Tim Scott: Spartanburg’s Franklin School ‘a national model’

U.S. Sen. Tim Scott, R-S.C., called the Northside’s new Franklin School “a national model that everybody can follow” on Tuesday.

“This highlights the success story of an integrated community,” said Scott at his fifth visit to Spartanburg’s Northside community. “My role is to be a conduit for greatness, to find ways to fund it and communicate it.”

The $11.5 million early childhood learning center opened in January, funded with about $4.5 million in public money and $7 million in private funding, according to Bill Barnet, chairman and CEO of the Northside Development Group.

The 28,000-square-foot private school can accommodate 200 students ages 6 weeks to 5 years old and offers yearlong programming. It has an average teacher-to-child ratio of 4 to 1, and each classroom has its own fenced outdoor playground.

Partners include Spartanburg School District 7, the Northside Development Group, USC Upstate, First Steps, the Spartanburg Academic Movement and the Mary Black Foundation. Shawna Bynum is the director.

Scott said the purpose of the early learning center is to give children a head start before they enter regular school. He said every community that builds such a school should tailor it after their own needs.

Scott visited several classrooms and interacted with the children, singing songs and playing guessing games.

“It’s a very exciting environment,” Scott said. “The kids are experiencing something unique. They may not understand that now, but they will as they get older.”

Nur Tanyel, a USC Upstate child development and family studies professor, said her students have access to a classroom at the school where they can view child behavior and interactions via a video camera. Cameras are in each classroom.

Tanyel said it makes observing children easier because there is no interruption of the class.

“We can observe without disrupting their natural states,” she said.

After his classroom tour, Scott participated in a Head Start discussion in the school’s conference room with city and community leaders.

Mary Black Foundation CEO Molly Talbot-Metz said racial disparity continues to be a big issue in Spartanburg, which the foundation is trying to address.

Mary Thomas, chief operating officer of the Spartanburg County Foundation, said 45.7 percent of children under 18 in the city fall below the poverty level, as do 25 percent in the county.

That hinders the development process of many children, and by adulthood most never make it to a higher economic level, she said.

Thomas said she’s spoken with church leaders who are determined to address the issue.

″(They) made a commitment that they will not be silent,” she said.

Spartanburg Assistant City Manager Mitch Kennedy said the city is still climbing out of a time when 87 percent of the jobs were textile-related, jobs that were lost as the mills closed over the past few decades.

City Manager Chris Story said there are efforts to expand what the Franklin School is doing so that every child in Spartanburg gets a head start.

“When a child comes into a household that is economically unprepared, if we’re honest with ourselves, we would say that’s a burden on the community,” Story said. “We ought to look at each child as an opportunity to strengthen the community.”