Kimberly Sutton Mason
Principal, Rosenwald Elementary and Middle School
“When I found Teach For America South Carolina (TFASC), it was like I found a family. I love this organization,” said Kimberly Sutton Mason, principal of Rosenwald Elementary and Middle School (REMS).
She has championed Teach For America since it came to South Carolina. Mason has hosted numerous TFASC teachers through the years at REMS in Society Hill, South Carolina.
“These young people joined shoulder-to-shoulder with REMS and this community,” she said. “They fulfilled a real need for having bright, energetic, and competent people on board to push forward our vision of equity and fairness.”
The talents of TFASC educators, as well as the role modeling they offer to the 130 students at REMS, are timely in Society Hill, a classic southern mill town now abandoned by the mills. When the first TFASC teacher was placed at REMS in 2011, Society Hill had about 800 citizens. Today, the number stands at 650.
“We’re fighting back,” said Mason. “We used to be the poorest school in the district, but a lot of local people, especially moms, have gone back to work, and we’re trying to make things better.”
She sees her school as a platform for community recovery.
“Our community is very close-knit, and we plan all the events at the school with the students’ families in mind,” said Mason. “When children learn, our families learn. We’re dedicated to raising the consciousness of entire families about the critical value of a good education.”
As the oldest settlement in Darlington County – and one of the oldest communities in South Carolina –Society Hill once held claim as the intellectual capital of the part of the state along the Pee Dee River. From that heritage, REMS rose in the early 20th century as one of thousands of state-of-the-art schools developed for the education of African American children in the South through a partnership between Julius Rosenwald of Sears, Roebuck, and Company and Booker T. Washington of the Tuskegee Institute.
Mason keeps this legacy in mind as she upholds her academic standards at REMS.
“Some people get a surprise here,” she admitted. “Here is this teeny-tiny rural South Carolina school with a gung-ho principal who expects it to be run like Harvard or Yale.”
Mason is proving that high standards and a passionate team make a difference in young lives. REMS has earned three “Palmetto Gold and Silver Awards” for academic achievement, and 64 percent of the school’s students have shown progress in English and math compared to their peers across the state.
A REMS education goes deep but also broad. By the time students leave the eighth grade, they have visited at least five colleges and universities along with out-of-state universities and museums.
Mason has taught and counseled students at every K-12 level and has earned master’s degrees in learning disabilities and educational administration. She is currently pursuing her doctorate in educational leadership.
Mason considers TFASC teachers to be an ideal fit for her kind of education program.
“What our TFASC teachers have done for our students and our community has been phenomenal,” she said. “They come here with passion, adaptability, energy, competence, shared vision, inquisitiveness, and an attitude you can sum up as How can I do more? They’ve been blue-chip teachers.”
The feeling must be mutual. More than 80 percent of the TFASC teachers who were placed at REMS have stayed in education.
“These young leaders infused a momentum in our school culture that was unstoppable and undeniable for the good of our students, school, and community,” said Mason. “Now, they’ve taken that into the world with them – to other students, schools, and communities.”
The TFASC family she found – and that found her – just keeps on growing.