Graduation Plus Partnership Equals Success for Students

Dr. W. Burke Royster of Greenville County Schools, South Carolina understands the value of a professional community for students

By Dr. Rod Berger

Dr. W. Burke Royster, Superintendent of Greenville County Schools, South Carolina understands the value of a professional community on the students of a district. More than financial assistance, companies and institutions of the community provide invaluable experience and knowledge that bolster the career efforts of graduates. In the end, it’s the partnerships that represent the real commodity.

Graduation Plus (G Plus) is the Greenville program that allows students to graduate with courses toward a college degree or technical certification. Royster is proud of the program and has seen multiple partnerships evolve through health service companies, technical skill organizations and a variety of big and small local companies. G plus has the ability to set-up Greenville students with paths towards truly meaningful employment and better professional careers.

After 37 years in the education field and numerous positions, it’s safe to say that Burke Royster has a handle on what makes a career in education special. When asked about recruiting others for the ranks of superintendent, Royster explains, “What other area do you the opportunity to impact in a positive way, an individual’s future, and the future of the community, nation and the world?” Powerful thoughts from an instrumental figure making a difference in the Greenville community and beyond.

Interview

Rod Berger: Burke, it’s a pleasure to meet you and talk with you about some high-level education issues and the way in which superintendents are approaching them.

A lot of folks have had conversations recently around alternative ways to look at funding and budgets to be more progressive in how we can better incorporate corporate America and the private sector in helping us offset any challenges we might have with our yearly budgets.

How do you look at that in your community and are we as progressive as I may think just based on conversations or is there some work to be done?

Dr. W. Burke Royster: I think we are being very progressive in those areas but, as with many other areas, there’s still a lot of work to be done.

And I take a little bit of a different tack than what your question was; and, certainly, we’re not overrunning with funds and I don’t think that’s ever been the case.

So we are constantly looking at ways that we can operate more efficiently and better utilize the resources that we are provided, and so we can lobby for funds. But what I prefer to talk about in the approach is not just looking to public sector-private sector partnerships for funding but the things that these partnerships can bring to our programs and to our students.

One of the great pushes that we have Greenville County Schools right now is our G-plus initiative. We want students not only to graduate ─ the G being “graduate”─ but, obviously, the “plus” graduation and in addition to that, we want our graduates to leave us having some college credit and it can be all the way up into a major area of study. We have students leaving us with 55 and 60 credit hours of college credit including credit hours in majors like engineering.

 

We want them either to have that and/or to possess an industry certification. So when they walk out the door and be a welder, machine tool operator, a CNC operator, be a barber, be a cosmetologist, go to work in a car dealership as a mechanic or an auto body shop and have that certification.

That G-plus program ─ having those certifications, having those college credits ─ requires multiple and numerous partnerships not just with the private sector. It requires a lot of those but also been with post-secondary.

We have a very viable working partnership with the Greenville Health System working in the medical services arena in working to provide opportunities for our students all the way from entry level nursing-type jobs or more technical jobs in the medical profession, all the way up to where we are developing with them a program for our students that, perhaps, will be pre-med because their route is going to be to go to medical school and be a doctor.

RB: Are you finding that other districts are doing what you’re doing or do you feel like you’re in the minority with this?

BR: I think there are other districts that are doing this. We just package it a little differently. We call it “G-plus.” We’re reaching out to those segments in the community whether it be Greenville Health System or Michelin or BMW of Fluor Construction Corporation. And also just smaller businesses. Those are huge corporations but we also have partnerships with, for example, a local machine shop that employs twenty people.

The partnerships are leveraging for us the opportunities for our students. Now, these opportunities, at the end of day, perhaps, save some money because that’s part of the day that students are engaged there that they may not be sitting in a class.

But that’s not the primary objective. It hasn’t been and it won’t be the primary objective.

The primary objective is to prepare students who are truly college-ready and career-ready.

What better way to show you’re college- and career-ready, better than any school or any achievement than actually do it? To walk out with a transcript with those college credits on it or with that industry-recognized certification that says, “I’m a welder. I’m certified to be one.” And they’ll be hired tomorrow in a high-paying job.

RB: And what you were talking to is the ownership of learning on the student’s side. So it’s one thing in your role, and as a leadership team, to lay the foundation so that these opportunities exist. But there’s also an inherent responsibility from the students’ perspective to take ownership of that, not only from what they’re learning in school within your district but in how they’re applying that in these opportunities.

BR: There is. For anyone who is afforded an opportunity, there comes with it a responsibility to take advantage of that. This is pretty much an all-encompassing partnership. It requires the school, the teacher, the principal ─ all those involved in supporting the classroom. It requires effort on the part of the student, taking advantage of the opportunities; support from their home, from their family; and then support from non-profits in the community ─ we have partnerships with them; from other government entities ─ we have partnerships with them; and then, of course, business and industry ─ we have a tremendous number of partnerships with them.

RB: I would imagine, that you have a number of channels, in communicating all of these different pieces when it comes to the student or the family and documenting or learning and their achievements through this very thoughtful process and system that you’ve built.

How have you looked at that when you think about a world of technology that you can communicate with the families of your students on a day-to-day basis with meaningful information about the progress and the path they’re taking?

BR: That greatly enhances the ability to communicate. And to change your characterization a little bit, we’ve not built this, we’re in the process of building it. It’s an ongoing process and I don’t think it will ever end because as the job market changes, as the way college looks changes, it will be a model that we’re always building, adding to, revamping, reorganizing, and that sort of thing.

But communicating these opportunities is a huge challenge. And it is facilitated and eased by the ability to use technology.

RB: How has the role of a superintendent changed in your estimation and what does it require now that we might not have required just because we’re in a different world and the context is different? Now, you are interfacing with the community in ways that maybe we didn’t in years past.

BR: This is my fifth year as a superintendent and my thirty-seventh year in education. I’ve been a deputy superintendent, assistant superintendent, principal, teacher, and coach. I’ve been through all those seats.

We are, at the heart of what we do, a people business. So the ability to interact with people, whether it’s the students sitting in the classroom, the teacher teaching the class are people out in the community, that’s always been a key to being successful whether it was thirty years ago, twenty years ago, ten years ago, or today.

Now, it might be a broader audience and we might be more open to, and should be more open to, and have to be more open to, engaging outside the walls of the building.

But it still requires you to have those people skills that have always been a part of before a successful school leader.

RB: You enjoy your job, don’t you?

BR: I do. I guess I’m at the point in my career that if I didn’t, I could retire. That’s a nice place to be. It’s great to be able to come to work every day because I enjoy what I do.

RB: I think that it’s nice that we can communicate out that there’s a great energy in today’s superintendents that is not only necessarily but it helps to expand the brand and the opportunity of education, in general, for young people who are looking at careers in education. It changes the narrative in a very positive and progressive way.

BR: We think it does. And, certainly, in talking with young people whether they’re students in our school and they have not gone off and decided they’re going to go to college or they’re going to the career route, whatever they might be doing ─ we’ve been talking to them and trying to get them interested in our profession.

What other area ─ and there are only very few ─ do you have the opportunities to impact in a positive way an individual’s future and the future of our community, our nation, and our world?

There are not many places where you get the chance to do that every day?

 

About Dr. W. Burke Royster

Dr. W. Burke Royster has been superintendent Greenville County Schools since 2012, after previously serving as the district’s deputy superintendent.  He provides leadership for the state’s largest and nation’s 44th largest school district, which serves more than 76,000 students and employs 9,600 teachers, principals and other personnel.

Planning to meet current and future needs is a hallmark of Dr. Royster’s administration.  The Graduation Plus initiative provides students with multiple opportunities to graduate with a high school diploma plus credits toward a college degree and/or a technical certificate for a higher-paying job directly out of high school.

Academic offerings continue to expand, including Science, Technology, Engineering, Arts, and Mathematics (STEAM) initiatives, ACCELERATE engineering, New Tech, the Art of Architecture at the Fine Arts Center, expansion of project-based learning courses, dual credit courses, on-line courses, high school courses at middle schools, and restructuring of career technology offerings to provide courses at high schools that do not require a specialized space.

Dr. Royster serves on various community boards including The Greenville Chamber of Commerce, The United Way, Greenville Technical College Area Commission, and Public Education Partners, and is a graduate of Leadership Greenville.  He is also actively involved with Ten at the Top, an organization that promotes partnerships and cooperation to improve the Upstate’s economic vitality and quality of life.

Dr. Royster received his Ph.D. in Educational Leadership and Policies from the University of South Carolina and his bachelor’s and master’s degrees from Clemson University.

Follow W. Burke Royster on Twitter

This article was originally published on The Huffington Post by Dr. Rod Berger

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