CCU professors help elementary school striveby Corrie Lee Lacey
Mark Mitchell, chair of management, marketing and resort tourism at Coastal Carolina University, has been devoting much of his time lately to seeing that Burgess Elementary School is the best educational institution it can be. And it has paid off.
The Burgess School Improvement Council (SIC) was recently selected as the recipient of the 2011 Dick and Tunky Riley School Improvement Award – a prestigious award that recognizes one South Carolina SIC each year for demonstrating outstanding achievement and civic engagement on behalf of its school.
Mitchell and his team of Coastal Carolina University colleagues – Rob Young, interim grants director; Tonya Propst, assistant professor of music; and Karen Fuss, environmental educator of the Burroughs & Chapin Center, Marine & Wetland Studies – along with other community members, have worked tirelessly to bring together parents, educators and community stakeholders to work collectively to improve Burgess Elementary.
The group was selected as one of five finalists and was named the winner on March 19 in Columbia. It is the first time an Horry County school has received the award. Burgess Elementary was also named a finalist for Palmetto’s Finest Award this spring. This award recognizes two elementary schools in the state annually.
But Mitchell, chair of the Burgess SIC, is firm in his belief that the credit of the success should go to the school, the children, the families and the staff. “I'm really proud of my colleagues, community and school,” says Mitchell. “I may be the team leader, but the recognition should go to them.”
Propst agrees. “It is a lot easier to win a coveted award as a School Improvement Council when the school is already outstanding,” she says.
Mitchell especially feels recognition is owed to Burgess Elementary principal Donna Hooks. “Donna has worked tirelessly to make Burgess Elementary a very special place from the very beginning,” he says. “She pushes our SIC, PTA and other affiliated groups to help fulfill the great potential of Burgess Elementary School. It has been a privilege to support her efforts. She is a joy to work with. We’ve come a long way in a very short time. I'm so proud of our accomplishments.”
And their accomplishments are many.
Over the last year, Burgess Elementary students worked with SIC member Matt Securro of the Georgetown Hospital System, with the support of the Burgess SIC team, to implement the Healthy Food Choices Program. Educational materials, as well as incentive programs, were developed to encourage students to make healthy food choices while at school. Rewards are given for healthy food choices, and the program encourages daily exercise. The program has been presented to a number of groups, including state Sen. Jim DeMint’s Washington Office, Cafeteria Foodservice Professionals and others.
Other efforts include coordinating a series of grants to beautify the school grounds while co-creating outdoor classroom spaces for teachers and students. Former SIC member David Fuss, husband of Karen Fuss, environmental educator with the Burroughs & Chapin Center, Marine and Wetland Studies, designed the maintenance plan for a number of flower and vegetable gardens now planted on the grounds.
“Our committee goal was to improve the appearance of our school grounds and create outdoor classrooms. To achieve this goal, we worked with a local landscaper to create and implement a master garden,” says Fuss. “The first step was to install a habitat garden. Our committee also developed a maintenance plan to ensure that the gardens are cared for regularly. Because of our council’s garden plan, we’ve now installed three gardens at Burgess Elementary with plans for even more.”
The group, under the leadership of Rob Young, vice chair of the School Improvement Council, coordinated Burgess Environment, Science and Technology Night, a communitywide evening celebration consisting of a series of seminars attended by more than 400 students, their families and community members.
“The School Improvement Council of Burgess Elementary has done some very important work well-deserving of this recognition,” say Carlos Primus, SC-SIC board of trustees chair . “That’s what SICs are all about – bringing parents, educators and community members together to work collaboratively on behalf of their schools and young people.”
Despite their awarded accomplishments, Mitchell and his team aren’t finished. “Our work is an ongoing thing,” says Mitchell. “We keep as our primary goal: to make Burgess Elementary School the best school it can be. We’re proud of our students. We’re proud of our teachers and staff. We’ll keep pushing to help Burgess Elementary School to be the best. It really is a great partnership with Coastal Carolina University and Horry County Schools.”
Mitchell knows all about the partnership – he’s been a part of it from the very beginning. Children at Burgess used to attend St. James Elementary School. Facing an overcrowded situation, Horry County Schools built a new elementary school for the community. Mitchell had served on the SIC for St. James Elementary School.
“I was given a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity,” says Mitchell. He participated in the ground-breaking for the new school, naming process, mascot naming (Sea Turtles), building of the School Improvement Council, and other opportunities to serve.
But despite making the move to Burgess Elementary, Mitchell has found no problem channeling school spirit.
As the Burgess Elementary Sea Turtles (BEST), the acronym is used often. “We keep the BEST acronym in front of us at all times,” says Mitchell. “Do our BEST. Be our BEST. Our BEST effort. Seek BEST outcomes.”
On Mitchell’s family vehicles, you’ll even find BEST or a Sea Turtle sticker. “It has been a real pleasure to support the school and to witness first-hand the dedication of educators in the K-12 sector,” says Mitchell. “It is hard to imagine not being involved with Burgess since I was fortunate to participate in things from the very beginning. But, some day, other parents will carry the mantle and serve proudly.”