In 2005, when Bud Ferillo was filming a documentary at J.V. Martin Middle School, the temperature in the school’s gym was 18 degrees.
About a third of the school, including its auditorium, had been condemned by the state fire marshal. A train that rumbled past the school several times a day brought lessons to a halt. And it wasn’t uncommon to see Dillon schools Superintendent Ray Rogers and others mopping up after water pipes had burst.
The school’s plight became the national face of crumbling U.S. schools, spotlighted by President Barack Obama who, in his first address to Congress, pointed to J.V. Martin as proof of the need for stimulus money to replace falling-down schools. Obama promised a 14-year-old J.V. Martin student, seated with First Lady Michelle Obama, the work would get done.
That new school becomes reality today, when Rogers and other Dillon school leaders dedicate the new Dillon Middle School, the replacement for J.V. Martin.
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While many South Carolinians say Obama has failed as president, people in Dillon say the new school is proof of the incredible change that has taken place since the Democrat took office.
“The people stepped up to the plate in very hard times to build this school, and we’re extremely proud of our people, and we’re proud of the USDA and the president of the United States,” Rogers said, referring to the U.S. Department of Agriculture.
Money for the school, a new early childhood development center and a new high school came from a mix of sources, including a $4 million grant from the Agriculture Department and a $37 million low-interest, 40-year loan from that department that Dillon taxpayers will pay back with a penny-a-dollar sales tax increase.
Talk of a special guest from Washington, D.C., for today’s dedication has the community buzzing that Obama will attend. But that is unlikely. Obama is in Charlotte to accept the Democratic nomination for president.
Ferillo says the new school is more of a victory for Dillon than any political leader or party.
“The school is a victory for Dillon County and its impoverished families,” said Ferillo, whose “Corridor of Shame” film highlighted the plight of J.V. Martin and a dozen other S.C. schools along the I-95 corridor that runs from North Carolina through the Pee Dee region to Georgia.
Of the schools featured in the 2005 film, only three – two in Jasper County and J.V. Martin – have been rebuilt, leaving much work to be done, Ferillo said.
“Both (counties on either end) of the ‘Corridor of Shame’ have seen improvements but many ... still have deficient facilities and all of them lack equitable pay for the teachers,” he said.