Greenville County Schools (GCS) serves more than 75,000 students. It is the largest school district in the state, the 44th largest in the nation, and the second largest employer in the county. Consider this: All 12 Spartanburg and Anderson school districts combined serve just 5,000 more students than our single district.
Meeting the needs of tens of thousands of students and 10,000 employees, while complying with the complex regulatory, statutory, and policy requirements of modern education, is a daunting task. Is it a business? Yes, but it is a business unlike any other.
Like most corporations, GCS is led by professionals, most with advanced degrees, professional certifications, and decades of experience in the areas of human resources, technology, finance and accounting, construction, maintenance and building services, planning, and demographics, just to name a few. These skills are in high demand and are highly compensated in the corporate world, yet these professionals have chosen to focus their energies on ensuring a quality school experience for the children of Greenville County.
Take technology, for example. Due to the number of users, the multiple systems it integrates, and the challenges of providing connectivity to over 101 schools and centers, as well as administrative facilities, the GCS networking infrastructure is exceedingly complex. Qualified professionals oversee more than 90,000 user accounts, 4,000 digital radios, 70,000 computers and Chromebooks, 7,000 tablets, 2,000 servers, and multiple data centers, plus their redundant systems that are in place in case of a catastrophic event. Protection of this network and the sensitive data it contains also requires constant vigilance by specialists in cybersecurity. A network outage, even during the weekend, brings to a halt important system updates, security functions, and monitoring systems.
Also crucial to Greenville County Schools’ success are highly qualified professionals with expertise in curriculum, instruction, behavior management, literacy, and child development whose focus is on producing college and career-ready graduates. A bachelor’s degree is required to teach, but about 65 percent of teachers in Greenville County Schools also have a master’s or doctorate degree, and the district is 13th out of 14,000 districts nationwide in the number of teachers who are National Board Certified. Psychologists, social workers, nurses, interventionists, counselors, and other support positions also contribute to student success, as do experts in special education monitoring, due process, and the requirements of a Free and Appropriate Education (FAPE), which is guaranteed to all students, whether they have multiple, concurrent disabilities, or are gifted in all things academic.
Top district administrators must be experts in both operations and academics, and they must understand how each impacts the other. Likewise, good principals must marry their knowledge of instruction, management, and public relations with the skills needed to supervise budgets, facilities, community interactions, communications, and 100 or more faculty and staff members. Teachers begin their career as instructors, but become mentors, life coaches, advisors, sounding boards, encouragers, and accountability specialists to students who are winding their way through the process of reaching physical, social, and emotional maturity.
In short, the seemingly simple task of education is much more complex than most realize. Greenville County Schools unites the bottom-line mindset of a business with a nurturing environment supportive of students, and the results are outstanding.
The district’s graduation rate is at an all-time high of 86.8 percent; students are outperforming the national average on the SAT college entrance exam; and last year’s graduating class received scholarship offers totaling $128 million. Yet, GCS spends less per pupil than all but four of the 81 districts in South Carolina.
GCS high school students earned thousands of college credit hours last year through dual credit and Advanced Placement courses and had countless opportunities to develop leadership skills through co-curricular and extra-curricular activities. They also earned more than 600 career certifications last year in subjects ranging from welding to cosmetology to health care.
Opportunities for students to do, learn, and experience more are increasing each year, and families in Greenville County are embracing these options to extend learning beyond the classroom. So let’s take this opportunity to celebrate GCS and the great work of students, teachers, staff, and administrators. Recruiting and retaining high-quality personnel is crucial to our community’s current and future success, so take time to thank an educator today.
Lee Yarborough is president and shareholder of Propel PEO Inc., a payroll and HR outsourcing company. She serves as the board chair of Public Education Partners and is an advocate for public education. Lee is the founder and executive director of Read Up, Greenville, a young adult and middle grades book festival.