January 27, 2012

Academic Magnet High School

January 24, 2012: Our speaker today was Judith Peterson, Principal of the Academic Magnet High School in the Charleston County School District. A graduate of Connecticut College, Mrs. Peterson has been a teacher, principal, supervisor of the Charleston County gifted education program, and since 2008 the principal of the 650 student Academic Magnet School.

In broad certain tones she told us that education today is the responsibility of everyone in the community to help raise and nurture our children. The students will reach out and exceed beyond expectations if we so challenge them. The family continues to be the most important influence on students, for good or for bad. Many children arrive at school each day with both stress and fears. The knowledge base increases exponentially every 10 years, yet we have not added one minute to the student day in decades.

The schools have turned to the business community for insight in building and maintaining the school plant, directing personnel, and in the general operation of the school office and administration. Programs like the Rotary Scholars have brought out the best in students. While she has worked for many superintendents in her tenure at Charleston, she has the highest of praise for Superintendent Nancy McGinley. The superintendent has built partnerships throughout the school community and the teachers of the district are eager to improve student education.

Among the "little things" that make a teacher's work easier are notes from parents, interactions with students who make progress, evidence of a sense of humor, closer insight into the minds of students when disciplinary incidents occur, and evidence of high academic success. Students at the Magnet school spend 7 periods a day in a traditional liberal arts type education which includes math, social studies, foreign language, art, music and computer engineering. The typical graduate takes with him or her from 4 to 12 advanced placement college credits. The school day goes from 8:15 AM to 3:15 PM, with no "early outs". In last year's class 6 students totally qualified for admission to Harvard and two were admitted. Others go to places like Stanford, along with a large number, who because of outstanding grades, qualify for a totally free college education in the universities and colleges run by the state of South Carolina.

The magnet school is much like a family. Students and faculty work together, have mutual respect and demonstrate pep and enthusiasm for their school. Each senior writes a thesis on a topic that directly relates to society issues of the day. The school campus includes 9 buildings and shares the area with the School of the Arts. Today over 500 students apply for 100 openings each year, thus the student body does not directly mirror the demographics of the county. Those who are accepted appreciate their education and do well in college.

Submitted by Fred Sales, Keyway Committee

January 22, 2012

Expect the Bumpy Ride to Continue

January 17, 2012: Thanks to the help of President-Elect Tom Clymer, the Historic Rotary Club of Charleston hosted a presentation by his colleague, Mark Vitner, one of the country's most respected economic analysts and commentators on the world's financial systems.

Mr. Vitner has the gift of articulating some of the world's most complex economic and financial concepts in simple and practical terms. Without burying us in econo-speak jargon, he effectively spotlighted the critical influential factors on the US economy and trade opportunities.

At the outset, he cautioned us with sobering words about the macro-economic picture of Europe and the impact further troubles on that continent could have on us. He also cited the recently released GDP (Gross Domestic Product) figures from China (up 8.9% over last year) saying that we should expect that number to be revised downward (largely due to the suspect speed with which they published those figures). At the same time, he lauded Spain for its leaders’ ability to raise money for debt service, giving it a relatively strong credit position.

Bottom line, however, is that in his view “not one concrete thing has been done to fix the European crisis.” Inevitably, there is more bad news to come by all measures.

He also educated us on how to digest seasonal news of consumer spending trends: for example, while the U.S. experienced a 3.4% increase in consumer spending in Q3-2011, that strength in spending came from savings, not from job or wage increase growth. Also, while overall income was reported to grow approximately 3.4%, inflation outpaced income at 3.7%! And job growth is coming largely from four main sectors: Home healthcare, Retail, Hospitality/Tourism and Temporary Staffing. Keep in mind, of course, that in those sectors, wages are much lower than other private sector jobs, on average just slightly over minimum wage.

Another significant area of concern is the rate of business investment, which is slower than it should be, indicating deeper concern among business leaders that the time still is not optimal to purchase goods and services that can help them advance.

Among his statistical illustrations, Mr. Vitner noted that while housing starts have been slow to flat, “the housing industry will start to show more signs of life.” But, we need to ease credit terms as still he’s seeing only 1 in 3 deals don’t close due to cash (liquidity) or credit issues. This is the combined result of restricted credit and much more conservative appraisals, offsetting otherwise “normal” valuations. “We now have a ‘new normal’” said Mr. Vitner. “We need to absorb the two million plus properties that are now on the books before we see significant signs of stable growth…”

SC – State of Extremes

Narrowing the aperture some, Mr. Vitner focused on South Carolina distilling our economic picture to the extremes of growth in Charleston, Columbia, Greenville with the strangling poverty and challenges in our rural areas between these industry and tourism centers. And while the financial snapshot of recent housing activity in Charleston, for example, is a saw tooth picture, “Charleston is doing well and is not as volatile as the national average.”

Where does this leave us?

Key factors we all need to watch as the globe struggles with an inextricably linked financial system:

1. Asia’s real estate market bubble

2. European debt crisis

3. Credit availability

4. Trade wars and currency devaluations

5. Geopolitical tensions

When asked in the Q&A period about “which stocks or companies are the best bets,” he replied with a flight to safety response: “You want to follow the areas of strength, that means big bluechips who have the depth and resources to weather difficult times and who are well positioned for growth; and look at other low risk opportunities.”

Finally, when asked if elected president what his priorities would be, Mr. Vitner said, “Regulation is a critical issue. It’s not so much the number of regulations and regulators as the zeal of the current regulatory climate that is hampering progress. When businesses are sued and fined, that hampers growth and innovation in other areas. It slows the wheels and pushes capital to the margins. And, instead of retooling the ‘Alternate Minimum Tax,’ I’d argue for an ‘Alternate Maximum Tax. Finally, we have to fix immigration reform to it is rational, facilitating those who have real promise to help the world, and preventing the glut of illegal wage earners who are stealing jobs from our own people.”

We look forward to Mr. Vitner’s return to our club next year, when we hope the economy will have stabilized somewhat albeit with a new Administration possibly at the helm.

Thank you, Mr. Vitner, for your unvarnished and easy-to-follow insights!

Submitted by Mark Danes, Keyway Committee

January 13, 2012

"Building the Lowcountry Economy: One Student at a Time"

January 10, 2012: Dr. Mary Thornley, President of Trident Technical College since 1991, addressed our club today. Dr. Thornley has received numerous awards and recognitions including the Joseph P. Riley Leadership Award from the Charleston Metro Chamber of Commerce, the Shirley B. Gordon Award of Distinction from Phi Theta Kappa, and the Southeast Region Chief Executive Officer Award from the Association of Community College Trustees.

The title of her talk was "Building the Lowcountry Economy: One Student at a Time." She began by presenting some broad facts about the current educational workforce landscape. There is a high correlation between lowcountry high school graduation rates and poverty rates. This is relevant because, for example, if a student attends Academic Magnet (99.5% graduation rate/13.2% poverty), s/he is virtually assured of graduation. If a student attends Greg Mathis Charter (1.8% graduation rate/95.3% poverty), then s/he won't. The average for South Carolina is 73% graduation rate/76.1% poverty rate. All four of our school districts are below the state average.

Fall 2010 enrollment at Trident Tech was 15,790. 15,448 of those students were in-state, which makes Trident Tech the largest college in SC in terms of in-state enrollment. Are they prepared? The data indicates that only 8% of students enrolling at Trident Tech are prepared to come with no remediation. The rest need developmental/required bridge courses in reading, English and math.

There are 150 programs of study and 12 academic divisions at Trident Tech. The two largest programs are Associate in Arts and Associate in Science. Other large programs include Aeronautical Studies, the Culinary Institute, Engineering Technology, Law-Related Studies, and Nursing. Thus, Trident Tech is a truly comprehensive college. It offers programs at four campuses in a variety of formats and instructional modes. The TTC Online College currently has 12,000 enrollees and offers 7 programs and 19 certificates.

Dr. Thornley emphasized that "“our business model is a growth model." She referred to Trident Tech's vision statement: Trident Technical College's vision is to be the leading force for educational opportunity and economic competitiveness in the communities we service.
Aside from the colleges that serve niche markets (the College of Charleston, the Citadel, Charleston Southern), the choices left to students are Trident Tech, for-profit colleges, or to not go to college at all. Nationally, for-profit colleges are more expensive than those at public and many non-profit institutions, students take on a lot of debt, and credits often don't transfer.

As reported by CHE Higher Education Study Committee, "Over 85% of the new jobs now require some level of postsecondary education. That statistic further emphasizes the need for increased education and training for adults as well as recent high school graduates."

Submitted by Loretta Wilson, Keyway Committee
Risotto, Pesto and More ...

January 3, 2012: Rotary was full of excitement on Tuesday. We kicked off the new year with a cooking demonstration by Chef Kyle Hinton of Iron Gate Catering, who prepares our delicious lunches every Tuesday.

Chef Kyle demonstrated how to prepare panko fried tilapia, risotto, topped with basil pesto, and green beans.

The risotto was slow cooked with chicken stock and sautéed white onions. (stirring frequently). After the risotto has thickened reduce heat and add parmesan cheese, sundried tomatoes, and black pepper.

Tilapia was seasoned with salt and pepper then breaded with panko bread crumbs, a cup of parmesan cheese, and Italian seasoning. Then lightly fried in olive oil until golden brown.

Basil Pesto: Blend fresh basil, pine nuts, parmesan cheese, salt and pepper in the blender until it forms a paste.

Fresh Green beans were seasoned with salt and pepper then stir fried in Olive Oil.

The risotto was topped with the tilapia, then the pesto was drizzled over the tilapia and around the plate add green beans.

We appreciate Chef Kyle sharing some of his cooking tips with us. Hopefully, some of us can try this delicious meal at home.

Submitted by Katie McCravy, Keyway Committee
Deck the Hall's Chophouse

Dec. 13, 2011: For the second year in a row, Rotarian Bill Hall hosted our annual Holiday Luncheon at Hall's Chophouse on King Street. It was a festive event that got everyone in that Holiday spirit! Rotarians and their guests enjoyed a spectacular lunch. Afterwards, members were treated to holiday music by our own John Tecklenburg and Steve Coe. A huge thanks to Bill and his staff for opening up their restaurant to our club. It was truly a special way to celebrate the season and to end 2011.