Thursday, November 20, 2014

P & C Continues Campaign to Cow Charleston County School Board

Just in case you mistakenly believe that the local paper routinely prints a representative sample of opinion from its readers, please be warned.

Thursday's editorial page does not represent a sample of what Charleston County taxpayers believe. The two letters concerning the Charleston County School District, one telling us how great Nancy McGinley was as superintendent and another supporting Bill Lewis's authoritarian solution to those democratically-elected board members he perceives deficient in understanding, are merely the latest salvos from the Chamber of Commerce.

Hey, editors, what qualifies the Chamber of Commerce to control Charleston County's schools?

Wednesday, November 19, 2014

Analysis of CCSD's Rating Shows How Statistics Can Lie

I haven't always agreed with Jon Butzon, but his analysis of the statistics being touted by the Charleston County School District should be read by all.

Job One: Find the right superintendent
BY JON BUTZON
Nov 19 2014 12:01
An old Navy friend of mine is fond of saying, "Experience is the best teacher. Considering what it costs, it ought to be." Now that there is a big "Help Wanted" sign out at 75 Calhoun Street, I thought it might be useful for the new school board to consider how our most recent experience could inform the search for the next superintendent.

Some great slogans have come out of CCSD. My personal favorites are "All Means All," "The Victory is in the Classroom," and the lesser known "A Tale of Two Districts."

Let's start with "All Means All." Even just a cursory review of student achievement data suggests it's really more like "All Means Some." Here are a few examples.


On the 2014 ACT (unlike school ratings, this is an actual measure of students' college readiness) the five lowest performing high schools in all of South Carolina are in Charleston County. The bottom five in our state!

They are Lincoln (the state's lowest at 12.7), Burke (13.1), North Charleston (13.4), St. Johns (14.0) and Garrett (14.1). The vast majority of students in these schools are economically disadvantaged and minority.

Let's be clear - these embarrassingly low ACT scores aren't the students' fault. They are the result of a systemic achievement gap that still defines CCSD, despite a ton of spending, new ideas and interventions. The ACT folks determine a 21 and above to be "college ready." Last year, the 1,099 white seniors who took the ACT earned an impressive 22.8, compared to the 692 black students whose average score was only 14.9, and the 127 Hispanic students who scored 18.7. Seniors at CCSD's suburban and competitive magnet schools far exceeded national averages. These are the same exact trends we were seeing 10 years ago.

So, we need a superintendent who can accomplish more than great slogans. We need a superintendent who can not only close, but can eliminate the achievement gap.

Let's look at another popular saying: "The Victory is in the Classroom." Unfortunately, over the last six years, this victory has been defined by race and income. The black/white achievement gap on the PASS tests has widened over the last six years in English language arts in grades 3, 5, 6, 7 and 8, and in math in grades 4, 5, 6 and 7. The gap for low-income children as measured by comparing free lunch children with full-pay children has also widened in both English language arts and math in grades 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, and 8. The widening gap means the district has lost ground for these, our most vulnerable children.

If the victory is in the classroom, we need a superintendent who can do more than just claim victory. We need a superintendent who will reject the status quo and truly win on behalf of every child.

Which leads us to "A Tale of Two Districts." White middle class and affluent students in Charleston County outperform their white peers across the state. The opposite is true for their black peers. On many measures, black students do better in other S.C. districts. Remember those ACT scores. "The Tale of Two Districts" - the same sad tale told 10 years ago, five years ago, and still today - means that in Charleston County we manage to teach white children better than white children in the rest of S.C., but for some reason we continue to teach black children worse. That sounds closer to the state of education we'd expect to see in 1860 than in 2014.

Over the last 10 years, Charleston County has changed significantly. People are flocking here from all around the country. While the white and comparatively affluent population in CCSD has grown, the black population has shrunk. Improvements hailed by CCSD - for example, the percentage of students attending "excellent" schools - reflect demographic trends and enrollment shifts as much as any improvement to the quality of education. Now there may be fewer buildings labeled "at risk" - easily accomplished by simply turning out the lights and locking the door - but just look at actual measures of learning, and the quality of education has not improved for our children.

Taking all of this into account, we need a superintendent who can do more than add chapters to Charleston's historical inequities and "A Tale of Two Districts." We need someone who can provide real solutions, make excellence a reality for every child, and close this shameful book altogether.

I may be in the minority, but my hat is off to the school board for making a difficult change. The story may be unpopular, but the truth is, progress hasn't been made. We may have new shiny buildings and catchy slogans, but we're failing the same students we have always failed.

To the school board: Take a hard look at the data yourself.

Make this not about watermelons, but about the enduring tragedy of youngsters like Ridge Smith and the thousands of Ridge Smiths remaining in our system. [Editor's note: Ridge Smith, featured in a 2009 Post and Courier series on low literacy rates in the district, was shot to death in North Charleston on Oct. 31.]

Make it about the continued erasing of whole generations of children from the economic map, and the irreducible fact that after ten years of bold promises and new visions, race and income still define the quality of education in CCSD.

I trust you'll see that CCSD needs a leader who will bring a new set of skills and a true sense of urgency and humility to this work. At the end of the day, the buck stops with you, and this is the most important task you will undertake.

Get it right!

Jon Butzon is the former executive director of the Charleston Education Network.

Tuesday, November 18, 2014

Bill Lewis Reveals He's the Jonathan Gruber of CCSD

Those stupid Charleston County voters! We shouldn't allow them to elect school board members! That is the basic underpinning of retired CCSD operating officer Bill Lewis's proposal in Sunday's op-ed.

Of all horrors, democratically-elected board members don't always toe the line thrown out by the Chamber of Commerce. They're too stupid. Imagine having "community activists" or "disgruntled former teachers" on the board! It's a nightmare! Only such "highly-qualified" candidates as Chris Fraser, Brian Moody, and Gregg Meyers will fulfill that mission.

Lewis apparently believes that the school district should be run as a private-sector organization. Those private-sector boards he praises for not micromanaging their CEOs really did a good job preventing the excesses that caused the last recession, right?

We wonder why Lewis could not name any of the cities where mayors have made the difference in improving schools, since he seems to believe that mayoral control is the solution to CCSD's problems. His solution would give Charleston three seats, Mt. Pleasant three seats, and North Charleston five seats, since Mayor Summey will control the County Council's choices through Teddie Pryor, a North Charleston employee, and his son Elliott.

Politicians selecting school board members instead of voters? Gee, that sounds great.

There are two major ways in which the school board elections can be improved, neither of which is on Lewis's radar screen, or, should I say, the radar screen of the Chamber of Commerce member who vetted Lewis's op-ed.

It's an open secret that these supposedly non-partisan seats are as partisan as they can be, just flying under the radar. Our local paper chooses to ignore that slates are regularly supported by the county's Democrat and Republican organizations. These seats are non-partisan for the same reason that the mayoralty of Charleston is nonpartisan: so that white Democrats can fool Republicans into voting for them. Mayor Riley not a Democrat? Please.

If races were designated partisan, political parties would vet the candidates and voters would have a better idea for whom to vote in the primary. Voters would rapidly discover that the school board generally has been the hiding place for Democrats to be elected to office in the county. Check for yourself: how many of the present school board members are registered Democrats?

Some will try to make the case that Democrats and Republicans share the same ideas about education. Really? When was that last the case? Probably in the 1950s.

The second aspect that would strongly improve the election is single-member districts. These single members would be voted upon by their own district, not by the county at large. That would make members responsible to their districts. Who can forget Toya Green's (yes, vetted as "highly-qualfied" by Bill Lewis) response to her District 20 constituency: "I don't represent you!"

It's time to stop pretending that the population of the county is so small that voters in Mt. Pleasant know who is the best person to represent North Charleston. The system as it is allows the Chamber of Commerce and its lackeys to control outcomes in many areas. What just happened in North Charleston, where Mt. Pleasant supporters (and the Chamber) put Cindy Bohn Coats over the top North Charleston vote-getter Shante Ellis, is a case in point.

Part of the solution is better communication within the county about what the candidates stand for. Evidently, we can't depend upon our local newspaper or television outlets for full information. Perhaps its lack of interest (or collusion) in local races is part of the reason that the Post and Courier has become a dinosaur.

Monday, November 17, 2014

Time for Change in CCSD School Board Elections: True Representatives

The organization of Charleston County's school board elections sets up what amounts to fraud. Individuals must reside in and declare for seats in different parts of the county (West Ashley, Downtown, etc.). They should owe their election to those they purport to represent.

As it is now, while a board member supposedly represents a particular area, that area did not necessarily want him or her!

Case in point:

Three individuals ran for the seat currently held by Cindy Bohn Coats, who lives in Park Circle in North Charleston. She was declared the winner with the majority of the votes district-wide for that seat. That means that Mt. Pleasant, West Ashley, and Downtown contributed to her total.

Are their interests the same as those in North Charleston? Not hardly. Take a good look at how North Charleston's schools (and I'm not talking about district-wide magnets built in North Charleston) have fared under this system. Mayor Summey should be ashamed of himself for supporting what has transpired under McGinley's tenure. North Charleston's revenues provide megabucks to the district--and it gets what in return? But then, magically, his grandson attends Buist Academy. Hmm.

Anyone besides yours truly remember to idiotic attempt to combine Stall and North Charleston high schools? That was so that McGinley could claim one less failing school.

Who won in the North Charleston districts in this election?

Shante Ellis had 2547 votes to Cindy Bohn Coats's 2290!

Where is the justice?

The district is so out of date that it refers to North Charleston as the "North Area," as though the city doesn't exist.

Time for change.

Saturday, November 15, 2014

Editors' Campaign to Rehire CCSD's McGinley Falters on Moffly's Facts

Saturday's op-ed by outgoing Charleston County School Board member Elizabeth Moffly sums up the former superintendent's disdain for what communities want:

Building program at heart of district-board dispute
BY ELIZABETH MOFFLY
Nov 15 2014 12:01 am
I want to share with my community lessons learned as your representative over the past four years serving as a Charleston County School Board trustee. This position allowed me a greater perspective to understand how decisions were made.

The elected school board employs the superintendent. The superintendent is accountable to the board and responsible for day-to-day decisions and upholding policy.

One would think that the board's and the district's primary focus would be student achievement, instructional quality and graduation rates. With the passage of the one-cent sales tax referendum in 2010, however, we functioned more like a "Board of Construction" rather than a "Board of Education," overseeing a $500 million building program.

This action is where the problems began. Whole communities were divided and thousands of students displaced.

The first divide started when the district told the Sullivan's Island community, with only 268 students in its attendance zone, that it had to accept a 500-student school or nothing.

All the while the district was building smaller schools on the peninsula. James Simons Elementary had 110 students, but the district built a 400-student school. Memminger Elementary had only 70 students from its attendance zone, but its new building was designed for 400 as well.

The island remains divided on the issue.

While Sullivan's Island was getting more than it needed, we knew North Mount Pleasant was bursting at the seams with over 2,200 students in its K-5 elementary schools. I thought the $27 million should be spent to address a more pressing issue of overcrowding. Sullivan's Island Elementary enrollment was secured in the old Whitesides campus, with plenty of room for enrollment expansion. A front-beach school, elevated 10 feet on stilts and the size of the Yorktown, just didn't seem like a smart decision when real overcrowding in north Mount Pleasant was being ignored.

Then there was the second East Cooper high school debacle. Wando had grown past capacity with over 3,600 students in a building designed for only 3,100 students. The town and the citizens had expected another stand-alone high school since 2005. The district hired a consultant and held a community engagement where three district options were presented and voted on by the community.

Option A, a middle college aka center for advanced studies (a longtime vision of the superintendent), received 25 percent. Option B, a ninth grade academy, received 24 percent. Option C, a second East Cooper high school, received 49 percent, the highest score.

The district decided this community would get the center for advanced studies, overriding the community's will. Wando is now the largest (and only) high school in the state's fourth largest city.

The most recent fiasco, Lowcountry Tech (LCT), has created more community division. The district hired a consultant in 2007 to a hold a community engagement at Burke High School. Approximately 300 citizens from downtown participated.

There were five options. The overall majority voted for the new Charleston Charter School for Math and Science (CCSMS) to occupy the entire Rivers facility.

Incidentally, in 2010 with the first sales tax referendum, voters countywide approved LCT (now called Lowcountry Tech Academy) to be constructed on the Burke High School campus. The superintendent then wrote a column for The Post and Courier in 2012 telling the public the community voted for her vision in 2007, with LTA and CCSMS sharing the Rivers campus.

The board has since directed the district to allow Charleston Math and Science to have complete occupancy of the Rivers campus so 260 children can move out of existing trailers. Lowcountry Tech would be expanded and moved to Burke where there is plenty of room. That campus was built for 1,700 students, yet it now has fewer than 400.

The district has continued to push back on this decision leaving perpetual discontent in the community. District 20's board is in complete support of the county board's decision. The administration needs to complete the directive and not subvert it.

The public recently questioned the board's integrity for holding an 11th-hour special called board vote last August to add Lincoln to the 2014 referendum. That was necessary to honor the board's original commitment to this rural community.

The board voted 5-2 on Feb. 24, 2014, to identify funding for a new Lincoln facility. The district failed to include this school on the referendum despite the board's directive.

The board was exposed to public humiliation for seemingly having acted rashly on Lincoln's behalf. Other communities were told that if the board included this project, the referendum would fail and their special projects would be lost. That was completely unfounded and disregarded the county board's explicit promise to this community.

At the superintendent's request, the district simply closed several failing schools. This policy allowed her to claim to have reduced the number of low-performing schools.

Students have been shuffled, but the achievement gap for low-performing students has grown. By closing or renaming failing schools, the district fostered an illusion that failing schools were fixed.

In reality, that posture only reset the scorecard with a clean, new start, a free pass for three years. These schools and children have not made appropriate progress.

These are just a few of the issues that the Charleston County School Board dealt with over the last four years.

I know there have been lingering questions, but I hope I have answered a few of them here.

Elizabeth Moffly is a former member of the Charleston County School Board.

Thursday, November 06, 2014

Sensitivity Training Overdue in Charleston County School District

Former board member Larry Kobrovsky certainly nailed the problem in the Charleston County School District with his letter to the editor published in Thursday's edition. 

Brian Hicks is a gifted writer and often provides valuable commentary on issues of interest. He also has an obsession with Elizabeth Kandrac. 
Mr. Hicks is entitled to his opinion on Ms. Kandrac, but it's quite a stretch to blame Kandrac for the recent turn of events surrounding the fate of Dr. Nancy McGinley.
Ms. Kandrac has not been on the board for over two years and did not participate in any way, shape or form in the public debate over the treatment of the coach or football team.
Now that Mr. Hicks has brought Kandrac's name into this, I would like to suggest a much more compelling connection.
A federal jury found and a federal judge upheld the verdict that a public school in Charleston County was a racially hostile place to work.
The testimony in federal court was that Ms. Kandrac was subjected to vile and vulgar racial slurs and obscenities on a daily basis. Two 14-year-old students also testified that they went to school every day terrified solely on the basis of their race.
The defense of the district was that the offensive behavior was the culture of the students and that there was nothing they could do about it.
To this day the district has not spent one minute talking to or apologizing to the students who had to attend school while suffering racial slurs on a daily basis.
Nor has a single adult employee of the district been forced to undergo a minute of "sensitivity training" for allowing this to happen. 
Rather than blame Elizabeth Kandrac for the school board's recent action regarding Dr. McGinley, maybe Mr. Hicks could reflect on how the administration failed to show any compassion or concern for the two young men who testified that they went to school every day bullied and harassed solely because of the color of their skin. 
Larry Kobrovsky
Meeting Street
Charleston

Tuesday, November 04, 2014

Should Charleston County Ban Watermelon from Its Schools?

Surprise, surprise! The members of the Academic Magnet football team, as I pointed out previously, had no idea that their boisterous celebrations could be considered racist. That was the official finding of the school district. Could it be that these teenagers had been growing up in a non-racist atmosphere where no one pointed out stereotypes to them?

Gee, thank goodness the Charleston County School District exists to enforce learning of racist stereotypes. None of these players will ever look at a watermelon again without thinking of racist stereotypes.

Is that progress or regression?