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

About This Podcast

Are you an administrator, board member, instructor, or someone else doing your part to make schools better places for every student? This K-12 education podcast series, brought to you by IdeaXChange and sponsored by McMillan Pazdan Smith Architecture, brings together experienced and insightful leaders in the education arena to exchange ideas and discuss the biggest issues facing students and schools today. Education matters. Start listening today!

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Improving Mental Health Across School Communities

The future of schools will be shaped by how they approach the well-being of not only students but teachers and support staff as well. Tune into today’s episode as Ben dives deep into the world of mental health and well-being in schools with special guest Sonny Thadani, CEO of Robin, and passionate advocate for mental health in educational settings. After volunteering with Sandy Hook Promise and driven by his personal experience as a father of three, Sonny founded Robin – a school partner that empowers students, educators, and parents to thrive. The ed-tech startup was recently featured in Forbes. Discover Robin’s innovative, interactive approach to transforming school communities with a real-world coaching program that combines cutting-edge technology to propel how well-being and personal growth are taught in schools. Robin’s mission is to build more connected, supportive, and compassionate school communities, and listeners will hear about some of the early results and successes they have already achieved. We hope this conversation uplifts and inspires you! To learn more about Robin visit: https://www.my-robin.com

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What’s Your Plan & Why? Creating Data-Driven Facility Plans That Work!

Minta Ferguson is the Director of Planning for McMillan Pazdan Smith Advisors, a division that creates customized, data-driven facility plans that guide construction and renovation projects.

How does a team create the best educational environments using data? Join us for this discussion on how data-driven planning can be a valuable resource for determining financial feasibility, optimizing a building’s use, efficiency, and more.


  • Have a specific question for Minta’s Advisors? Contact Us and we’ll connect you with the team.
  • The Future of K-12 Education contact form: Contact Us Here!
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Transforming District Leadership and the Ed Tech Landscape

Education has not always been thought of as an innovative space, but change is on the horizon, sparked by the disruptions of the last few years. Students are required to have a different skill set than previous generations, with technology and collaboration at the forefront of those demands. The education system has faced immense challenges recently, but with those challenges comes a great opportunity to innovate and make an even greater impact on students today.

Our guest, Doug Roberts, has worked with leading ed-tech entrepreneurs and district administrators for almost 20 years, developing partnerships that improve outcomes for students.

As Founder and CEO of the Institute for Education Innovation, Doug and his partners help bridge the gap between those who run school districts and those who start companies to help school districts. A Princeton graduate, he is a former public high school social studies teacher and ed-tech business development executive who earned his Ed.M. in Teaching and Curriculum from the Harvard University Graduate School of Education. Doug has his finger on the pulse of schools across the nation and we enjoyed hearing his perspective, join us for this wide-ranging, open and honest conversation.


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The Continuum: Education Redefined, Part 3

In this final part of our three-part series on how the Continuum in Lake City, South Carolina is redefining education, we are joined by Harry Lesesne, Executive Director of the Darla Moore Foundation, and around 24:00 by Jeanette Altman, Executive Director of the Continuum.

Listeners will learn more about the mission and vision of the Darla Moore Foundation–both with the Continuum and across the region. The reasoning behind the “Continuum” name is also defined, with both guests explaining what business partnerships and philanthropy were necessary to pull off this impressive and innovative facility.

If you haven’t heard parts 1 and 2 of the Continuum series, please check those out.


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The Continuum: Education Redefined, Part 2

This is Part 2 of our 3-Part mini-series that’s an in-depth exploration of the Continuum, a regional training and education center in Lake City, South Carolina. In this episode, host Ben Thompson interviews two Higher Ed leaders to discuss the college and university partnerships that make The Continuum so unique. In the first interview, Ben sits down with Ed Bethea, former interim President of Florence-Darlington Technical College and current Special Assistant to the President. Mr. Bethea has served FDTC since 1989 and was on the planning committee for the Continuum. Ben also interviews Dr. Fred Carter, President of Francis Marion University. Dr. Carter has presided over a period of exceptional growth for FMU–both in programs and facilities, including helping to bring the Continuum’s significant educational opportunities to Lake City.

This episode reveals how the dual credit, early college experience, and workforce development model offered by the Continuum could be an educational advancement model to other underserved regions.

The Continuum provides college and career paths to students while being a local driver of social and economic success. The Continuum is a collaboration between The Darla Moore Foundation, Florence Darlington Technical College, and Francis Marion University. Thanks for listening!


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The Continuum: Education Redefined, Part 1

This is Part 1 of a 3-part mini-series on creating innovative educational environments. This series is an in-depth exploration of the Continuum, a regional training and education center in Lake City, South Carolina that provides college and career paths to students while being a local driver of social and economic success. The Continuum is a collaboration between The Darla Moore Foundation, Florence Darlington Technical College, and Francis Marion University.

In this first part, host Michelle Smyth talks with two Superintendents who have partnered with the Continuum. Dr. Laura Hickson, Superintendent of Florence County School District 3, and Dr. Neal Vincent, Superintendent of Florence County School District 2. Dr. Vincent was also part of the Continuum’s original planning effort. “Having the partnerships that we do have here at the Continuum allows us to offer more,” said Vincent.

The Continuum model is truly revolutionary and shows what can be accomplished when shared partnerships and a strong commitment to impacting students is acted upon. Dr. Hickson explained it wonderfully when she said, “We hear students say ‘This has changed my life.’ It’s worth it to get up every day and continue to change lives.”

We hope you get inspired by the way The Continuum is redefining what education looks like. Thanks for listening!


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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!


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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.


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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!)


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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.


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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.


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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.


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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.”


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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.


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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.


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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.


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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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