Seneca High named Palmetto's Finest Winner

posted Mar 22, 2017, 9:31 AM by Deb WICKLIFFE   [ updated Mar 22, 2017, 10:35 AM ]

Seneca High School Principal Cliff Roberts is a University of South Carolina graduate but he drew parallels from Clemson's national championship win earlier this year as his school was named for the second consecutive year as a finalist for the Palmetto's Finest award.

While Clemson finished second athletically for college football's top prize the previous year, Seneca High finished second in the state's top academic award. Roberts said the school was inspired by the manner in which the Tigers were able to overcome the disappointment of the previous year to win it all in January.

“It's easy to take a step back but they went back to the drawing board and did what it took,” Roberts said. “With our student body being 90 percent Clemson fans, we were able to draw that same parallel.

“Success breeds success and if you can become an organization that is that successful, you want to duplicate it.”

That inspiration and determination to further improve paid off handsomely Tuesday as Seneca High received the Palmetto's Finest award, winning over Dutch Fork High School. The award is given to the top two elementary schools, one middle school and one high school and was announced on a webcast from SCETV.

“This is something that's been 10 years in the making,” Roberts said afterward. “Ten years ago, we weren't a Palmetto's Finest school. There's been a lot of sweat equity and hard work from the entire community.”

When Cliff Roberts was named principal of Seneca High in the spring of 2008, he inherited, in his words “a unique situation.”

“There had been four principals in four years and my first graduating class had four principals,” Roberts said. “But we were able to find a core and get to where we were able to achieve this and for where our students deserved to be and our community deserved to be. This isn't just a Seneca High School award, it's a One Seneca award.”

Roberts said the first thing that enabled the school to achieve the award is the students, followed closely by the support given by parents and the community as a whole.

“Our diversity is our strength and we want to be that outlier,” Roberts said. “We've come real close in a lot of things but, today, these kids don't have to be second to anybody. They are the top high school in the state and I'm really happy for them. That's why you do this work and I couldn't be more proud of them.”

The Seneca High principal also credited the school district for supporting his efforts to bring in quality administrative staff – including assistant principal Felicia LeRoy – and teachers. LeRoy's father, Harry Hamilton, served as principal of the school for nearly three decades.

Roberts also said the One Seneca effort with Seneca High, Seneca Middle and the Seneca area elementary schools of Northside, Blue Ridge and Ravenel has also been a key contributor.

“We couldn't do what we do without support from our other Seneca principals,” Roberts said. “The fact we have everybody on the same page in doing what is best for kids is a great thing to be proud of.”

Oconee County District Superintendent Michael Thorsland said he is very excited for Seneca High.

“It's well deserved,” Thorsland said. “I am really proud of them and excited for the entire county. It brings a lot of recognition to our county.”

Seneca High is the first Oconee County school to win top honors in 16 years. Ravenel Elementary won Palmetto's Finest for the 1996-97 school year while James M. Brown won for 2000-01 and Walhalla Middle in 1986-87.

In Pickens County, Pickens Middle School is the last School District of Pickens County school to win (2001-02) while Morrison Elementary (now Clemson Elementary) also won in 1979-80.

“Hopefully, it won't be as long a wait for the next one,” Thorsland said. “We're glad Seneca High School forged their way here in recent history and we're just really excited about it.”

Thorsland said while the process for any school to achieve the prestigious award is difficult, it is one he feels is beneficial in the long run.

“It forces a school to look at what is going on and what they need to improve,” Thorsland said. “Whether a school receives a visit or wins or doesn't win, it's a good process to go through. It's made Seneca High School a good school and recognized for it in 2017.”

The South Carolina Association of School Administrators (SCASA) presents the awards each year to schools that offer the best in innovative, effective educational programs. The Palmetto's Finest Award is celebrating its 39th year and is one of the most coveted and respected awards among educators.

Last fall, 21 South Carolina schools submitted a 20-page application and received an on-site examination visit by a review committee. The finalists underwent a second on-site evaluation.

“Mrs. LeRoy headed this thing up for three years and the resolve and commitment she's made to this award has made all the difference in the world,” Roberts said.

Seneca High, with an enrollment of 970 students, was recognized for programs they offer that include Graduation Transition Services and for offering 21 Advanced Placement courses. The school was also recognized for winning Palmetto Gold the last two years and for being named among the Best Public High Schools in the nation in 2016 by U.S. News and World Report.

Oconee County School Board Chairman Andy Inabinet began his education career as a teacher at Seneca High School in 1969 under Harry Hamilton and stayed until 1974. Inabinet said he is proud of how the school went through the process the last two years and finally received recognition from the state for their achievements.

“We appreciate their hard work,” Inabinet said. “They have a good strong staff here with teachers and students and community spirit. It's long overdue and I could not be prouder of them. To get Cliff and Felicia has been an asset. He's really pulled it together, not just in this school but in the Seneca area with all Seneca principals working together and serving each other.”

Inabinet said his children attended Seneca schools from kindergarten all the way through 12th grade.

“They'll be excited that their school won,” he said.

Roberts said the honor will forever be felt by the school.

“It's great for these kids to wear their pride – that we're the best school district in the state is something to be very proud of,” Roberts said.

submitted by Greg Oliver, The Journal

Awards Presented for Annual Tornado Safety Poster Contest

posted Mar 20, 2017, 5:41 AM by Deb WICKLIFFE   [ updated Mar 20, 2017, 5:44 AM ]

Emily Putman, grade 4, Walhalla Elementary, was selected as the Grand Prize winner in the recent School Tornado Poster Contest conducted by Oconee County Emergency Services.  In addition to a cash award of $45.00, Emily also received a weather alert radio.  

The purpose of the contest is to educate children on the dangers of tornadoes and make them aware of the protective actions that should be taken in the event of a tornado in their area.  

First place winners received awards of $45.00 each and are as follows:
 Grade 1  Malachi Brooks, Fair-Oak Elementary
 Grade 2  Kendra McAlister, Keowee Elementary
 Grade 3  Mara Chappell, Walhalla Elementary
 Grade 4  Emily Putnam, Walhalla Elementary
 Grade 5  Toby Talbot, Fair-Oak Elementary
 Grade 6  Graceson Powell, West-Oak Middle

The following students received second place recognition and awards of $25.00 each:   
 Grade 1  Hannah Winchester, Walhalla Elementary
 Grade 2  Anna Kate Towe, Westminster Elementary
 Grade 3  Hannah Hendrix, Tamassee-Salem Elementary
 Grade 4  Kennedy Hamby, Tamassee-Salem Elementary
 Grade 5  Josh Hood, Westminster Elementary
 Grade 6  Makayla Wright, West-Oak Middle                         

In addition, the following students received honorable mentions and awards of $15.00 each:
 Grade 1  Madison Scroggs, Tamassee-Salem Elementary
 Grade 2  Avyn Hanvey, Ravenel Elementary
 Grade 3  Emily Owens, Tamassee-Salem Elementary
 Grade 4  Cheyenne Fowler, Westminster Elementary
 Grade 5  Lauren Vanemon, Fair-Oak Elementary
 Grade 6  Nicole Dobbs, West-Oak Middle

The panel of judges included Diane Bartlett and Rhea Fletcher.  Diane is a fused and stained glass artist.  Her art is exhibited in North and South Carolina art galleries and local art shows.  She has been working with glass for over thirty years and taught fused glass at Blue Ridge Arts Center.  She believes art should be fun and loves to see artist's enthusiastic with their work no matter the medium.  Rhea Fletcher is currently the head of Art Connection in Keowee Key.  Her work is in museums and private homes around the country.  She framed three of the patents which hang in the Smithsonian and one of her paintings is a part of the Pickens Museum.  She has owned a frame shop and worked in an art gallery.  During the last 17 years of her work life, she managed the framing department in a printing business and chose the artwork for hospitals and offices.

The winning posters will be on display in the County Administrative Building until the middle of April.

David Thompson Named New Principal of Fair-Oak Elementary

posted Mar 15, 2017, 6:14 AM by Deb WICKLIFFE   [ updated Mar 15, 2017, 6:17 AM ]

At the work session meeting held on March 13, 2017, the Board of Trustees for the School District of Oconee County accepted the recommendation of Mr. David W. Thompson as the new principal of Fair Oak Elementary. The effective date of this appointment is July 1, 2017.

Mr. Thompson has 13 years of experience as a teacher and administrator. He is currently the Assistant Principal at Blue Ridge Elementary School. Mr. Thompson holds a bachelor’s degree from the University of South Carolina - Spartanburg and a master’s degree in administration and supervision from Anderson University.

“I am very humbled to have been selected to be principal at Fair-Oak Elementary School. My family and I are excited about the opportunity to work closely with this great community and school. I am looking forward to beginning this relationship with all the Warriors very soon!”

School Start Date Change for the 2017-2018 School Year

posted Mar 8, 2017, 12:55 PM by Deb WICKLIFFE   [ updated Mar 8, 2017, 1:07 PM ]

The SDOC school start date has changed for the school year 2017-18. Students in the School District of Oconee County will now start back to school on August 17, 2017 and the first day for teachers will be August 10, 2017.

According to state law, school districts are prohibited from starting school earlier than the third Monday in August, which is August 21, 2017 for the 2017-18 school year. This year on that date, the area will experience a full solar eclipse with the main path of darkness traveling in an arc across the state and falling square over Oconee County. The height of the occurrence will take place at 2:42, which is the time elementary schools typically dismiss.

Legislators responded to requests from school districts to consider a one year waiver to the start date because of this event. Last week, Governor McMaster signed S338, the Joint Resolution that allows local school boards to approve a start date as early as Thursday, August 17 , 2017 for the 2017-18 school year only.

“Having such an event happen on the first day of school would contribute to chaos at dismissal,” said Steve Hanvey, Assistant Superintendent of Operations. “We are glad the legislature recognized the situation and provided leniency on the start date for next fall.”

The school district recognizes that students and staff might have made summer plans based on the originally approved calendar that would
conflict with this change. Parents who have a previously planned vacation should call their child’s school to notify them of the conflict. Employees with a conflict should notify their principal, but will be allowed to use annual leave days to cover days missed on August 10 or 11.

“We are looking forward to providing a learning experience at the schools with this once in a lifetime experience of a full solar eclipse,” said Dr. Michael Thorsland, Superintendent. “But we agree that should not happen on the very first day students return to school.”

In anticipation of the legislative action, the SDOC School Board had already approved the amended calendar, contingent upon legislative
action. With the signed bill, these changes are now in effect. The new calendar is available on the SDOC website under the calendar tab.

The district will provide more information on eclipse activities soon, but wanted to inform parents of this calendar change as soon as possible.
Parents who have questions about this change should contact their school or call the district office.

Walhalla Razorback Rifle Team Wins Dixie Challenge Regional in Anniston, AL

posted Feb 28, 2017, 5:54 AM by Deb WICKLIFFE   [ updated Mar 1, 2017, 5:13 AM ]

Students L to R: Alyssa Holden, Nicholas Hightower, Matthew Smith, Chase Kuhlman, Lakyn Tippett, Jessica Elder, Elizabeth Cobb, Carter Duke, Halie Cobb, and front/center Coach COL Kevin Mangan

The Razorback JROTC Rifle team recently traveled to Anniston, Alabama for a regional rifle match called, The Dixie Challenge. The team won the three-position championship with a high score for the season.

The group enjoyed the day-long adventure of travel and competition. This competition was especially difficult because music was playing 
on the range during rifle match. Despite the difficulty of the event, the
Razorback Rifle Team rose to the occasion to win top honors at the competition. 

The group was divided into two teams. Team A finished number one above all the other teams and consisted of Matthew Smith, Nicholas Hightower, Lakyn Tippet, and Jessica Elder. Team B finished fourth overall and consisted of Carter Duke, Elizabeth Cobb, Halie Cobb, and Chase Kuhlman. Alyssa Holden was the team alternate. Team members shooting personal best scores during the competition were Alyssa Holden, Chase Kulhman, Halie Cobb and Matthew Smith. 

COL Mangan, team coach, was pleased with the team’s performance and said, “The team is peaking at the perfect time. The hard work and challenging practices are paying dividends heading into the Army JROTC National Championships.” 

As the Dixie Challenge is a warm-up match for the Army National Championships, these accomplishments prepared the group for the National Three-Position Air Rifle Competition in Camp Perry, Ohio. Nationals will consist of a day of travel, one day of practice, and two days of competition shooting.

Adult Education Program Recognized

posted Feb 23, 2017, 12:02 PM by Deb WICKLIFFE   [ updated Feb 23, 2017, 12:11 PM ]

Staff members from the School District of Oconee County were recently honored at the South Carolina Adult Education Awards Program in Columbia. The program is sponsored by the South Carolina Department of Education.

Oconee Adult Education received the following awards from the Department of Education at the Spring Institute:
  • The WorkKeys NCRC (National Career Readiness Certificate) Award for Small Programs
  • The Post-Testing Percentage Award
  • Performance Measures Met-ESL Award 
The program also recognized Mr. Gene Williams, Program Director, and Ms. Veronica Main, ESL Coordinator and Instructor, who received recognition for 23 years of service to adult education.  Ms. Heather Spoon was also recognized for 10 years of service to adult education.

"To date, 473 students have entered through the doors of the Adult Education Program. We offer many options for students, including WorkKeys, High School Equivalency Diplomas (GEDs), High School Diplomas, Family Literacy, ESL/ESOL, and Literacy.  Over 160 students have already received some type of credential this school year.  I am proud of the awards our program received.  It is a testament to the quality staff and the motivated students we have here,"  said Mr. Williams.

Pictured above:  Veronica Main, ESL Coordinator & Instructor, and Gene Williams, Program Director

3rd Annual Chili Cook-off to the held at Walhalla Middle School on March 7th

posted Feb 16, 2017, 9:54 AM by Deb WICKLIFFE   [ updated Mar 16, 2017, 12:32 PM ]

The Walhalla Middle School PTO will host the 3rd Annual Chili Cook-off and Bingo Family Fun Night on March 7th from 6 to 7:30pm. Chili voting cards are 5 dollars and includes tasting for 15 chili entries. Bingo will be the game of the night with winners taking home great prizes. There will also be a silent auction with some amazing items up for bid. Pizza, drinks, and baked goods will be sold, too. Join us for the 3rd Annual Walhalla Middle School PTO Chili Cook-off… Tuesday, March 7th from 6-7:30.

Seneca Middle School Orchestra Program Gets “Loopy”

posted Feb 13, 2017, 6:53 AM by Deb WICKLIFFE   [ updated Feb 13, 2017, 6:54 AM ]

Middle school students typically think of orchestra instruments only in the context of classical music. However, the students at Seneca Middle School recently learned how limited that view truly is. The school’s orchestra program was privileged to have renowned Cellist Sharon Gerber as an artist in residence in their classroom for a week. She and the school’s Orchestra Director, David Warlick, embarked upon a “grand experiment” as she introduced the basics of arranging and sound creation through the use of “live looping” – all as a way to, as Gerber put it, “spark their minds and see the possibilities” by using modern electronics to marry the old and the new of classical and contemporary music.

Gerber began the week by teaching the students about the art of live looping - a method of recording and performing music - sometimes by a single performer or sometimes by a small group - by recording and building layers of music in front of an audience to create a performance full of sound and with the illusion of additional musicians. This technique uses a piece of equipment, appropriately called a looper, which records and then plays back the recorded tracks while the musician then plays along with it live. She explained and then demonstrated to the students that a good loop needs four underlying tracks – a rhythm line, a bass line, harmony, and textures (typically a high pitched sound(s) which cuts through the overall arrangement). Once all were recorded, she then accompanied the loop with the melody line – all of which created a full-bodied arrangement of music as if she had an ensemble group playing along with her.
She began this instruction with the traditional classical music associated with the stringed orchestra instruments these students are studying – the violin, viola, cello and double bass. Even though the students were immediately enthralled with this new process, she truly got them hooked as she included the popular music of the band Coldplay into the equation. The class period seemed far too short as they all experimented with the various elements, combinations and creative sparks that looping allows. Although the week came to a close all too quickly, the students were thrilled to share their new-found knowledge and skills with their peers as they put on a mini concert during two lunch periods on the final day. Their peers were equally enthralled. 

Gerber said about the goal of the week, “I love working with young people and really hope to spark their creativity and show them that there is no limit to the possibilities with classical instruments. I hoped to help channel their energy into something productive and explore the creative and healing power of music. The goal of a musician is to communicate through music. Adding technology just gives us more tools to communicate with.” 

Gerber is a perfect example of that philosophy. She is a classically-trained musician who earned Bachelor’s and Master’s degrees in Cello Performance from Bob Jones University and the Berlin Conservatory of Music in Germany, respectively. In addition to working with students through the Artist in Residence program, she works as a freelance cellist who also does solo and studio work. As an example, she has recorded with the Chicago band Sleeping at Last whose music often appears on such television shows as Grey’s Anatomy and she has also composed the film scores for two recent documentaries – one about the holocaust and the other about an orphanage in Africa. In addition, she has also recorded four CDs of her own original compositions and arrangements for cello and piano. She has also studied, taught and performed music in Europe, Canada and throughout the United States. With that resume and breadth of experience, she certainly has found a variety of ways to communicate through music and thankfully she has found the perfect way to pass that passion for musical creativity on to the students she touches.

SHS Athletic Signs Letter of Intent to Play for SC State University

posted Feb 2, 2017, 7:43 AM by Deb WICKLIFFE   [ updated Feb 2, 2017, 7:45 AM ]

Seneca High School’s own Jacory Benson signed his National Letter of Intent to play football on Wednesday. Jacory announced to the crowd of friends and family in the media center at Seneca High School he will be playing at South Carolina State University in the fall.

Jacory spoke to the crowd and thanked many individuals who have poured into his life and made him the man he is today. Jacory’s mother, father, step-mother, and brother all joined him at the table as he signed his letter today. Coach Capps told the crowd, “Jacory is an outstanding young man and is a fantastic athlete. He makes those around him a better player. He has a heart of a champion. South Carolina State is getting an outstanding individual that will be a great asset to their program.”

SDOC School Choice for 2017-18

posted Feb 1, 2017, 10:24 AM by Deb WICKLIFFE   [ updated Feb 1, 2017, 10:24 AM ]

School Choice for the 2017-2018 school year is now open and will remain open until June 1st. If you would like for your child to attend a school that is outside of the attendance area in which you live, you must complete a school choice form. If possible, please use the online form that can be found on the link below.  If you are unable to complete the online form, a paper copy may be obtained in the school office. School choice forms are required annually even if your child is currently on school choice. Contact the school office for any questions.

The following are highlights of the SDOC school choice policy:

  • Only students that reside in Oconee County are eligible for choice.
  • Transportation to a “choice school” is the responsibility of the parents/guardians (no bus service will be provided).
  • Students on school choice must submit an application each year.
  • Principals will consider behavior, attendance, and grades before approving applications.
  • The completed application is due to the choice school on Thursday, June 1st.
  • If more applications are received than the number of spaces available at any school, a lottery system will be used to fill spaces. 
The school district reserves the right to limit school choice enrollment by grade level or program as staffing or funding requires. Choice may also be limited by classroom space in the school(s).

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