In Our Schools

Akil E. Ross, Sr, Ed.D.

I am honored to be named superintendent of School District Five of Lexington and Richland
Counties. The tradition of excellence of the schools is a direct reflection of the amazing support
our community provides to the schools. As a result, I intend to use this platform to engage our
community in the process of educating the over 17,000 students we serve from Piney Woods in
Chapin to Seven Oaks in Irmo.

During public participation at the January 24 Board meeting, five parents and community
members shared their objections to certain books in our school libraries. Most notably was the
reading of sexually explicit language from the book All Boys Aren’t Blue by George M. Johnson,
located in one of our schools. The reading of passages from this book led many to ask the
question, How did this material get into our schools?

The graphic sexual content caused me to ask the book to be pulled, but it was not. It was not
supposed to be. The Supreme Court decided in 1982, in the Island Trees School District v. Pico
case, that local school boards may not remove books from school libraries simply because they
dislike the ideas contained in the book. However, books can be removed when two review
committees review the book and determine it is not educationally suitable for students.

A tremendous amount of District Five resources were spent investigating one copy of a book, in
one school, checked out by one student for less than one minute. Meanwhile, there are 55
students in jeopardy of not graduating on time in the same school. The average reading level of
these seniors is 6.2 (6th grade, 2nd month) and the book in question is leveled 6.8 (6th grade 8

This was eye-opening. The majority of the 12th graders struggling to graduate would struggle to
read the book in question. The larger problem, spreading faster than COVID-19, is the growing
number of students not able to read to proficiency in our schools. Globally, one billion people
are not able to understand or produce written information. A longitudinal study of 4,000
participants by the Casey Foundation found that students not reading to proficiency at the end
of the 3rd grade are 4x less likely to graduate on time. In our schools, 59.8% of 2nd through 5th
graders are not on track to meet literacy expectations and 62.9% of 6th through 8th graders are
not on track to meet literacy expectations. Literacy is so important that being able to read and
write is often linked to life expectancy. Literacy is the foundation upon which all learning stands.
As superintendent, I am committed to the goal of improving literacy rates in our community by
focusing on strategies to get all children at or above grade-level reading proficiency.

There is good news. The 2,600 employees of School District 5 are committed to the vision of
making sure every child feels loved and is able to grow academically, socially, and emotionally.
In our schools, teachers and staff are working together to provide all of our children the tools to
be successful readers. In 1987, Researchers William Nagy and Patricia Herman found that
children who read 20 minutes a day gained 1.8 million words per year and scored in the 90th
percentile on standardized tests whereas children reading 1 minute a day gained 8,000 words
and scored in the 10th percentile.

We need your help! There are 180 days of the school year, which leaves 185 days a year that
students are not in school. If you work with children in our homes, ball fields, churches,
gymnasiums, youth groups and/or playgrounds, help us encourage children to read at least 20
minutes a day, every day.

The future of our community depends on the present education of our children.