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Horry County Education Center changes get students back on track

Horry County Education Center (WPDE)

It's a few miles east of Conway, and the self-described last resort for Horry County students needing to get back on the right track.

But this year, it's been under a transformation of its own.

Since the summer, the Horry County Education Center's new principal, Jimmy McCullough, has been changing the way the alternative school is run, in hopes of giving its students a clearer path toward moving back to their "base" schools.

"They say that this is one of the number one ways... the pipeline to prison," McCullough, a former assistant principal at Conway High School, told ABC15, "And in order to stop that pipeline, you have to be in a position to block it."

Under McCullough's leadership, the school's schedule has changed to match the rest of the district. Teachers at the students' base schools assign the classwork. And students participate in an advisory period.

But it's not just academic changes that are helping students succeed.

"You could clearly start seeing that the expectations for the kids was not as high as it needed to be," McCullough explained of his thoughts when he first arrived. "If I could fix the discipline piece, I could get them where they needed to be so they could start working back towards getting out of here."

HCEC has moved to a "tier" system, with different requirements that let students graduate to their base schools early, depending on the reason they were moved to HCEC to begin with.

The program is known as "SOAR", or Shine On After Return.

Requirements include completing work, participating in class, community service, and attending the advisory period.

During ABC15's visit last Friday, nine students graduated back to their base schools.

Behavior Specialist Kathleen Smith said some of them had attended HCEC since the previous school year.

"If they just come here and change schools, and are here for a certain amount of time, it's just a change of address," Smith explained, of some of the problems HCEC used to face.

Each was asked to give a presentation on how they changed and what they learned. Smith noted that public speaking is often one of the students' biggest fears.

None of the students refused to give their presentation.

The graduates were given eagle pins to remind them of their transformation, and the promises they made to themselves.

McCullough said staff members will check on the graduates once they settle in to their base schools.

He said so far under his system, few students return to HCEC.

"They could see what they needed to do to be able to get out of here," McCullough said, "It was wow, we got an opportunity."

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