Continuing to change for the better

Derik Vanderford Staff Writer

December 6, 2013

Part One of a two-part series

UNION — Union County High School sees success as its only option.

During the 2012-2013 school year, The Union Daily Times ran a story called “Changed and continuing to change for the better” about progress at Union County High School. Principal Floyd Lyles discussed about a new dynamic at the school as he walked down the hall and stopped to talk to numerous teachers and students. This year (Lyles’ third year as principal), he said the culture has continued to change for the better.

On Thursday, Lyles said he observed Katie Paschal’s art class earlier in the year, and he saw birdhouses which had only been painted with foundation. Lyles told Paschal the color wasn’t his favorite, and she told him to come back and see them when they were finished.

“I was blown away with where they ended up compared to where they started,” Lyles said. “I thought it was a great snapshot of our school for the last three years. Three years ago, if I would have written down exactly how I wanted things to go, I would have sold myself short. Things have gone really, really well.”

One sign of progress is that UCHS currently has its highest graduation rate in history. Lyles gave much of the credit to the school’s guidance department, which includes Jim Palmer, Jane Petty, Mary Pacolette Genoble, and Shana Dendy.

Palmer and Petty each said there are plenty of opportunities available that students don’t know how to find, which is where guidance counselors come in.

“There are enormous opportunities for highly skilled jobs, and we’re trying to wake them up to that,” Palmer said, mentioning available jobs at Gestamp, BMW, and new nuclear power plants. “We need those highly skilled workers, and they come out of school making $60,000. All they have to do is go to Spartanburg Community College or Midlands Tech, and they can go for free with a 3.0 GPA.”

Palmer said students have to learn the importance of “Step 13,” which is the next step after graduation.

“Every one of these kids has gotten up and taken the bus here because they had to,” he said. “They’re on idle, but Step 13 is coming. It’s the most important, and they have to realize they need more than a high school diploma.”

UCHS will host Junior Night — sponsored by Wells Fargo — at 6:30 p.m. Dec. 10, during which each student and parent will receive a book explaining what they should do to prepare before their senior year.Wells Fargo is also sending a presenter from Atlanta to speak to the students and parents at the event.

Petty pointed out that others from around the community have also been supportive. Arthur State Bank is active through its Junior Board of Directors, working with students on a regular basis. She said companies including Gestamp and Haemonetics have donated lots of equipment to the school’s CATE (Career and Technology) Center.

Five UCHS students have already been accepted as Palmetto Fellows this year, and more are expected. Palmer said students have benefited from “early bird” SAT classes which begin at 7:15 a.m. and allow students to practice online questions.

Chemistry teacher Toni Farmer said a new program called Jacket Peers has also been effective.

“Some students can’t afford tutors,” Farmer said, explaining the peer-to-peer tutoring program in which some of the best students tutor those who need help in the mornings and afternoons on Mondays, Wednesdays and Thursdays.

“They work very well together,” she said.

Media Specialist Pamela Sloss said a change in morale was obvious to her as she worked at the school from 2003-2008 and returned this year.

“School spirit was down when I left, but now there is more unity and a lot of student and teacher motivation,” Sloss said. “I see a lot of things getting us to be one. There is a push to get students to do better, using data, to make us better as a whole.”

The mantra Lyles uses for the entire school is, “Success is our only option.” He even has the phrase on his outgoing phone message in his office. At 6:30 a.m. when he arrives to school each morning, Lyles begins listening to the audio book “What Great Principals Do Differently” by Todd Whitaker. He also assigns teachers pages to read from “What Great Teachers Do Differently” by the same author. He said he embraces and enjoys his duties as principal.

“I don’t just react to the problems we face; I try to take a proactive approach and say what we’re going to do about it,” Lyles said. “You have to be willing to do things differently. The graduation rate is just a glimpse of where we’re headed.”

Lyles said he would not be satisfied with being average.

“We’re going to be the best in the state, and that’s where we’re headed,” he said. “I’m not afraid to say it. I want to be the absolute best at what I’m doing.

Look for a more in-depth look at Union County High School from the perspective of faculty members and students in Saturday’s edition of The Union Daily Times.