child's deficiencies on an individual basis.
Foster says he will be open and accessible to all district employees.
Mellichamp Elementary School assistant principal Dr. Elrica Glover said Foster offered “a very genuine presentation."
"I do believe he has the children at heart for what he wants to do in our district. I am looking forward to hearing more from him, but I was very impressed with his presentation,” she said.
Destynei Tiller, professional school counselor, said "I am very impressed with his knowledge and his ability to articulate his thoughts about your school district.
“It does seem like he would be a person who comes in and has a plan, so I am excited to see that. I appreciate his welcoming attitude. He was very open to anything that we had to ask."
Later in the day Foster got to meet with parents, teachers and other community members at Lake Marion High School and Edisto High School.
Foster has served as the chief officer for Operations and Student Services for the Aiken County School District since 2015. He previously served as director of Student and Administrative Services for Spartanburg School District 7.
He received a bachelor’s degree in social work from Livingstone (NC) College, a master’s degree in counseling from Webster University, a master’s degree in divergent learning from Columbia College and a doctorate in administration from South Carolina State University.
The community will be able to meet the second finalist for the position, Dr. Valarie Williams, on Tuesday.
The Tuesday forums will be held at:
• 9 a.m. – Orangeburg-Wilkinson High School
• 11 a.m. – Lake Marion High School gymnasium
• 3 p.m. – Edisto High School gymnasium
Due to COVID-19 and social distancing guidelines, seating is limited at the events and is available on a first-come, first-serve basis. Masks are required.
All the forums are live-streamed and posted on the district’s website for viewing.
The candidates’ resumes are posted on the OCSD website at www.ocsdsc.org.
The board hopes to have a new superintendent by July 1.
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