Fairfax, SC

With critical support and focused improvement priorities identified after a diagnostic review by Cognia, Allendale County Schools in Fairfax, South Carolina, went from being a low-performing district to making unparalleled progress in its improvement initiatives. Learn more about pathways to improvement with membership in the Cognia global network.


When Dr. Margaret Gilmore became superintendent in 2018, Allendale County Schools, which serves 1,100 students in Fairfax, South Carolina, had been taken over by the South Carolina Department of Education. All the district’s schools were in the bottom 5% of the state’s schools in terms of performance and required intervention. District leaders worked with Cognia to conduct a root-cause analysis of Allendale’s mission and vision, instructional programs, resources and supports, and strategic goals and objectives—and committed themselves to continuous improvement to help transform the district’s schools.


Cognia assembled a team of education specialists and conducted a diagnostic review. This included four days on campus, visiting classrooms, conducting eleot® (Cognia’s Effective Learning Environments Observation Tool®) observations, and interviewing stakeholders and students. From the data gathered, the Cognia team presented Allendale’s leaders with improvement priorities to focus their efforts. District leaders used the priorities to implement a strategic plan of action and timelines to achieve the goals set for each school. With dedication to these priorities and creation of initiatives like “The Allendale Six”—a set of processes put in place to ensure all teachers are engaging in practices like using bell-to-bell instruction, conducting formative assessment activities, and providing students with feedback in an active learning environment—Dr. Gilmore and her team started to see progress. For Allendale, progress begins inside the classroom.


Allendale experienced unparalleled progress across all schools. Today, not one of the district’s schools is on the bottom 5% list. Since implementing Cognia’s improvement priorities, Allendale’s graduation rate is 87.3%—the highest it’s been in the past 10 years—surpassing the state’s graduation rate. Plus, with plans to become an early-college high school, Fairfax High School had more students taking dual-enrollment courses, sent more graduates off to college, and received the highest scholarship amount ever in 2019–20. By partnering with Cognia, Allendale has changed the narrative coming out of its schools from being a low-performing school district to, one day, becoming one of the highest-performing school districts in South Carolina.

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