SDP Joins Unique Public-Private Partnership in South Carolina

The Yale Child Study School Development Program has joined a unique public-private partnership formed to implement a comprehensive scholastic excellence program in the Hartsville, South Carolina public schools. The PULSE (Partners for Unparalleled Local Scholastic Excellence) partnership involves the Darlington County School District, The South Carolina Governor's School for Science and Mathematics (GSSM), Coker College, and Sonoco. PULSE was unveiled at a press conference on February 21, 2011 at Thornwell School for the Arts in Hartsville.

"The PULSE program will set the standard for public education in South Carolina. Through the opportunities and promise of this new initiative, the Darlington County School District can and will be counted among the very best school districts our state has to offer,” said Dr. Rainey Knight, the district's superintendent.

A key component of the Hartsville PULSE initiative will be a pilot implementation of the Comer School Development Program at four Hartsville elementary schools beginning at the start of the 2011-12 school year. The focus will be student development and improving academic achievement. The four schools are Washington Street Elementary SchoolSouthside Early Education Center, Thornwell School for the Arts, and West Hartsville Elementary Schools.

"Development and learning are inextricably linked, but traditionally development is not intentionally addressed,” said Dr. Comer. “The School Development Program enables educators, parents and families, and community partners to support development, integrate learning, and as a result, improve academic and behavioral outcomes.”

In addition to Dr. Knight, the other presenters included Dr. Mick Zais, the South Carolina state superintendent of education; Dr. Murray Brockman, GSSM president; Dr. Robert Wyatt, president of Coker College; and Harris E. DeLoach, CEO and chairman of Sonoco. The audience included local and state policy makers, educators, business and civic leaders, members of the media, and Ms. Brandy Benjamin's 2nd grade class at Thornwell.

In his remarks, Dr. Robert Wyatt said, "I'd seen first-hand the difference that Dr. Comer's School Development Program had made in Springfield, Missouri, where, partnering with Drury University, my previous institution, the scores of second graders at Boyd-Berry Elementary School, the district's lowest-performing school, soared.

The number of students, for example, whose language arts scores were in the nation's top 40 percentile during the first year of the program nearly doubled by Year 3. And student discipline improved even more dramatically. The year the program began, about 10 percent of the students received out-of-school suspensions, and by Year 3 that number had shrunk to just 2 percent."

Dr. Wyatt said that he was thrilled to announce that in partnership, Yale and Coker will work together to strengthen Coker's teacher education programs and create professional development opportunities for local teachers.

To read the transcript of Dr. Wyatt's remarks at the PULSE press conference, please click here. To learn more about the Springfield Public Schools-Drury-Yale Partnership, click here

Left to right: Dr. Comer, Dr. Murray Brockman, Roger Schrum, Dr. Rainey H. Knight, Harris DeLoach, and Dr. Robert Wyatt

Primary funding for the PULSE programs will come from a $5 million grant made over five years from Sonoco, one of the largest diversified global packaging companies. Founded in Hartsville in 1899, Sonoco employs nearly 1,800 workers and has more than 750 retirees and their families living in the Hartsville area.

Harris DeLoach, Sonoco's chairman and chief executive officer, described the origins of PULSE. He and Dr. Knight, Dr. Brockman, and Dr. Wyatt had a conversation about what it would take to significantly improve the educational opportunities and academic achievement of Hartsville's youth.

"Each of us did our homework and investigated the best and brightest ideas we could find. As you heard, it included going to New Haven, Connecticut to meet personally with Dr. Comer and his team to see if Yale University's School Development Program could help improve our elementary schools," said DeLoach.

"Dr. Comer and his team came to Hartsville and met with school administrators, teachers and students. They believe the 'Comer Model' can move the needle in helping improve student achievement at the most critical learning age of our young people." 

"We have always had a strong commitment to improving education in communities where we operate, particularly in our hometown," said DeLoach. "We believe we must continue to work with our public schools, as well as other centers of learning, to improve local educational excellence to ensure we have the workers we need to be competitive over the next century."

Left to right: Camille Cooper and Cyn Savo

At the luncheon at the Hartsville Country Club following the press conference, Dr. Wyatt introduced Cooper, the SDP's director of teaching, learning and development who will lead implementation of the SDP in Hartsville. Camille introduced a video message from Dr. Comer who was unable to attend because of a longstanding commitment outside the country.

"I'm sorry I cannot be there in person. This is a very important occasion for me. I have for many years felt that one of the problems in education is that we have focused on academic achievement without focusing on the whole child. We cannot expect to have children who are ready for the workforce, ready to be family members, and citizens of their communities and society without focusing on the whole child.....I want to thank Sonoco for sponsoring this project. I want to thank the school district, Coker College, and the community members who are involved, interested, and want to make this a successful venture."

To watch Dr. Comer's message to the Hartsville community, click here.

Camille presented an overview of the School Development Program that included the nine components of the model and the learning and development dynamic. She also outlines the next steps that include a contextual analysis and the creation of an implementation plan that will be co-developed with district and school leaders. Comer 101 training is expected to begin in the summer before the start of the 2011-12 school year.

"The School Development Program is excited about the opportunity to work with the Darlington County School District and Coker College with the generous support of the Sonoco Foundation," said Cooper. "This partnership will demonstrate how the deliberate focus on the holistic development of children creates the academic and social results we know all children are capable of achieving."


$5 million partnership program targets Hartsville schools, Feb. 21, 2011, Jim Faile,

Editorial: Two school tales: Hartsville's gain, Marlboro's pain, February 23, 2011,