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Recently, seven South Carolina schools were selected as finalists in the 2020 Palmetto’s Finest Awards. Among these seven, is Walker Gamble Elementary. The application process looks at several factors; teacher instruction, student achievement, professional learning communities, and school culture. Based on these applications, schools are selected for a visit, and from these visits, the finalists are chosen. All finalists will receive a second visit, and from there, winners will be determined.
“We had a team come down, and they wanted to see evidence of everything we had submitted in our application,” said Walker Gamble Elementary Principal Allen Kirby. “They scored us on a rubric, and selected finalists based on that score.”
Walker Gamble will now go through a second visit, with a new team, and the winners will be announced through a live stream on March 24. During the initial application process, seventeen schools entered, and only seven were selected. This includes elementary, high, and special (6th-12th grade) schools.
“I have been involved with Clarendon 3 for a while, and I don’t think Walker Gamble has ever been selected as a finalist,” said Kirby. “I know that East Clarendon has been selected as a finalist before in the special category, but we are going against everyone in the elementary and high school category, so this is a first for us.”
Of the seven selected, there are four elementary schools and four high schools.
“It is humbling to go against these schools,” said Kirby. “Clarendon School District 3 is going against schools in Spartanburg, Greenville, Lexington, and places like that. We are a Title I school, but we feel like what we do in this building should be comparable to every school in the state. We feel like what we do for kids is something special.”
Kirby places a lot of emphasis on Walker Gamble’s culture; one of the qualities looked at in the application process. The school is known for creating a positive and innovative learning environment where teachers are happy, according to Kirby.
“It is very exciting, not just for me, but for the amazing staff that I work with,” said Kirby. “It is also exciting for the parents, community, and students that are a part of this.”
WGE is a “Collective Leadership” school. Collective leadership is an approach to education that does not follow a “top-down” way of making decisions. Any ideas that teachers may have to improve the school are brought before the board by the teacher, allowing anyone to help in decision-making.
“We were one of the pilot schools for collective leadership in South Carolina,” said Walker Gamble Elementary Teacher Nicole Craft. “Instead of all decisions coming from the top down, we as teachers get a bigger say. There are projects that we as teachers are passionate about, and we get together and share these ideas. From here, we do what we can to improve an already great place. It really brings us together as equals, not just principals and teachers, but equals who are all working together in the field of education.”
WGE will host a small ceremony when the winners are announced. However, Kirby feels that he has already won.
“If you can create a place where teachers want to come, and they can take chances and try new things in the classes, that students will enjoy it more,” said Kirby. “That is where your achievement comes.”