Greenville Business and Education Leaders Work Together to Strengthen Schools
Organizations such as Public Education Partners work with Greenville’s school system to give students a head start to college and careers
In 2007, Ansel Sanders, president and CEO of Public Education Partners, was an 8th grade English Language Arts teacher with Baltimore Public Schools. His girlfriend (and now wife) Helen was living in Greenville, her hometown. A little weary of long-distance dating and wanting to live closer to each other, the couple set out to find their perfect place — a place where they could each pursue their professional goals and also someday raise a family.
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“We kicked the tires on a lot of places,” Sanders says. “But when I visited Greenville, I had this immediate reaction — I’m sure not dissimilar to that of other people upon seeing Greenville for the first time. There's definitely kind of a "wow" factor in terms of all of the amenities community offers and how welcoming it is and eclectic it is. I was really attracted to that and surprised by it. Of course my wife and her family are all from here, so that was an easy sell on the personal side of things. But in terms of setting up a life here, there was a lot of great opportunity, particularly in the education sector.”
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Sanders interviewed to become an administrator at Mauldin Middle School within Greenville County Public Schools, the largest school district in the state. Later he helped establish A.J. Whittenberg Elementary School of Engineering — a shining example of the district’s commitment to STEM and STEAM education and preparing students for high-tech careers.
“It’s an innovative approach to teaching and learning, and it ensures students are able to think through a design process, to use critical thinking skills and apply the knowledge that they learn in math and science and English and social studies and reading to real-world relevant opportunities,” Sanders says. “You start that in elementary school and build those brain muscles and capacities so that students can compete for those high-tech jobs in the future. You see these opportunities being integrated into schools like Whittenberg and across the entire district, which is great.”
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Sanders says other examples of these opportunities include NEXT High School, the free non-district public high school that focuses on curriculum that steers students to entrepreneurship; the STEAM and STEM programs at schools, such as Hughes Academy and Dr. Phinnize J. Fisher Middle School; programs for students with special needs at Meyer Center, Hope Academy, Einstein Academy, and Camperdown Academy and the overarching G Plus program.
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“G Plus, which stands for ‘Graduation Plus,’ is really the framework. It’s Greenville County Schools’, strategy to ensure that every single student not only graduates from high school but also — that’s the ‘plus’ — has a certification of credential that can be used toward their post-secondary pathway, whether that's through a four-year college or a university or to Greenville Tech, or whether that's immediately into the workforce,” Sanders says. “As the knowledge economy grows and manufacturing needs and other business needs in Greenville grow, our school system is striving to ensure that the teaching and learning opportunities students have from kindergarten all the way through high school give them the skills to be as ready as possible for what comes after high school.”
In 2012 Sanders and his family — which now includes three daughters — left Greenville so he could pursue a doctorate degree in education leadership.
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“The longer we were away, the more interested we became in eventually moving back [to Greenville.] When I graduated from my doctoral program and we were really thinking about our next steps, coming back to Greenville really was at the top of the list,” he says. “Greenville has a real kind of chomping-at-the-bit wanting to continue to get better and improve, and we see that in the education sector as well.”
Building on Relationships
Upon his return, Sanders decided to couple his experience in the classroom and the relationships he had built as an administrator with the work he’d done and relationships he had built through his doctoral program.
“And the vessel through which I could do that was Public Education Partners,” he says.
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Public Education Partners is a nonprofit organization that collaborates with the community, business leaders, educators and elected officials to support and strengthen public education and student achievement in Greenville County Schools. Sanders says one of the most powerful examples of this collaboration is the GATE program (Greenville Alternative Teacher Education) , an alternative route into the teaching profession, specifically for math and science teachers in middle and high school.
“It’s for folks who don't have an education background, but who might have a background in math or science. They are engineers, microbiologists, folks out there who have always wanted to teach but don't want to go back to school and start all over again to become teachers,” he says. “You have tons of community engagement in our schools. This program is a reflection of that. Our community cares about our local public schools; our community is invested in these schools because we know it’s essential to Greenville continuing to be prosperous and healthy and for businesses that come here to have a healthy pipeline of employees.”