Board hears comments on baccalaureate service

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Pelzer Auditorium to be used for theater productions

By Stan Welch

As the regular meeting of the Anderson District One School Board moved smoothly through the agenda, the recent brouhaha over the baccalaureate services prior to graduation ceremonies was the eight hundred pound gorilla in the room.

There are three high schools in the district which are affected by the decision of Superintendent David Havird not to sponsor the services any longer. At a meeting at New Hope Baptist Church on Sunday, April 19, Havird explained the legal ramifications of continuing to sponsor the services, and offered alternatives. More than 250 people attended.

Tuesday night, at the board meeting, after most of the routine business had been taken care of, Ms. Jackie Cox addressed the board, and the audience. She spoke glowingly of the manner in which Havird and his staff had handled the situation, saying that the responsibility for the surprise and shock of the district’s decision rested with the general public.

“Like many others, my first reaction to the news was anger. But Pastor Robert Parris and I talked about the matter, and I began to realize that a lot of us haven’t been paying enough attention. I have been unaware of some cultural changes right here at home which impact Christians and the way we can meet. I think we all just assumed certain things would always be the same.”

“There are laws that have been passed on our watch that limit the school board and the district officers in the actions they can take. Based on information Mr. Havird shared with us, we contacted a group that offers legal help to people in situations like this. They basically confirmed what we had been told, and recommended that we not pursue our original course.”

Cox told the crowd that her church, New Hope Baptist, intended to rent the Palmetto High School auditorium, per district policy, and to sponsor and conduct the service.

Havird added that two other churches, Grace Methodist and Bethesda Methodist, had agreed to host the services for Wren and Powdersville High Schools at their churches.

The district released a statement which explained the legal issue and confirmed that any group wishing to use a school facility for such a purpose can submit an application under the appropriate board policy. Such requests will be handled consistent with board policy.

Board Chairman Fred Alexander spoke briefly, saying that the meeting the previous Sunday evening was something that should be repeated. “The meeting was very good and served to let people of different views meet and worship together. I would like to see us do that more often.”

In other business, the board voted to support the establishment of a fine arts and theater program by leasing the Pelzer Elementary School auditorium to Will Ragland, who appeared and spoke to the board.

Ragland, a product of the Wren schools, teaches theater at Woodmont High School, where his troupe recently put on a very successful production of “Wizard of Oz.”

During his seven years at Woodmont, Ragland has built their fine arts program from scratch. He said that the production, which cost $28,000 to stage, was paid for completely by corporate and private donations, and actually made money after more than 7000 people attended the various performances.

Ragland said that the new troupe he plans to establish in the Pelzer/Williamston area will follow his earlier model of ambition and attempting productions “we have no business doing. I have five plays in mind and I am in the process of buying the rights to produce them. We will have completely open auditions and I feel sure that we can put a community theater in Pelzer that will draw people from miles around. I have even chosen a name for the troupe – the Milltown Players, in honor of the history of the area.”

The board voted to lease the theater to the Milltown Players for one dollar a year. Ragland promises a public announcement and a casting call as soon as the contracts for the rights are signed and sealed.

The board also voted to assume oversight and supervision of the adult education program currently being run by the Career Technical Center.

Superintendent Havird explained that the intent is for the program to be self-sustaining, like the food service program in the other schools.

Two benefits of the change are that the Career Center can focus more on its true mission, and the district will have more influence in its efforts to encourage students to seek their diplomas instead of GEDs.

The board approved the proposal, effective July 1, 2014.

See related story on baccalaureate – Superintendent explains baccalaureate decision