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In Aiken, schools and businesses faced a turning point: Work together or fall behind

BATH — In a cinder block middle school gym, through the muffled cheers and buzzers of a girls basketball game, Larry Millstead would like to talk about your child’s future.

He’s standing between a trophy case and the concessions stand — dodging kids running to the restroom and playing wall ball — passing out brochures about the jobs they might have a decade from now. If they’d stop by, he’d tell them that a manufacturing engineer makes $109,000 around here, or that a dental hygienist makes $59,000.

If salaries won’t get their attention, he figures plush basketballs might. So he asks the cheerleaders at Langley-Bath-Clearwater Middle School to toss some into the stands at halftime, stirring a frenzy for dozens of little messages.

“AIKEN WORKS” is printed on each one, promoting the program he runs, Aiken County’s ambitious effort to rethink what its schools are meant to do. Millstead’s job is to urge students, even 11-year-olds, to think hard about where they’re going and how they’re getting there — to make the case that a high school diploma alone won’t set them up for success.

That message is evidence of a new dynamic that has taken hold in Aiken County, forming a blueprint for one that is emerging elsewhere in the state: Businesses want the education system to do a better job getting students ready to work, and schools want them to back up reform efforts with input and investment.

South Carolina’s high schools graduate thousands of students each year who aren’t prepared for most jobs, holding back economic growth and hobbling the state’s poorest areas, The Post and Courier’s “Minimally Adequate” investigation found. The five-part series has renewed lawmakers’ interest in overhauling the state’s education system, with a focus on keeping up in an increasingly sophisticated economy.


Read more of The Post & Courier's article, In Aiken, schools and businesses faced a turning point: Work together or fall behind.

Thad Moore - The Post & Courier