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Friday, January 25, 2008

Oconee schools (and Rock Hill Too) make 100 Best list

By David Williams
Thursday, January 24, 2008
WALHALLA America’s Promise Alliance, founded by Gen. Colin Powell, again has recognized the School District of Oconee County as one of the 100 best communities in the nation.

Aiken, Charleston and Rock Hill were the only other communities in South Carolina to be honored.
According to an Alliance news release, the organization believes the success of the nation’s children is grounded in experiencing five promises: caring adults; a safe place; a healthy start; an effective education and opportunities to help others at home; in school and in the community.

“We are so honored to again be recognized as a community that values its young people and is willing to go the distance to provide for their physical, social and academic needs,” said Mike Lucas, superintendent of the Oconee district.

The school district also earned the recognition last year.
Winners are eligible to apply for up to $300,000 in grants from the Alliance. Last year, the school district used its share of the grant money, about $60,000, to place school nurses in the district’s four middle schools.

The honor has also been displayed on billboards at key highways entering the county and is used to support other grant applications.

Kay Powell, a spokeswoman for the school district, called the award a reflection of the day to day life in Oconee County.

“It’s a chance to let people know it’s a way of life in Oconee County,” Ms. Powell said. “Our consistent focus is quality of life.”

The School District of Oconee County serves more than 10,400 students at 23 school sites and has numerous partnerships including business, industry and Call Me Mister based at Clemson University that places black males pursuing teaching degrees in the classroom. The application for the award, prepared by Jennifer Dodd with the school district, also noted the partnership with volunteers from Keowee Key and the Junior Golf program that has served more than 550 students and retirees work with more than 450 at-risk students in a swim program.

Cheryl Varee Gilliam, a student at Tamassee-Salem High School, said an abundance of opportunities exists for young people in Oconee County.

“There are clubs and sports for all age groups, such as regular school sports to recreational sports and other leagues for all ages,” Ms. Gilliam said. “The clubs are for all people and there are also opportunities for non-English speaking people to take night courses to learn English through the schools.”

Brandi LeAndra Kay, a student at West-Oak High School said she appreciates what she has learned growing up in Oconee County.

“I have been in this same community from birth and I must say that I wouldn’t have wanted to have grown up any other way,” Ms. Kay said. “My community has taught me to appreciate the hospitality and kindness of others.”

The 100 Best competition began in 2005 and this year there were 750 entries from all 50 states plus the District of Columbia in Washington, D.C. and Puerto Rico. Because of a tie, this year 101 programs were honored in 37 states and there were 44 three-time winners.

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