First Total Solar Eclipse since 1900 on August 21, 2017

posted Aug 7, 2017, 6:23 AM by Oconee Google

The 2017-18 school year will start off with an amazing natural event.  On August 21, 2017, the area will experience the first total solar eclipse since 1900, an event that will not happen again until 2054.  SDOC has planned to make this day a special educational event for students by organizing a safe and engaging viewing experience.

"We are looking forward to providing rich learning experiences at the schools during this once in a lifetime experience of a full solar eclipse," said Dr. Michael Thorsland, Superintendent.

The total eclipse is expected to begin around 2:38 pm in Oconee County and will last approximately three minutes.  In order to ensue a safe dismissal and to provide our students with a unique learning experience, all schools will dismiss 15 minutes later than the regular dismissal time.

All students in kindergarten through grade 12 will receive instruction about the solar eclipse.  Students in grades 1 through 12 will go outside to experience the eclipse, weather permitting.  Teachers will provide instruction to students about safety practices that must be followed, will provide students with eclipse glasses, and will monitor students during this event.  Because the event will occur so early in the school year, kindergarten students will not participate in the outside experience.  Instead, schools will stream a video of the eclipse for these students to view.  Any preschool students attending school that day will be dismissed early and will not be at school in the afternoon.

There are many opportunities throughout the county for parents to experience the eclipse with their families.  To participate in these other opportunities, parents may sign their children out of school early on the day of the eclipse, but must do so no later than 1:00 pm to provide schools adequate time to transition to the eclipse activities.

"We know that some parents will want to spend that afternoon with their children," said Dr. Thorsland.  "We will accommodate those requests and count them as educational events."

The district has provided eclipse information and activities for parents and the community.  These resources can be viewed on the district webpage under the "Parents" tab.  Parents can also log into Canvas to review the instructional activities planned for their children.  The School District of Oconee County looks forward to a wonderful 2017-18 school year and is excited to begin the year with such an amazing event.

Duke Energy Foundation Supports Middle School Trans-disciplinary STEM Initiative with $25,000 Grant

posted Jun 5, 2017, 6:10 AM by Deb Wickliffe   [ updated Jun 5, 2017, 6:14 AM ]

The School District of Oconee County (SDOC) has received a $25,000 grant from the Duke Energy Foundation to support the district’s Middle School Trans-disciplinary STEM Initiative.

“This grant will allow us to expand our STEM professional development at the middle school level, which will ensure that the district is providing quality instruction to all students,” said Jodie Shirley, STEM specialist for SDOC.

The grant will enable the district to offer middle school teachers the intensive STEM training provided by Discovery Education that is focused on implementation and evaluation.

“We are excited to continue our partnership with the school district in such a worthy and successful program,” said Emily DeRoberts,
government and community relations manager for Duke Energy.

“We are grateful that the Duke Energy Foundation continues to support our efforts. This new funding will be spent on expanding our STEM work in the middle schools and on providing professional development for teachers,” said Ginger Hopkins, Assistant Superintendent of Instruction.

The district recognizes that STEM is the future of the country and provides the best career options for our students. On a recent top ten list of the most growing occupations, eight are STEM occupations. Preparing SDOC students for the future means STEM is not only important, it is critical.

“Our goal as a district is to become a state and national leader in preparing students for college and career success in a global society,” said Dr. Michael Thorsland, district superintendent. “We are grateful to Duke Energy for their contribution and support of this vision. These are difficult budget times and we are extremely thankful the Duke Energy Foundation selected the School District of Oconee County to receive this grant.” Thorsland said.

The Duke Energy Foundation provides philanthropic support to address the needs of the communities where its customers live and work. The foundation provides more than $30 million annually in charitable gifts. The foundation’s education focus spans kindergarten to career, particularly science, technology, engineering and math (STEM), early childhood literacy and workforce development. It also supports the environment and community impact initiatives, including arts and culture.

Pictured above L to R:  Dr. Michael Thorsland, Emily DeRoberts, and Ginger Hopkins

Dabo Foundation Supports Leadership Camp

posted Jun 1, 2017, 9:37 AM by Deb Wickliffe   [ updated Jun 1, 2017, 9:48 AM ]

The Leadership Camp, sponsored by the Oconee County Sheriff’s Office and the School District of Oconee County, recently received a $5000 grant from "Dabo’s All In®” Team Foundation formed by Coach Swinney and his wife Kathleen. The mission of their foundation is to raise awareness of critical education and health issues in order to change lives of people across the state of South Carolina. The funds will allow the Leadership Camp to expand the number of participants within the camp.  

Three years ago, Evie Hughes, SDOC Director of Student Services, Lt. Mark Lyles and the school resource officers, from the Oconee County Sheriff’s Office, met to discuss ideas for reaching students at-risk for dropping out of school. The group decided to target boys between the ages of 10 and 14 and offer a summer Leadership Camp. The goal of the camp was to help these young men develop skills they would need to change some habits of the past and plot a more positive future. Part of the strategy would be to raise awareness of law enforcement officers by developing personal relationships between officers and the boys.

“The first year the camp was held we were not sure what to expect, so we regrouped throughout the next school year. Last summer was our second camp and it went much more smoothly. We are ready to expand now and these funds will allow us to do that. We are very excited about this opportunity,” said Mrs. Hughes, “

During the camp, School Resource Officers participate as team leaders. The participating students are divided into groups of five or six students and are paired with an SRO.  There are daily competitions, activities, and team building challenges.

“When a group failed to complete a task, push-ups were required,” laughed Mark Lyles. “Even the adults had to do them.” The SROs were the main team leaders, but deputies and other officers came by on their days off to volunteer and participate. “This camp is that important to us,” continued Lyles. “Everyone who could do so came by to participate.”

The camp lasts for one week, but the relationships with the SROs, as well as other law enforcement officers, continue throughout the year. When officers see any of the participants, they make a point to say something and engage the students in conversation to let them know they are important.

Mrs. Hughes and Cpl. Chris Roach collected some feedback information from last year’s participants. They were interested in finding out which parts of camp the students enjoyed the most and what impact the students felt the camp had on them long-term.

“We did not expect that 10-14 year old boys would self-assess or have insight into questions about long term impact,” Mrs. Hughes said. “But we were amazed at some of the comments. One boy said that the camp made him realize that his behavior was what was causing him problems,” she continued. “That is such a life-changing realization that we felt honored to have had a part in that change.”

Throughout the spring, school administrators and guidance counselors fill out referrals for camp participants. Typically, the referrals are based on poverty, lack of male role models, and discipline issues but any student can be nominated to attend. The group is currently prioritizing the applications and will soon notify those who are selected.

“This camp is about building relationships,” said Mrs. Hughes. “This is vitally important to these boys. Change is hard and slow. We might only have small numbers, but we are making large changes in the lives of these boys.”

“Helping these young men to develop character, build more positive relationships with law enforcement and become better citizens is important to us,” said Lt. Lyles.  

Chinese Ambassadors Distribute Books to SDOC Elementary Schools

posted May 25, 2017, 6:04 AM by Deb Wickliffe   [ updated May 25, 2017, 6:14 AM ]

While at a conference in 2015, Assistant Superintendent for Instruction Ginger Hopkins received information about a teacher exchange program funded by Hanban Confucius Institute. The program provides, for a nominal fee, Chinese teachers to teach Mandarin Chinese in American schools.

“I knew that one of our goals as a district was to provide foreign language instruction at all elementary schools, and we have since set a goal in our strategic plan to develop global citizens. This seemed like a great opportunity to accomplish those goals while also broadening the cultural understanding of our students,” said Mrs. Hopkins.

The district employed Ms. Linda Sui, the first Chinese teacher, in fall of 2015-16. The program was implemented in the Seneca area schools and went very well. In 2016-17, the district applied for a second teacher in order to increase the amount of time the program was taught in the elementary schools.

With the addition of Ms. Rose Liu this year, Seneca High School and Seneca Middle School have been able to expand their programs. The district hopes to be able to add a third teacher soon.

While working in the district, however, the Chinese teachers realized that many of the books in the media centers at the schools were outdated and perpetuated stereotypes of the Chinese culture. 

Recently, a group of ambassadors from the University of South Carolina visited the district representing their home country of China. While here, they brought several books to distribute to the media centers at the Seneca area schools. The books included the English text along with Chinese text. 

“The children at Northside Elementary are studying Chinese with me so when they saw me walk in with the Chinese storybooks, they came around me to see them,“ said Ms. Liu. 

The students were excited about the books and were especially enthralled with the dual translation showing Chinese characters along with English text. 

The group also met at the district office with Mrs. Hopkins to explore ways to share the two cultures further. They discussed spending time together in Columbia, as Ms. Li is just beginning a new position there that will last about two years. 

“Perhaps one day you can visit me in China and see the schools there,” Ms. Li told Mrs. Hopkins. This truly is the beginning of a cultural exchange that will benefit all involved. SDOC looks forward to providing students with accurate views of the world around them in order to better prepare them for the future – a truly global future.

Pictured above: Zhu Wenwen, Ginger Hopkins, Li Yue, Liu Rongjie, and Zhang Tiejun

SDOC SRO Program Awarded the 2017 SC Exemplary School Resource Officer’s Program Award

posted May 23, 2017, 5:25 AM by Deb Wickliffe   [ updated May 23, 2017, 6:22 AM ]

The Oconee County School District’s school resource officer’s program will receive The 2017 South Carolina Exemplary School Resource Officer’s Program Award given by the Moving Forward Together National Summit Planning Team. Through a vigorous vetting process the South Carolina Human Affairs Commission selected the Oconee County Program as one of only three state programs to be recognized.

The primary purpose of the Moving Forward Together National Summit is to improve race relations and to strengthen positive relations between African-Americans, Latinos and other people of color with the institutions entrusted to advance, educate, nurture, protect and serve all citizens. The Summit convenes in Columbia on June 12th and 13th at the Metropolitan Convention Center. The awards program and celebration will take place on Tuesday, June 13th. School and law enforcement personnel are encouraged to attend.

Registration and additional information about the Summit can be obtained by visiting,

James M. Brown Scholarship for the Arts Announced

posted May 18, 2017, 12:54 PM by Deb Wickliffe   [ updated May 18, 2017, 12:59 PM ]

At the board meeting on May 15, Bailie Gilliam, from Seneca High School, was recognized as the 2017 recipient of the James M. Brown Scholarship for the Arts. This scholarship is awarded every year to a student graduating from a high school in the School District of Oconee County who will enter a college or a university to major in dance, drama, music, instrumental, or visual arts.

Bailie plans to attend Anderson University next year and will major in Studio Art and Art Education. “I want to have a creative impact on the community around me. Art is more than just a visual connection; it is also ’verbal’ without words and is therapeutic,” said Bailie in her application.

Bailie exhibited in the juried show at Converse College called “Young Women in Art.” She worked on the Seneca High School newspaper for two years and participated in service learning projects for her art classes, including face painting for various fundraisers.

“Bailie’s work is always carefully crafted, technically accurate, and thoughtfully designed,” said Fred Edgerton in his recommendation to the panel. “Her patience and persistence in achieving high quality results is one of her greatest strengths.”

Students apply for the scholarship and then audition or present a portfolio for the selection committee, which is comprised of members of the James M. Brown Scholarship for the Arts Committee. The $500 per semester scholarship is renewable for three additional years.

Mr. James M. Brown was serving as the superintendent of the School District of Oconee County at the time of his death. He had a great love of the arts which led his friends and family to start the James M. Brown Scholarship in his honor. Mrs. Brown still oversees the process and serves on the selection committee.

Pictured above L to R: Fred Edgerton, Bailie Gilliam, Mrs. James M. Brown

Dale Link Named Teacher of the Year

posted May 18, 2017, 7:45 AM by Deb Wickliffe   [ updated May 24, 2017, 12:04 PM ]

Dale Link, from James M. Brown Elementary, was chosen as Teacher of the Year for 2017-2018 at the pinning ceremony that was held at the Walhalla High School auditorium on May 17.  Link began a Pilot Spanish Program at James M. Brown Elementary this year.

"We are meeting a critical need here at JMS with the Spanish enrichment program.  English-speaking children are trying out their Spanish with me in the hallway, at car loading and unloading, and in the cafeteria.  The Hispanic community is appreciative of what we are doing at JMB; they love how it has brought a measure of family pride to their children," said Link. 

"Walking into his classroom is like walking into an instructional wonderland!  The students may be working on an integrated unit, singing songs, reading a book in Spanish, or writing a letter to a friend in Spanish," said Ashley Robertson, principal at James M. Brown.  "Not only is Mr. Dale a great representative of highly effective teachers, but he is also the perfect representative of James M. Brown and SDOC."

As the district’s teacher of the year, Link will receive $1,000 along with an all-expense paid trip to a national conference of his choice.

The top four finalist for the Teacher of the Year were Greg Bearden, Fred P. Hamilton Career Center; Cynthia Carlisle, Oconee Academy; Melanie Myers, Seneca Middle School, and Dale Link, James M. Brown Elementary.  Each of the three runners-up will receive a check for $250.00.

Olivia Timms, Blue Ridge Elementary was also recognized as the 2017-18 Support Employee of the Year, and Julie-ann Shannon, respresenting Walhalla Middle and Walhalla High was named the 2017-18 Volunteer of the Year.  Timms will received a check for $250.00 and Shannon a gift card.

Listed below are the winners from each of the SDOC school locations for 2017-18.

 Teachers of the Year  Support Employees of the Year  Volunteers of the Year
 Ginger Hunt 
 Blue Ridge Elementary 
 Olivia Timms 
 Blue Ridge Elementary
 Grace Underwood
 Blue Ridge Elementary
 Tammie Pumphrey 
 Fair-Oak Elementary
 Kathy Moss 
 Fair-Oak Elementary
 Saralyn Wolf 
 Fair-Oak Elementary
 Dale Link 
 James M. Brown Elementary
 JoAnn Cannon 
 James M. Brown Elementary
 Calvin Williams
 James M. Brown Elementary
 Kristin Alexander 
 Keowee Elementary
 Connie Hall 
 Keowee Elementary
 Melanie Holcombe
 Keowee Elementary
 Johnna Connolly 
 Northside Elementary
 Gena Hawkins 
 Northside Elementary
 David Teat
 Northside Elementary
 Anna Sheriff 
 Orchard Park Elementary
 Debbie Sloan 
 Orchard Park Elementary
 Lynn H. Owen 
 Orchard Park Elementary
 Jennifer Steele 
 Ravenel Elementary
 Sandra Lyle 
 Ravenel Elementary
 Will Parker
 Ravenel Elementary
 Amanda Holden 
 Tamassee-Salem Elementary
 Jackie Holcombe
 Tamassee-Salem Elementary
 Shalana Pitts
 Tamassee-Salem Elementary
 Lisa Jensen 
 Walhalla Elementary
 Nickie King 
 Walhalla Elementary
 Leighann Sherman 
 Walhalla Elementary
 Nikki Rowland 
 Westminster Elementary
 Tracy Stancil
 Westminster Elementary
 Kay Jones
 Westminster Elementary
 Melanie Myers 
 Seneca Middle
 Sandy Bay 
 Seneca Middle
 Ida Harrison 
 Seneca Middle
 Sarah Rochester 
 Walhalla Middle
 Regina Oliver
 Walhalla Middle
 Julie-ann Shannon 
 Walhalla Middle
 Kristy Hood 
 West-Oak Middle
 Teresa Cobb 
 West-Oak Middle
 Lori Dobbins 
 West-Oak Middle
 Michelle Williams 
 Seneca High
 Tony Daniels
 Seneca High
Dr. Bob Green 
Seneca High
 Jason Moss 
 Walhalla High
 Doug Williams
 Walhalla High
Julie-ann Shannon
 Walhalla High
 Tracey Stanton 
 West-Oak High
 Sean Williams
 West-Oak High
 Diana Kreuzberger
 West-Oak High School
 Greg Bearden 
 Fred P. Hamilton Career Center
 Andrea Pate
 Fred P. Hamilton Career Center
Debbie Etherington
Fred P. Hamilton Career Center
Cynthia Carlisle 
 Oconee Academy
 Stacy Frick
 Oconee Academy
Howard Syck 
Oconee Academy
 Melissa Williams 
 Oconee Adult Education 
  Cindy Loggins
 Oconee Adult Education
Ed Shelton
 Oconee Adult Education 
Shannon Broom
   District Office
 Kevin Talley

Seneca Middle School Student Wins Poetry Contest

posted May 17, 2017, 10:47 AM by Deb Wickliffe   [ updated May 17, 2017, 10:51 AM ]

In celebration of National Poetry Month in April, the Pickens County Library System held their Seventh Annual Poetry Contest for poets of all ages. Entries were judged in one of three categories based on the age of the poet. 

Seneca Middle School was well represented in the teen category (ages 12-18) and three students from the school, Gunnison Alexander, Rose Haynes and Jacari Teague, were finalists in this category. At the awards ceremony, held at the Hampton Memorial Library in Easley, Gunnison Alexander was named the winner of the teen category and was awarded a $50 cash prize. 

The students were encouraged to participate in the contest by their English/Language Arts teacher Stephanie Necessary, who, according to Alexander, was not the inspiration for the poem entitled “Dragon.”

My teacher is a dragon. 
I have to face her every day. 
Her evilness is overwhelming, 
To those that come her way. 

My teacher is a dragon. 
The one that you despise, 
Her hot, fiery breath, 
And her big, blowing eyes. 

My teacher is a dragon. 
Violent as can be, 
Bringing terror unto children, 
Just like you and me

My teacher is a dragon. 
But, now I must agree, 
She chases me with wisdom, 
And learning sets me free!

2017 Teacher Forum Scholarship Recipients Announced

posted May 17, 2017, 10:17 AM by Deb Wickliffe   [ updated May 17, 2017, 10:18 AM ]

The Teacher Forum Scholarship is awarded to seniors who plan to attend a four year college and major in education. This year, two seniors from the School District of Oconee County’s graduating class of 2017, Sally Cannon and Aliyah Hancock, each received a $2,650 Teacher Forum Scholarship.

Sally Cannon, Seneca High School student, plans to attend Furman University and major in English. Sally is a member of the National Honor Society, Educators Rising, Junior Academy of Science, Beta Club, Carolina Youth Symphony, and Concert Band. She has served as Beta Club Historian and NHS Vice-President, and is a member of the Junior Leadership Oconee program. Sally was a founding member of Seneca High School’s Symphonic Band and served as assistant drum major for the marching band. Her extra-curricular activities include track, dance, and creative writing.

Aliyah Hancock, Walhalla High School student, plans to attend Converse College and major in Secondary Education. Aliyah is a member of the Beta Club, Lego and Interact Club and Archery Team. She has served as Battalion Executive Officer and Company Commander for JROTC and as Student Council Secretary. She was awarded first place in Unarmed Squad and Unarmed Platoon competition for JROTC. Aliyah participated in the NAACP Woman of the Year Pageant and is an usher at her church.

The seniors were recognized at the school board meeting on May 15, 2017, and will be recognized on Awards Day at their individual high schools. 

Since its inception in 2010-2011, a total of twenty-four School District of Oconee County seniors have been awarded Teacher Forum Scholarships. If you would like to make a donation to the Teacher Forum Scholarship fund, or would like more information about the scholarship, please contact Annette Orr, SDOC Instructional Services, at 414 South Pine Street, Walhalla. She can also be reached via email at or by calling 886-4400, ext. 6126.

Pictured L to R: Suzanne Rogers, SDOC Teacher of the Year; Sally Cannon, Scholarship Recipient; Aliyah Hancock, Scholarship Recipient; and Fred Edgerton, Former Teacher of the Year

James (Ozzie) Wright named new Director of Transportation

posted May 16, 2017, 11:13 AM by Deb Wickliffe   [ updated May 16, 2017, 11:14 AM ]

At the regular meeting held on May 15, 2017, the Board of Trustees for the School District of Oconee County accepted the recommendation of Mr. James (Ozzie) Wright as the new Director of Transportation. The effective date of this appointment is July 1, 2017.

Mr. Wright will be replacing Sammy Grant. He has 15 years of experience as a Career Specialist and administrator. Mr. Wright is currently the assistant principal at Seneca High School. He received his Bachelor of Arts degree in Business Administration from Gardner-Webb University, a Masters of Education in Counseling and Guidance from Clemson University, and a Masters of Education Leadership and Administration from Jones International University.

“I am very grateful to be given the opportunity to serve as the Director of Transportation for the School District of Oconee County. I am eager to broaden my collaboration with students, parents, administration, staff, and community members to ensure the Transportation Department provides safe and reliable transportation for the students of our district,” said Mr. Wright.

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