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Public Statements - Obama Visits Dillon's J.V. Martin Middle School

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Location: Unknown - Obama Visits Dillon's J.V. Martin Middle School

By Shireese Bell

Democratic presidential candidate Sen. Barack Obama of Illinois visited J.V. Martin Junior High School in Dillon School District 2 this morning to tour the school and participate in an education roundtable discussion on issues the school faces.

After touring the 111-year-old school, which has been featured in the documentary "Corridor of Shame: The Neglect of South Carolina's Rural Schools" and is located in a district that seems to have become the poster child for poverty in the state Obama met with Superintendent Ray Rogers, J.V. Martin principal Amanda Burnette, several teachers, board of trustees members and administrators for a candid discussion on the problems educators face in today's schools.

The panel discussed the challenges of meeting No Child Left Behind requirements, preparing students for the future while teaching in inadequate facilities and finding funds for capital projects.

"We don't need sympathy," Shirl Carter, a physical education/health teacher said. "We need help."
"It would be easier if we had the facilities (to better prepare students)," she said.

Obama said he's glad to see that there has been progress at J.V. Martin, but there is still much to be done. He said he's working hard to make sure help is on the way.

"The school itself has become a barrier to education," Obama said. "Windows have been broken, ceilings have caved in, roofs have leaked (and) bathrooms have not worked. I want to commend Superintendent Rogers and all those who've been involved in trying to make something out of not much.

"If we're serious about reforming education, then we're going to have to reform our attitudes," Obama said. "Washington needs to start acting with a sense of urgency and start solving the problems that our schools are facing, and partner with state and local officials."

Some ways Obama proposes the federal government becomes more involved include establishing a better way to attract and support teachers; investing in early childhood education so that kids are prepared the first day of school; and providing federal dollars for capital projects for schools across the nation.

Obama said a new generation of teachers must be recruited, plus an increase in teacher salaries and more teacher mentors are needed to help signal to young people that teaching is a valued profession.

He also said the nation's broken schools have to be fixed.

"Unless this local school district gets some help from the state and federal government, this school is going to continue to strain under the weight of all the problems in these facilities," Obama said. "That's unacceptable. I would like to see the federal government initiate the kind of capital program that would allow us to reconstruct old schools across the country."

Obama said it will take parents, the community and all forms of government to reform education in South Carolina and the nation.

"I am not someone who believes that money will solve all these problems," he said. "Parents are going to have to parent. We've got to value education throughout the community.

"That's something the teachers can't overcome by themselves, even with the scores," he added. "It's going to have to be a partnership in which all of us are working together."

Rogers said he thinks it was good for Obama to visit the school, but there are many schools across the nation that face the same plight.

"Yes, it brings criticism, but we don't want criticism," Rogers said. "We don't want pity, we want help.

"This is not the only situation we have in Dillon School District 2 and it's not the only situation we have in South Carolina," he said. "It's going to take the local, state and federal to see that situations like this across the nation don't exist anymore.

"If we don't bring light to it, it will continue on like it has for a long time."

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