McCORMICK — Superintendent Betty Bagley stressed that polo shirts and khaki pants would not fix all that ails McCormick County School District.
Nevertheless, she made an impassioned case for a districtwide uniform dress code before parents Thursday night.
“We’ll have to take our education system in our hands, and we have to turn it around,” Bagley said. “Let’s look at everything we know that can make a difference,” such as a modified calendar or longer school days. But a uniform dress code “probably ... is the easiest one of all.”
It was the first of two meetings to gauge whether parents support a uniform dress code. Attendees were given a flyer with the pros and cons of a uniform dress code which, Bagley said, was not the same thing as forcing students to wear a uniform. The former offers students a very limited range of styles and colors they can wear; the latter offers no choice.
Attendee Angela Garrett suggested adding navy to the colors students could wear. Bagley had suggested they mandate students wear the district’s colors: black, white and red.
Garrett also wanted there to be one day per month when kids could wear whatever they want, and said that teachers should also be made to wear a uniform.
“It’s not the clothes, it’s the shoes,” another woman said. “If y’all want to talk about the bullying and all that, it’s about the shoes.”
Bagley said that she was unaware of a uniform dress code that dictates what kind of shoes kids could wear.
“You’re talking about being an example, so be the example,” a man said. “Add that.”
Some parents were concerned about the board making a decision only to change its mind shortly thereafter, and said they did not want to purchase new clothing if it wasn’t a long-term decision. Trustees Verteema Chiles, Christine Lee, Janie Martin and Melody Wilt attended.
One woman said high school juniors and seniors should be exempt from the policy. Her daughter will soon graduate from McCormick High School, and she said it would be ridiculous to buy her clothes that she would throw out less than a year later.
Other parents said that the district had more important things to worry about. After the meeting had ended, Lashauna Adams said she’s for the uniforms but is far more concerned about the lack of teachers in the district.
One man received applause after saying his children’s scores had dropped after they began taking virtual classes because there aren’t enough certified teachers to staff every class the district has to offer.
“My point is, the uniforms are irrelevant,” he said.
Markishia Blair said for all the studies that show uniform dress codes improve student behavior, attendance and attainment, there are plenty that show they do not.
Earlier in the meeting, Bagley had acknowledged as much, citing the flyer she had given attendees and a story in Tuesday’s Index-Journal, which detailed the limited research done by scholars.
The point of a uniform dress code, Bagley said, was to change the district’s atmosphere.
When she was superintendent of Bamberg School District 1, she told attendees, the state superintendent at the time “sort of took me under her wing.”
“She sent me across the United States to visit schools who were not supposed to do well, who were doing well,” Bagley said.
“And I’d always say to the principal: ‘Tell me one thing that you will give this credit to,’” she continued, “and they said: ‘Uniforms.’
“They told me the stories of how it developed continuity, it developed less competition, a sense of purpose that we’re here to put education first, not to be a social event.”
Bagley said that she envisions McCormick being a “STEAM academy,” one that will prepare students for a future in which today’s kindergarteners will enter an economy radically changed by artificial intelligence and robotics.
“If we can think it, we can do it. But we have to build an atmosphere that says, ‘We’re engineers. We’re mathematicians. We’re artists. We are thinkers.’”
The second meeting to discuss the uniform dress code will be Tuesday.