S.C. Superintendent of Education Mick Zais praised Spartanburg School District 2 leaders during a visit on Monday.
"I'm proud of the fact you are doing so darn well with so little," Zais said. "You are knocking it out of the ball park."
Spartanburg 2 was the top performing school district in the state based on the 2012-2013 federal accountability system, which tracks student achievement and progress. The district scored a 92.8 percent, despite a 20.9 percent poverty level based on the U.S. Census and receiving $1,500 less than the state average in per pupil funding.
Zais met with Superintendent Scott Mercer, Assistant Superintendent Angela Hinton, Principal Donnie Barnette and board Chairwoman Joyce Wright at Rainbow Lake Middle School Monday afternoon. He later visited Boiling Springs High School as well. In the morning he visited Spartanburg School District 1's T.E. Mabry Middle School and Landrum High.
Despite a dearth of funding at the district level, Zais pointed out Rainbow Lake's per-pupil allocation was more than the state average.
"That tells me you've got good leadership at the district level. They are putting money where there's the best return on investment," he said.
Mercer said the district has always compared favorably to its peers and it's a trend all of the teachers and administrators work to continue.
While some districts have struggled with increased testing standards, Mercer and Barnette said the teachers and students continue to rise to meet expectations.
"We were improved from last year, and we have a plan for next year," Barnette said.
During the first few minutes of his meeting at Rainbow Lake, Zais grilled leaders on their background, accomplishments, goals and plans for the school. He asked about specific test scores, grades and numerical goals. He repeated often the importance of data-based analysis and comparing districts of similar funding and demographics.
Zais' only recommendation to Barnette was that he set S.M.A.R.T. goals — goals that are specific, measurable, attainable, realistic and timely — for each teacher to continue the progress the school is experiencing and boost scores in weaker areas.
Zais said the meetings are part of his efforts to establish relationships with the administrators of every school district in South Carolina by spending one day each week at schools.
"It went better than I was expecting," Mercer said as the meeting concluded.