In a survey, residents said “loudly and consistently” that they want Greenwood County School District 50’s next superintendent to be “student-centered first, teacher-centered second — but a close second,” said Shana Plott, of executive search firm Coleman Lew. Areas of concern included the district’s test scores, transparency and poverty.

Julie Fowler, chief administrative officer for Abbeville County School District, and Steve Glenn, assistant superintendent at Greenwood’s District 52, touched upon those topics at the second of two forums Wednesday night at the Genesis Education Center.

The crowd that had come to see them asked the majority of the questions, which touched upon other hot topics, such as teacher recruitment amid a shortage, class sizes, testing and the teachers’ May 1 Statehouse rally.

But Jeff Smith, the executive director of the community foundation, opened the forum asking the candidates’ their opinion of the Read to Succeed act, with mandates holding back students who still struggle with reading at the end of the third grade.

Fowler described Read to Succeed as “fabulous” legislation, albeit with major flaws. “It is a wait until you fail model,” in which intervention isn’t made until third grade, when it’s already too late for a child who is struggling to read.

“Why can we not replicate (the Greenwood Promise) and provide a 4K promise where we have universal 4K?” Fowler said. “Where it’s mandatory for all students at the age of 4 to attend kindergarten? We have got to fix what’s happening on the front end of education.”

Glenn said there’s no choice but to abide by Read to Succeed and that meeting the law’s mandates is all about having enough competent teachers.

“The first thing we’re going to do, we’re going to assess all these programs that we have,” Glenn said. At Westview, I had to implement a program ... it cost $180,000 to implement it. That’s three teachers. That’s three teachers. Now it could have been the best program in the world, but not for me.”

Smith asked Glenn what he would do to recruit and keep those teachers.

“My jobs to do what I need to do in order to have that culture so that they want to stay,” Glenn said. Later, in response to another question, he said, “We’ve got to let teachers be professional and treat them as professionals and allow them to teach.”

Meanwhile, small class sizes, a competitive salary, opportunities to grow and a good principal are what make teachers want to come and stay, Fowler said.

“I said today, to a group, I’m being very transparent … some teachers have left your district to come to Abbeville County, and I can tell you, it was not to make more money.” She said. “I think, addressing morale, when you have high performing schools, typically morale is high.”

In the past three months, Fowler said, Gov. Henry McMaster and the head of the Senate education subcommittee in North Carolina have called to ask her how Abbeville’s school district does so well despite its relatively high poverty rate and shoestring budget.

“You know what the number one thing I tell them is? Small class sizes,” Fowler said, something that the district had identified as a priority before she came on board in 2017. “They don’t have money to buy every software program or curriculum that every vendor is peddling.”

Glenn said District 50 does an excellent job of providing for certain groups of students, in particular, those deemed gifted and talented and those with special needs. It needs to find a way, however, to invest more in those students in the middle, he said.

David Trent, chairman of District 50’s board of trustees, said those who couldn’t make the forum could watch a recording of it at the district’s website, where they could also find a link to submit their opinion of the candidates.

The board plans on hiring the next superintendent before Darrell Johnson retires July 1.

Contact staff writer Aleks Gilbert at 864-943-5644.