A podcast on ideas shaping the future of K-12 education.

About This Podcast

Are you a school policymaker, teacher, or parent who cares about making schools better places for every student? In this education podcast series, host Ben Thompson, AIA, A4LE, the K-12 Studio Director at McMillan Pazdan Smith Architecture, talks to experienced and insightful leaders in the education arena. Join us for this weekly exchange of ideas for solving some of the biggest issues facing students and schools today. Education matters, and it is something that we all share in common. Subscribe now!

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K12 Podcast Guest: James R. Couch

Creating Opportunity and Ownership in Education

The Anderson Institute of Technology is a high school career and technical education program specifically designed to develop and promote student ownership. It does this in two ways: first, providing relevant programs that are both college and career ready, and secondly, allowing students to take responsibility for their own development; to own their results. It’s through that ownership that graduates from this institution learn skills, confidence, and leadership; and make meaningful impacts as adults.

In this episode, Ben is joined by Dr. Bob Couch, Director of the Anderson Institute of Technology. Dr. Couch has worked in both private business and public education during his career and was an integral member of the team to develop this innovative approach to education. Thanks for listening!


K12 Podcast Guest: Mayor Joe Riley, Jr.

Becoming a City of Education and Inspiration

This is very special: For our 10th episode, we are honored to be joined by one of the most effective, longest serving U.S. Mayors in modern history. Michelle meets with Mayor Joe Riley, who served an incredible ten terms as Mayor of Charleston, South Carolina. In their wide-ranging and inspiring discussion, Mayor Riley opens up about how education functions within the larger community context, what he believes makes great communities, how to achieve excellence in design and city planning, and what has always inspired him as a leader. You don’t want to miss this candid conversation. Towards the end, Mayor Riley even shares what he’s been working on since leaving office — giving an update on a waterfront project with national implications.


K12 Podcast Guest: Anna Dassing

Becoming Beckham: Creating a 21st Century High School

Opening up a brand new school building, with new staff, and new students during a pandemic is no easy feat. In this episode, Michelle went back to the school her team designed to speak with Anna Dassing, Principal of newly-opened Lucy G. Beckham High School in Mt. Pleasant, South Carolina. Helpful insights are shared about the planning process, stakeholder involvement, community buy-in, and lots more. Join us for this interesting and timely episode as Beckham sets to open for year two.  (This episode was recorded on-site at Lucy Beckham High!)


K12 Podcast Guest: Reverend Bill Stanfield

Nonprofit Partners in Education

We all know that schools can’t do it all when it comes to providing family-centered opportunities. Identifying the right nonprofits to complement educational programming is another way that educators and community leaders can partner together to address student’s needs and ultimately build stronger communities around the school.

In this episode, Michelle speaks with Rev. Bill Stanfield, a Greensboro, NC native who holds a Bachelors Degree in History from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. Stanfield and his wife met at Princeton Theological Seminary from which they both obtained Masters of Divinity Degrees. Stanfield was a speaker at TEDx Charleston in 2013 and is also a graduate of the SC Governor’s School for Economic Development,  The SC Department of Commerce Economic Developer’s School and the SC Community Development Institute of Clemson University, among others. Stanfield is a co-founder of the Metanoia Community Development Corporation of North Charleston where he currently serves as the Chief Executive Officer.

Metanoia, founded in 2002, is a non-profit organization which works to support the local community through educational and youth leadership programs. Their work in the Lowcountry of South Carolina serves as a model for how nonprofit organizations can complement what students get outside of their traditional K-12 education.


K12 Podcast Guest: Dr. Rechel Anderson

Early Education + Community Building

Jasper County’s mission brief is “Student-centered…Future-Focused.” Many schools have similar mission statements, but how does that mission shape planning when you’re running a smaller school district? Programs in early childhood education can help foster community support while proper Capital Improvement planning can turn visions into reality. In this episode, Michelle Smyth talks with Dr. Rechel Anderson, Superintendent of Jasper County Schools in South Carolina, to dive into how early education programs can support community needs and how their integration can be supported by the community. When it works, it’s a mutually beneficial system that can achieve both a school’s mission and a community’s needs. Join us for this illuminating conversation.


K12 Podcast Guest: Dr. Russell Booker

Equity in Education

In this episode, we welcome back Dr. Russell Booker, our episode one guest, for a fresh discussion about equity.

What do you think of when you hear the words equity, equality of outcome, diversity, access, and mobility? We hear these words used in politics, social settings, and in the workplace, but what does ‘equity’ mean in an educational context? What are the current roadblocks to equity in education? What are some of the misconceptions about how it’s achieved? Is it possible for every student to receive the resources needed to ensure successful educational outcomes?

These are just a few of the topics we break down and address. We hope you find this conversation enlightening and helpful.


K-12 Podcast Episode 5 Guest pictured: Joe Pye

Managing Constant Change

How does a school Superintendent stay prepared and resilient in an environment of almost constant change? In this episode, Ben talks to Superintendent Joe Pye, a visionary leader with 48 years of public education service (22 as Superintendent of Dorchester School District 2).

The schools in Pye’s district have a reputation for innovation and successful student career outcomes. How does he plan what to budget for? What is his communication style in the face of constant change? What attributes have led to his district’s stability and success? “We’re at a crossroads, we can make it, or we can break it. I want fresh ideas,” Pye says, “We want a fresh approach. Everything has changed.”


K-12 Podcast Episode 4 Guest pictured: Mellanie Jinnette

Making Sense of School Funding

What’s your reaction when talking about funding for K-12 public education? Every year Americans provide around 700 billion dollars in tax revenue to fund 56 million students in 84,000 public K-12 schools across this nation. Schools have multiple revenue sources from federal and state sources. Are we utilizing those dollars to their highest potential in education? In this episode, Ben talks with Mellanie Jinnette, CFO of the school district in Chester County. Mrs. Jinnette also served in the SC Department of Education for more than 24 years. We seek to understand how schools are funded and the policy decisions that affect students and their families. Listen as she helps us all make sense of complicated school funding formulas and talks about her hopes for the future of revenue allocation in schools.


K12 Podcast Guest: Jennifer Parker

Mental Well-Being and Student Success

“Schools have the largest opportunity to help children be successful,” says guest Jennifer Parker, Ph.D, LPC. K-12 students are experiencing higher levels of anxiety, depression, and trauma than ever before. The need for school mental health resources is more urgent than ever and not just from counselors, it takes a whole-school approach to effectively address student mental health. As the Director of Child, Youth and Family Initiatives for the Spartanburg Academic Movement (SAM), Parker talks from first-hand experience about the types of mental health risks students today are dealing with and how schools can create learning environments where social and emotional skills are at the center of academic achievement.

WARNING: This episode contains a description of sexual violence / assault involving a minor. Please be advised.


K12 Podcast Guest: Joanne Avery

School Safety and Security Beyond the Pandemic

There is a clear relationship between a positive school culture and a potentially higher level of school safety. A well-designed school makes the environment safe without making it look like a fortification. In this episode, Dr. Joanne Avery brings her wealth of experience as a former Superintendent to the issue of school safety. Dr. Avery led her district through the aftermath of a fatal school shooting and discusses what she learned about space design, physical protection, and communication best-practices for maintaining a safer school.

WARNING: This episode contains talk of a school shooting that may be disturbing or upsetting to some listeners.


K12 Podcast Guest: Dr. Russell Booker

Returning to Learn Post-COVID

The COVID-19 pandemic has not only created a health crisis but an education crisis as well. For schools to be fully prepared to “return to learn” strategic plans must be in place. Ben Thompson welcomes Dr. Russell Booker, former Superintendent for Spartanburg School District Seven, to share his insights and tips to help educators form a successful academic plan for the upcoming school year and beyond.


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