Educators tour four area schools chosen to receive national award

Hundreds of educators participating in a conference in North Charleston toured Lowcountry schools Thursday morning, but four local schools attracted the most attention.

Hanahan Elementary and Hanahan Middle in Berkeley County and Dorchester District 2's Newington Elementary and Rollings Middle School of the Arts will be honored as Lighthouse School award winners at a banquet tonight. The four schools are among 12 national winners of the award, which will be given as part of the Blue Ribbon Schools of Excellence Inc. conference.

The four schools submitted surveys from teachers, parents and students about their practices. National evaluators visited each school to ensure the surveys aligned with what was happening on site. Designation as a Lighthouse School lasts for three years, and winning schools make a point of sharing their expertise.

Principal Tom Sparkman said Hanahan Elementary's application emphasized the school's character-education program, technology, parent involvement and interactive learning. Those practices were on display Thursday when roughly 50 principals and teachers toured the school.

Tim Irish, one of three principals from Grayslake, Ill., watched as Hanahan teachers led lessons using Smartboard interactive screens. Irish said he was impressed with the equipment but was more excited about the quality instruction.

"The key is getting all of the kids engaged," Irish said. "It takes a good teacher to make use of all of that equipment."

At nearby Hanahan Middle, conference participants learned about some of the school's special incentives. Educators from Greenwood inquired about the media center's Books Rock Cafe, which serves as a reward for students who accumulate a certain number of reading points.

Hanahan Middle Principal Robin Rogers welcomed visitors into his conference room, where he answered questions about the school's schedule, teacher planning time and digital camera security system. Rogers said the Lighthouse Award, and the conference as a whole, represented a valuable opportunity.

"You met educators facing the same issues and same concerns," he said. "We hope they can pick up some things from us and take it back to their own schools."

Newington Elementary and Rollings Middle School for the Arts win many state and national contests, but the Dorchester District 2 schools still took advantage of the chance to show off Thursday. Newington Principal Camilla Groome focused on technology, showing visitors Smartboard screens, teacher laptops and a new mobile laptop lab.

Groome said the Lighthouse award also recognizes Newington's culture and relationships. "It's further validation that we are on the right track," she said. "But we don't rest on our laurels. There's always better ways to do things, and we hope these school visits can be a catalyst for that."