McCORMICK — State lawmakers were at the John de la Howe school Thursday morning for a tour of the campus, an opportunity, interim President Sharon Wall said, to showcase the school’s progress under her watch and build support in the state legislature.
John de la Howe is a state agency, and, as such, exists at the whim of state lawmakers, whom it has to ask for money each year.
The lawmakers were Senate Majority Leader Shane Massey, R-Edgefield, and Reps. Ann Parks, D-Greenwood, and Bill Hixon, R-Aiken.
Wall gave the legislators an overview of the school’s history and the new iteration of the school, which is scheduled to open in the fall of 2020.
Wall said the school will eventually enroll 350 students in grades 10-12 who have demonstrated a “strong interest or aptitude” for agriculture.
“We’re not taking anybody’s discipline problems, anybody’s attendance problems,” Wall said. “They don’t have to be straight-A students ... but they (must) want to be a farmer.”
As she has before, Wall mentioned the curriculum’s emphasis on the cutting edge of farming and said students would be learning how to repair and use drones and geographic information systems.
Wall said the curriculum was being built with the help of Clemson and Piedmont Technical College. Dual-enrollment students at de la Howe will be able to graduate with associate degrees from Piedmont Tech. Working with Clemson, she said, should allow for a seamless transition for the students who would like to continue their studies.
Parks asked about Wall’s push to have de la Howe formally join the state’s ranks of prestigious governor’s schools, of which there are currently two: one for math and science and another for arts and humanities. A bill was filed in April by Sen. Greg Hembree, R-Horry, that would have named it the Governor’s School for Agriculture at John de la Howe, but never made it out of the education committee, of which Massey is a member.
“Becoming a Governor’s School would be a huge recruitment tool for this place,” Wall said.
Massey said that the school, which lost its accreditation before Wall was hired in 2018 to lead its turnaround, would likely have to get re-accredited before receiving a legislative stamp of approval and being officially renamed a Governor’s School.
Wall said that she would have an update on that front after a meeting in July with the school’s former accreditor, AdvancED.
Massey had last been to de la Howe’s campus several years prior, when he and other representatives toured the facilities to assess its needs. In the years since, several of the buildings had deteriorated further, but those that Wall’s administration has done “incredible” work renovating the residential cottages they have been able to address so far.
Massey said de la Howe’s reputation has improved in the legislature, which has been looking for leadership with vision, something that Wall has.
“Wow,” said Hixon during a drive across the 1,300-acre campus. “That’s all I can say.”