Friday, December 28, 2007

Blog Commenters' Top 20 Quotes of the Year

  1. Politicians are stupid, generally speaking, but they make for good conversations.
  2. Investigative reporting is obviously not the P&C’s strong suit.
  3. [In the Buist lottery] An antiquated bingo ball machine would at least allay fears of malfeasance or manipulation.
  4. Give Sallie [Ballard] a break. She recruited and did test prep at 4K programs on James Island and not downtown for a number of good reasons. For one she didn't want to steal from the downtown elementary schools that need numbers for Maria Goodloe-Johnson's points system.
  5. In my day these downtown people would have minded their own business and appreciated public servants like Gregg Meyers.
  6. It might be appropriate to ask how many [. . . ] real estate deals have determined the direction of our downtown schools?
  7. Oh, this has to be a bad movie. Hollywood couldn't write this stuff if they tried.
  8. What's the real mission of CCSD under its present leadership? Is it to operate successful public schools for all, or is it to manipulate the half billion dollars a year in public education dollars to benefit other interests, including graft from within?
  9. Will someone from the Broad Institute, which trained and recommended G-J for this position, please either take credit for this style of leadership or disavow it altogether.
  11. No one [in circles of power in 1963] considered that in its death throes, Dist. 20 might actually fight back. Certainly no one ever thought that white and black residents of the peninsula might actually form alliances in a common effort to reestablish quality schools open to all within the inner city.
  12. Before McGinley tries to cast herself as doing missionary work in the Deep and Un-Reconstructed South or confronting the ills of abject poverty among minorities relegated to vast urban ghettos, she should first calibrate her aim relative to real conditions . . . .
  13. For those of you who aren't familiar with CCSD, some refer to our rural districts as the last ditch before you're dumped.
  14. That very bright child at Memminger is too valuable to hand over to Buist. If a school such as Memminger loses 2 or 3 of those high PACT scorers it could mean their school report card drops to failing.
  15. When was the last time county school board members and senior school district administrators allowed individual members of the public to ask them direct questions?
  16. If Dr. McGinley isn't committed to changing what Dr. Goodloe wouldn't, then she should be gone in a year. This is her one and only chance to demonstrate professional integrity by reaching out to restore trust.
  17. I thought the P&C was doing a "feel good" article on the local NAACP organization to be featured in the "Faith and Values" portion of an upcoming Sunday edition. I guess when someone checked the data on the local NAACP chapter led by Dot Scott and her comrade in arms, Joe Darby, they realized the article might have to be placed on the obit pages instead.
  18. 75 Calhoun is a cheap, poorly designed and expensive to operate building. It's falling apart. Look closely at the public garage, too. It's cracking. It's all part of a sweetheart deal involving the city, CCSD and the chosen contractors that were paid off with the padded overpriced contracts. We're paying now for a building that is less than 20 years old but is still falling apart.
  19. Nothing will change unless they are forced to change through the court system.
  20. There should be very little tolerance for failure when people start mucking with the education of children. We’ve allowed CCSD and its questionable experts to do this for nearly 40 years without holding anyone accountable.

Thursday, December 27, 2007

Why the Difference, CCSD?

In mid-December, CCSD proudly announced that 32 more teachers had achieved National Board Certification. Great, isn't it? Dorchester District 2 also announced that 20 of its teachers had reached that status. Great for those teachers and their students and the districts that employ them.


DD2 announced the 20 names with the names of the schools where they teach.

Don't you wonder why
CCSD simply announced 32 names without saying where they teach? Wouldn't you like to know if any of the district's failing schools gained NBCTs? In fact, wouldn't it be interesting to see where all of the NBCTs in CCSD teach? I do happen to know that one on the new list teaches at Stall.

Is this simply another case of "them that has, gets"?

Space for YouthBuild? That's Easy

So reports the P & C:
  • Still no facility for Sea Islands YouthBuild Charter School on Johns Island.
  • McGinley supports continued attempts to find space.
  • The Superintendent is totally sympathetic to the needs of these "children."
  • Instead of beginning the new semester on a school campus, the students will undergo leadership training at a Boy Scout camp on Wadmalaw Island. . . .
  • Yada, Yada, Yada

If McGinley is so sympathetic to the school, why not give it space in St. John's High School? Let's have a school within a school. It's been done elsewhere, and I understand there's plenty of room. She is quoted as saying,

"We don't want to see children out on the streets or in jeopardy. We will try to support them, on behalf of children, with getting a stable facility. I don't know what that means yet. I don't want to see the students shipped around or scattered and not having some place safe."

Especially since the 17-year-olds (a good portion of the student body) are now barred from Murray Hill Academy under this year's contract.

She owes them.

Thursday, December 20, 2007

Idiocy of the Day: Riley to Head League's Youth Council

According to Thursday's P & C,

"The National League of Cities has announced that Charleston Mayor Joe Riley has been appointed to chair the league's 2008 Council on Youth, Education, and Families.

"The council works to assist municipal leaders in identifying and developing effective programs for strengthening families and improving outcomes for the children and youth.

Riley should really be helpful regarding programs to strengthen education. Look what's happened to the penninsula schools during his tenure.

Wednesday, December 19, 2007

CCSD's Musical Chairs with Principals

Here we go again. More mid-year shuffling of principals, ostensibly in reaction to failing to meet AYP. This time it's the principal at Mitchell Elementary, Anne Dicenzo, wife of the principal of Orange Grove Charter. Just a coincidence, no doubt. Maybe it's just the first salvo in Superintendent McGinley's latest threatened reshuffling to address failing schools.

Dare we ask if this is the best course for a failing school? To remove its principal in midyear? Midyear removal suggests that somehow Mrs. Dicenzo must be expunged post-haste to avoid further damaging her students. Somehow, I doubt that is the case here.

Look what happened at Fraser last year at this time--the principal was removed and sent to McClellanville. Obviously, Ms. Whaley wasn't a threat to the well-being of Fraser; if she had been, she wouldn't have received another post. Furthermore, does anyone think that Fraser was improved by having its principal removed midyear?

Then there's the strange case of Blondel Gadsden, removed from her job as Dean at Burke and sent to Brentwood with the order not to even set foot in her office to clean off her desk! What did CCSD think--that she would steal the carpeting? Heaven forbid that she should touch the files on her desk.

What do other principals think about this shabby treatment? It's hard to believe it helps morale.

Tuesday, December 18, 2007

Lame-Duck Bleecker: I Know It When I See It

The famous quote, "I know it when I see it," from Supreme Court Justice Potter Stewart applied to pornography. Nevertheless, Anne Frances Bleecker, lame-duck member of the Charleston City Council has now proposed an ordinance that would allow Mayor Riley to set up a committee to peruse all campaign shenanigans in the Lowcountry deemed by Bleecker "not what we do in Charleston" for slander.

As quoted in the P & C:

Former mayoral candidate Mark Knapp: "about as totalitarian as you can get"

Present Council member Larry Shirley: "the thing would be jury-rigged from the very beginning" and "this is not kindergarten"

Surely they still remember Free Speech at at USC Law School these days! Just maybe not on the City Council.

Monday, December 17, 2007

Deja Vu in Seattle: Supt. G-J's Vague Ideas

For the full story, check out the blog, Can't Connect the Dots from Save Seattle's Schools.

Isn't it time that we see something more concrete from the Superintendent? For a person who talks about clear, objective, measureable goals, we've only got a lot of vague ideas so far.
* Isn't she supposed to spill out a whole package of plans for improvement in January?
* She has put the word accountability into just about everything, but I've yet to see anyone held accountable for anything.
* She says that accountability means that Seattle Public Schools understands our data and we use it to set performance targets for the district, school and classrooms.
So where are these performance targets? Are they secret?

Top 10 Education Problems: Sound Familiar?

Washington Post Education writer Jay Mathews was interviewed in Friday's paper. He was asked, "What do you see as the top ten concerns in education?"

Here is his response:
  1. Low standards and expectations in low-income schools.
  2. Very inadequate teacher training in our education schools.
  3. Failure to challenge average students in nearly all high schools with AP and IB courses.
  4. Corrupt and change-adverse bureaucracies in big city districts.
  5. A tendency to judge schools by how many low income kids they have, the more there are the worse the school in the public mind.
  6. A widespread feeling on the part of teachers, because of their inherent humanity, that it is wrong to put a child in a challenging situation where they may fail, when that risk of failure is just what they need to learn and grow.
  7. The widespread belief among middle class parents that their child must get into a well known college or they won't be as successful in life.
  8. A failure to realize that inner city and rural schools need to give students more time to learn, and should have longer school days and school years.
  9. A failure to realize that the best schools--like the KIPP charter schools in the inner cities---are small and run by well-recruited and trained principals who have the power to hire all their teachers, and quickly fire the ones that do not work out.
  10. The resistance to the expansion of charter schools in most school district offices.

Interesting list, isn't it?

Saturday, December 15, 2007

CCSD Superintendent's White Wash Not Inspiring

Let's face it. Superintendent Nancy McGinley has decided which side her bread is buttered on. Those responsible for her selection as superintendent want to protect the cheat system in place at Buist come hell or high water, regardless of the needs of the rest of her constituents. She's made her choice and is steering clear of any decisions that would annoy her majority on the school board.

Now comes the plan for "partial-magnet" schools. [See
Struggling schools might get to 're-create' themselves in Saturday's P & C.]

Read carefully. A seasoned veteran of the CCSD wars has:

Charleston Superintendent Nancy McGinley has placed her "plan" for reorganizing failing schools on the penninsula, in North Charleston, and on Johns Island on the CCSD web-site. It is full of education jargon, some that sound good and many that just make sounds. It reflects an attempt to "play catch up" and “me too” with other communities around the country that have tailored successful programs rooted in unique communities. To be fair, some locally generated ideas are included within McGinley's new plan, but most of these have been borrowed, too, (more like plagiarized) with little or no acknowledgement to sources found among Charleston’s rich, built-in cultural resources or to the help of those active within the city's many integrated communities.

Certainly the plan has its problems, which may be unintentional, but this is the worst part: there is a thinly cloaked attempt to close the barn door on CCSD's embarrassingly weak position on "county-wide" magnet schools. With one exception these only exist at the high school level. McGinley gives the "county-wide" magnet concept legal standing for the first time, without ever acknowledging that the concept was illegitimate to begin with, as it has been applied to Buist Academy. In one section of the document under the heading "A 'Partial Magnet School' Constituent District" she says, "If the constituent district has county-wide magnet schools, they will continue to operate utilizing their enrollment criteria."

What does she mean “schools”? There’s only one K-8 magnet that fits that description: it’s Buist. And, unless she meant to limit only "academic" criteria remaining unchanged, this is a naked attempt to close the back door on the scandal that has surrounded CCSD's loose-as-a-goose "enrollment criteria" at Buist.

Complaints against the address cheats and admissions scams at Buist have little to do with academic qualifications. If cover-up is her purpose, McGinley is not correcting a problem; she’s white washing it. She is attempting to plug the gaping hole in CCSD’s defense of having run the Buist scam as long as it has. She gives it cover. No one will ever be held accountable.

If this bad apple is still stored with the rest, how long will it take for other parts of her plan to become spoiled by this exception to consistancy and fairness? If the other points in her reorganization plan are so good, then shouldn’t Buist conform to them as well?

McGinley needs to be questioned directly on this and not allowed to wiggle out of it . . . or be permitted to slip out the door before questions are answered. The truth is that Buist should be allowed to keep its "academic criteria," but it should also be required to conform to the enrollment and opportunity zone aspects of this new "partial magnet" concept that is being proposed for the other schools in the community. Buist might see its integrity restored in the process.

If McGinley refuses to budge on this exception for Buist, then her stonewalling the issue has to be seen for what it is. We all know that Buist organizers greatly fear racial inclusion. Those behind keeping Buist just as it is still share this fear, even if their fears are based on a downtown that existed 25 years ago, but no longer. Because of the academic criteria at Buist and CCSD’s failure to provide substantial early childhood education to minorities and low income children before now, the argument (and fear) that Buist will become “all black” no longer applies.

Too bad the original NAACP suit didn't use its position to change the inequity of early childhood education instead of just the appearance of "diversity" at the upper levels. [Note from Babbie: Oh, that's right. Isn't that the part that Gregg Meyers is responsible for?]

Where’s the policy that says Buist is a "county-wide" magnet? Where are other comparable K-8 "county-wide" magnet schools? Unless Buist has peers, it should not continue unless CCSD acknowledges it was established on the principal of racial minority exclusion and still functions that way.

Who came up with that "partial magnet" phrase, anyway? I thought St. Andrews was what a real magnet school was supposed to be. It’s Buist that is the crazy hybrid. We should say that Buist is at the same table, exactly like the other "partial magnets," or the county should be prepared to name about six more "county-wide" magnet schools, designed to be just like Buist and strategically located in other parts of the county. CCSD might start with converting Jennie Moore. Then watch the storm of protests go up when local residents are required to participate in a county-wide lottery just like Buist. Will they follow with forcing this on Ashley River Creative Arts? Not likely.

So she's throwing a few crumbs at those vociferous community members who disagree with CCSD policies on Buist in hopes that will quiet them down for a while.

By the time it becomes clear that the "partial magnet" system is another sleight-of hand, McGinley will have moved on to greener (as in $$$) pastures and those students who are now in CCSD's failing elementary schools will be in CCSD's failing middle and high schools.

Ahh, Just Wait till It Catches Fire

According to Saturday's P & C, "The engine compartment on a 1995 Thomas school bus caught fire Friday afternoon as it rolled down Interstate 26 westbound" on its way to pick up students from Stall High School.

"Last year, the state temporarily sidelined all 2,000 of its 1995 model buses because of a fire risk after a loose battery cable started a blaze that engulfed a Richland 2 school bus. An analysis by The Post and Courier for a March series "School Bus Breakdown" found entries for dozens of fires on 1995-model buses."

"Maintenance records show that the bus that caught fire Friday has been sidelined numerous times for mechanical problems, including twice for smoking [italics mine]."

Any further questions?

Monday, December 10, 2007

Buist Vacancies: Don't Hold Your Breath & Update

See UPDATE below

The following letter was sent by an interested party in District 20 as an email to CCSD Superintendent Nancy McGinley on November 15th. It, and the accompanying table of vacancies, is also in the hands of the P & C. So far, McGinley has not responded and the P & C has treated the information as non-newsworthy.

Dear Nancy:
After reviewing the report on the Buist vacancies/openings which you forwarded last Tuesday, I have recognized several discrepancies which should be of concern to you. To better explain what I've learned, I’ve taken the liberty of expanding the original report sent out by Portia Stoney. This report was based on the information Robin King gathered at your request from Sallie Ballard. Numbers associated with the other three waiting lists were unavailable to me at this writing so I've left those tables blank. This modified report includes the original vacancy/opening information with the addition of tables showing the 10-day attendance report for this year and the 135-day attendance reports for Buist for the two previous years. A very disturbing fact has emerged.

There appears to have been vacancies at Buist in the upper grades for at least the past three years. Furthermore, the same openings in certain classes appear to have effectively remained unfilled for two or more years. This information will be very disheartening to any parent whose child was on a sixth grade waiting list in the summer of 2005. These people were never told that a seat at Buist might have been available for them after all.

This screw up could not have happened unless there was an overt and conscious effort on the part of some of those in charge of the Buist admissions process. They could have prevented this situation but chose not to. I can't imagine if you had known about this, you would have let it continue unabated. I'm very confident that if the District 20 parents had known this they would have raised a lot more ruckus than they did last year. This revelation also implies that CCSD employees were aware that seats that could have gone to qualified students at Burke (or Rivers) over the last three school years were deliberately withheld from those students and their parents.

It would appear that CCSD employees knowingly obstructed legal efforts to discover these vacancies since efforts to make the process more transparent were actively opposed by high ranking CCSD officials. In turn CCSD employees appear to have prevented, or at least neglected, reasonable efforts to make those vacancies available to qualified students. More qualified students might have wanted to fill those vacancies at Buist had they known these openings were available in the first place.

The other immediate issue hard to miss is the fact that Principal Ballard appears to be unmotivated to fill the eleven seats that currently remain open. Why have only 4 positions been filled out of 15 vacancies that have been open since the beginning of this school year? Buist reportedly has over 2,000 applicants on its four waiting lists, though no one has ever been allowed to see the lists to confirm their accuracy. It would have much been better if annually these lists had been independently verified as a true and accurate reflection of those who still wanted admission to the school.

The public message from this reputation of extraordinarily high demand for admission to Buist has been to convey the idea that it's no use to apply since the waiting lists are probably too long. But as you can see the District 20 list is shown as empty for some grades. This new information, only now being made available, says a chance for admission was much better than was previously believed. Again, CCSD employees previously withheld this information and I'm not aware of any efforts being made by Buist to make this knowledge public.

Some serious damage has probably been done that can't be easily repaired. The eight seats still vacant in the 8th grade can only make the Buist experience available to those students who might fill them for a single semester. This is because Principal Ballard held back this information for more than two months. In the case of some of those same seats, she withheld the knowledge for more than 2 years.

For your information, the District 20 Board discussed this at its meeting on Wednesday evening and other District 20 parents have been informed since then. I’ve chosen to act with this letter to you. Others may wish to do the same or they may follow a different course. You are already aware of several OCR complaints against what has been documented at Buist so far. This information will probably be added to one or more of those complaints.

Again, I thank you for helping downtown parents to finally get the truth out about how the Buist admissions process works. Behind the scenes and under the cover that kept them hidden, the waiting lists and applications appear to have been grossly mishandled for many years. Most of us hope that you will step forward with the courage necessary to fix what is so badly broken. To repair our trust in the process will not be the least of your accomplishments if you do. (signed)

Buist Academy
Student Openings
November 9, 2007

8th grade - 8 slots – no letters have been sent in 3 weeks. She is working her way through waiting list.

6th grade – 2 openings – sending letters, predicts slots will be filled by Christmas.

5th grade – 1 opening – May become a legal issue because of divorce. If this is a currently enrolled Buist student, the opening shouldn’t be up for consideration. If this is a person still on a waiting list, the person needs to decide now so the process can move on.

Notes: From these records [not duplicated here] it would appear that as of Nov. 9, 2007, at least 6 seats in the Buist Academy Class of ‘08 (the current 8th grade) have been vacant for 2 school calendar years. If the same reasoning is used when considering the 2006 Buist attendance report, then 3 of those seats may actually have been vacant for that class since 2005 (more than 2 years ago) when that same group began 6th grade.

* Of the 3 vacant seats in the current 6th grade at the start of the 2007-08 school year, the only seat filled as of Nov. 9, was by a student returning to Buist after an out-bound transfer to Memminger was reversed on appeal.

McGinley's Response Finally Arrives, December 12th
Subject: Re: Buist Open House & Unanswered Questions> > Good Evening xxxxxxx,> > In response to your questions regarding Buist Academy:> > * Dr. Doug Gepford, Associate Superintendent, and an identified team of> district administrators will provide the oversight and monitoring of the> BA student admissions process, to be inclusive of admissions during the> regular process as well as students who may be admitted during the> school year as vacancies occur. > >

* On the issue of the vacant seats, in fact on today Dr. Nelson spent> some time talking with Ms. Ballard about this issue. The majority of the> current vacant seats are at the 8th grade level. I believe that there is> one vacant seat at the 6th grade. The following are barriers to filling> these seats in an expeditious manner. > >

- The school must notify all families on the waiting list. I think> there is an excess of some 140 students on the waiting list for 8th> grade. The school contacts 8-10 families to advise them of the vacant> seats. The school gives the families 10 days to respond prior to> beginning contacts for the next group of families. This means that the> school is actually having to make contacts at two week intervals. Thus,> if contacts began early September, Ms. Ballard and her staff have> probably only been able to contact approximately 60 families, this is a> liberal estimate. > > - Additionally, what we know and I am certain that you are most aware> of, there is not an incentive and many would argue the merits in having> an 8th grade student leave the school setting where he/she has spent the> last two years and maybe even more years, i.e. k-8, where relationships> have been developed, there are memberships in school> clubs/organizations, there is a connectedness...a sense of belonging,> etc.. All that we know about adolescents and middle school students,> this could actually be a disservice to a student - to transfer him/her> into a new setting for one semester, and then another transition to high> school. >

- Finally, with student admissions/enrollment occurring at the> beginning of the year and the beginning of the 2nd semester, if there> are no new 8th grade students identified for admissions in January (at> the beginning of the 2nd semester), the reality is that these seats will> remain vacant for the school year.> > I trust that this provides additional clarity. Thanks.> > Dr. Nancy J. McGinley

Is anyone else reminded of the tortoise commercial?

Friday, December 07, 2007

Ok at Stall, but Not Elsewhere?

Judging from Diette Courrege's article on Stall's principal in Friday's P & C, she may now have a glimmer of how hardworking and caring many of CCSD's principals and teachers are. Judging from her report shadowing him on "Principal for a Day," Dan Connor seems to fall into that largely unsung group.

However, the anecdote about the 17-year-old with two felony arrests not only reinforces stereotypes about Stall but also shows ignorance of military standards.

According to Courrege, last fall a young man asked Principal Connor to allow him to enroll at Stall even though he was already 17 years old, had no high school credits, had two felony arrests, and had already been turned down by two other high schools. Connor, learning that his close relatives were in jail and he had no permanent home, took pity on him and took him in. Fast forward to December 6th, when Courrege reports, "Conner spent part of his day [Thursday] trying to work out a deal with an attorney that would keep this student out of jail and allow him to enlist in the military next summer [italics mine]." Unexplained is why going to jail has suddenly become an issue. Conviction? Plea bargaining? Pleading guilty?

No branch of the military takes 18 year olds with virtually no education and two felony arrests. Normally a recruit has a high school diploma with maybe a misdemeanor or two overlooked. Does Courrege think the standards for enlistees are so low? Do readers of the newspaper think so too? I guarantee that Connor, as a high school principal, knows perfectly well that the young man's chances of enlisting in the military this summer are somewhere between slim and none.

Sorry to be a party-pooper, but there remains the question of the effect of Connor's action on the rest of Stall's students and on the school's overall reputation. Two felony arrests for what? Guns? Drugs? Stealing cars? Are we to believe that he fit right in with the rest of the student body? Can you imagine the uproar from well-connected parents at a school like Wando if its principal acted similarly? She wouldn't dare.

Oh, I forgot. Stall's parents aren't well connected or wealthy. So it's ok.

Yes, there should be an educational environment for this young man, but why at Stall High School? What did Connor know would happen if he didn't say yes?Does CCSD have provision for such desperate cases? Murray Hill Academy? YouthBuild Sea Islands Charter? Anybody out there?

Thursday, December 06, 2007

Mission Statements Galore

A student-led revolt recently overhauled the mission statement of St. John's High School because it used the word "adequately" to describe the school's goals in preparing students for life. "Adequately," among other changes, has become "exceptionally." Kudos to students Shekinah Robinson, Rodney Burnell, and Meaghan Maxwell for having more common sense than the previous School Improvement Committee that originated that wording.

I'm guessing that mission statements came into common use in schools in the 1980s. Certainly prior to that decade everyone knew what the "mission" of a school was--education. Then the language of business crept in. Now education is a commodity or service in the same way as toothpaste or clothing. The school community no longer has teachers, students, parents, and administrators. It is made up of "stakeholders," as though it were some kind of joint stock company.

At St. John's "[the old] mission statement posters hung in every classroom, and officials read it aloud daily to students." Presumably the new posters will be hung soon. Maybe they will inspire, but maybe reading "it aloud daily" will also be mind-numbing.

Certainly the mission statement for C.E. Williams [published in the P & C]should be read aloud every day as punishment until someone gets the idea that it is made up up VERBIAGE:

"The mission of CE Williams Middle School for Creative and Scientific Arts is to create a safe and nurturing learning environment and to provide students with an effective, relevant, and meaningful program of instruction integrating the creative arts and sciences. Within this environment, we believe that students can learn when provided with diverse and enriched opportunities and resources. We accept fully the responsibility to maximize these opportunities for academic achievement for students while embracing cultural identities and ethnicities. The CE Williams community will thereby prepare our students for both academic and personal success in global society. " Yikes!

Perhaps you detect that I think time might be better spent on improving the education itself--too many captive hours spent building mind-numbing mission statements, I'm afraid.

On the other hand, for fun, try the mission statement generator on the Dilbert Comic Strip Archive. Here's a sample: "It's our responsibility to professionally restore quality intellectual capital as well as to competently simplify long-term high-impact infrastructures because that is what the customer expects ."

Now you can try it too.

Monday, December 03, 2007

Douglas & CCSD: Segregation Is OK

CCSD Board Chairman Hillery Douglas and CCSD Superintendent Nancy McGinley made some very revealing comments last week when the State Department of Education released its findings on segregation in South Carolina's schools. Strangely enough, as far as I can tell, the entire story appeared only on TV outlets and not in the P & C.

Needless to say, the report showed that most of District 20's schools are segregated. Douglas's interesting comment about the findings was that he didn't have a problem with that. McGinley's comments included the thought that such segregation is caused by housing patterns and, therefore, nothing can be done about it.

First of all, Supt. McGinley, you're not in Philadelphia any more. Please take a good look at the Census figures for black and white residents on the penninsula; then tell us why the schools are segregated. It's not because of housing patterns. Check out the Census for Johns Island while you're at it. Just maybe this school segregation has been caused by CCSD policies over the last 40 years.

As for Mr. Douglas's attitude, I find it hard to know where to begin. Certainly his remarks reveal why CCSD has made no progress in desegregation under his watch. He doesn't care!

I'm not one of those idiots who believe that black students must sit in the same classroom with white ones in order to learn to read and write better. I do believe that black and white students need to be in the same classroom to LEARN ABOUT EACH OTHER. Hasn't such understanding always been one of the goals of public education?

Otherwise, students in white enclaves can continue to believe that all black students their age are druggies and dropouts, while students in black enclaves can continue to believe that all white students are spoiled and prejudiced slackers.

Thursday, November 29, 2007

CCSD's Wayward Bus

CCSD uses buses labeled with different names: Charleston County Schools, South Carolina State Schools, and Durham School Services. [See Please Explain the CCSD Bus Fleet! of August 30 & its 15 attached comments.]

I have a different question now:

What was a Durham School Services bus doing on Seven Farms Drive at 7:45 a.m. on a Thursday? That would be on Daniel Island in Berkeley County, CCSD!
Am I wrong? Does BCSD also use Durham School Services?
Update: Spotted again, this time at 3:15 p.m. on a Tuesday. Heading for Seven Farms Drive from the north side of Daniel Island, thus suggesting more than one student living on the island is being transported.

Wednesday, November 28, 2007

Oops! We Forgot to Negotiate--Hillery Douglas

Hope you're ready to pay more in legal fees for the Charleston County Board of Trustees. The Board is moving full steam ahead to confront the Charter High School Committee's appeal to the State Board of Education over the rent issue, now scheduled for hearing on December 11.

Apparently, Charter School organizers, who must come equipped with the patience of Job, have been waiting since early October to get together with a committee from the CCSD Board to talk over differences. When no such meeting occured they had to fish or cut bait at Tuesday's deadline for its appeal.

Hillery Douglas, new Board Chairman, said that, well, they were supposed to meet. His solution is that he might "try this week to set up a meeting." That, of course, would be after the filing deadline. But then, what naif believed that the Board's committee planned negotiation in good faith with the Charter School proponents?

Douglas pouts that the "school is relying on legal arguments" that the "board hasn't had the opportunity to address"! He plans that opportunity for when hell freezes over, or at least the last possible moment on his delay-linger-and-wait agenda. That apparently is the next board meeting.

Meanwhile, CCSD's lawyers continue to rack up legal fees. Too bad we can't spend the money on education.

Which do you think the CCSD Board prefer: new charter schools or vouchers? They seem to believe that they can go on forever without either.

For a look at the Charter School's plans visit charlestonmathand

Thursday, November 22, 2007

"City on a Hill" Versus Seattle School District

For thoughts on the "first Thanksgiving," see Seattle's School District's Turkey of a Thanksgiving on The Past Is Not Over.

Monday, November 19, 2007

Gadsden Green's Heroes

Mention Gadsden Green to Charlestonians and you are likely to hear complaints about the latest shooting or drug-deal--not about positive developments in this city-owned public housing complex. In fact, this week's local TV filmed mothers of six teens arrested for armed robbery complaining that their families should not be forced out of the complex because the crimes were caused by "peer pressure."

TV 5 News also quoted James Heyward, of the Charleston Housing Authority, as saying "The parents need to be held accountable for their children where they are and what they're doing. . . .We as the Housing Authority in accordance with state and local laws, have a right to remove families who are involved in criminal activity on or away from the property."

Amen to that, and thank you, Mr. Heyward! Gadsden Green has its heroes too.

In fact, recently the P & C focused on the successes of the Charleston Development Academy Charter School and its principal, Cecelia Rogers:

  • "founded in 2003 to serve economically and socially disadvantaged children who live in Gadsden Green, a city of Charleston Housing Authority project, and the surrounding area.
  • About 75 percent of the 105 students live in that area, and many others are the children of professionals who work downtown.
  • The school, in a retrofitted building at Gadsden Green, grew out of a tutoring project at Ebenezer [AME] that was designed to help parents learn to teach their children.
  • It developed into a charter school, which is run by a governance board of parents, teachers and community leaders."
  • Keith Waring, who is on the governance board, says that its principal, Cecelia Rogers 'has taken the vision, to raise the comprehension levels of the children and make sure they test above the Adequate Yearly Progress level under the federal No Child Left Behind initiative, and is succeeding,' he says.
  • 'She's doing what you're not supposed to be able to do: to go into Gadsden Green and turn those children into exceptional students.'"

"Professionals that work downtown" are sending their children to a charter school located in Gadsden Green? Now THAT is news! And this school is meeting AYP while other downtown elementary schools are sinking? GOOD news! Funny, I haven't heard any complaints from the CCSD Board of Trustees about THIS charter school's draining students away from CCSD oversight.

I hope that others in District 20 are taking notes on how Ebenezer AME, Rogers, and the community have succeeded with this school. Visiting the school's website, I was struck by the following statement: " CDA incorporates, The Charleston Plan of Excellence, The Coherent Curriculum and The Core Knowledge Curriculum [italics mine] as the foundation teaching tools."

E.D. Hirsch, Jr.'s cultural literacy ideas have been controversial in educational circles for 20 years. I've always thought Hirsch makes sense, but I'm not an elementary school teacher. I do know that in San Antonio, Texas, several public elementary schools adopted this curriculum and met with success. Do any other elementary schools in CCSD use it?

You can check the curriculum out at .

CCSD: Just in Case You Forgot About Broad

The latest press release from CCSD:

CCSD Chief Academic Officer Graduates from Prestigious Urban Superintendents Academy
November 16, 2007
CHARLESTON – Chief Academic Officer Randolph Bynum has successfully
completed the prestigious Broad Superintendents Academy of the Broad
Center for the Management of School Systems. Mr. Bynum is one of only
eleven 2007 graduates nationwide of this rigorous ten-month executive
management training program.
“I am so proud of Mr. Bynum’s accomplishment. As our county’s academic
chief, who has already made such great contributions to our schools, this
experience will prove invaluable for him and for us,” said CCSD
Superintendent of Schools Dr. Nancy McGinley, herself a graduate of the
inaugural Broad Academy class.

Otherwise known as an employment agency for those hoping to move up in the superintendent game. Seems to work. Wonder how long Mr. Bynum will be with us.

Saturday, November 17, 2007

The Anti-Homework Campaign Nonsense

Japanese parents are in revolt because their children get too much homework. Oh, yes. And in cities across China, too. Same goes for India, especially in the poorest suburbs.

Believe that? Of course not. Only affluent American parents would raise such a fuss. Actually, the "homework wars" debate, which recently hit the consciousness of the P & C [see "Homework: The Good, the Bad and the Ugly" in last Tuesday's Family Life section], has enjoyed several years on the radar screens of the Junior League and in neighborhoods of half-a-million-dollar and more households.

The Elizabeth Moffley quoted in former CCSD board member Fran Hawk's article receives credibility for her "anti-homework bullets" from identification as having run for state superintendent of education in 2006. Never mind that she lost the Republican primary (with a whopping 4.6% of the vote) and promptly endorsed Democrat Jim Rex, nor that various news sources can't decide how to spell her last name (Moffly?) or that, at least in 2006, two of her four children were in private schools. Her "arsenal" reads like the top 10 list of a late-night talk show host:
  1. Parents are not qualified or certified get judged for monitoring their children's homework; never been true
  2. Family values are compromised because children are too busy with homework to spend time with their families; or on other scheduled activities like football or soccer practice
  3. Homework is not in the school's jurisdiction because it's assigned for after-school hours; please!
  4. The schools that are charged with teaching democracy are acting as dictators. ah, yes, the democratic classroom!
  5. Children have a right to their childhoods and should be allowed time to let their minds wander. or watch television or play mindless video games
  6. As a compromise, Moffley suggests that homework be assigned as extra credit, with no penalty for the students who choose to ignore it. gee, I can think of penalties assigned by the real world

I don't know about you, but my favorite from the list is #5; or, maybe it should be #6--then with all that extra credit the child could pass on to the next grade.

Jay Mathews, a Washington Post staff writer, has researched the facts. Scholarly research from the University of Michigan "says the weekday average for 15- to 17-year-olds went from 33 minutes in 1981 to 50 minutes in 2003. Those teens, crushed by such punishing assignments, were recovering their sense of self and their need for play by spending on average two-and-a-half hours a weekday watching television or doing non-study-related computer activities [italics mine]." More likely in Moffley's neighborhood, playing video games or working after-school jobs to pay the insurance on their late-model cars. In a comparable report, the weekday average for grades 1 to 3 is 22 minutes, or as Mathews puts it, "less time than it takes to watch one episode of SpongeBob SquarePants."

Yes, students who take four or five AP classes may spend hours into the night on homework--or maybe not, depending on the student's ability and concentration. Kindergarten students can benefit by practicing their handwriting, and drill on multiplication facts can't be all bad for a third grader.

If a parent really believes that his or her child's homework load is problematic, that parent needs to sit down with the teacher or teachers involved to get to the bottom of the problem, not grouse with the neighbors nor spend time reading about the "homework debate."

Friday, November 16, 2007

CCSD Superintendent: Now the Buck Stops with Her

Listen! Are those wings? Maybe a cackle or two? I know! The chickens just came home to roost! Superintendent McGinley now has the power to replace principals without consulting constituent boards; that means she also has full responsibility for what happens. And she's ready to roll.

In today's P & C McGinley hints of changes coming in administrative positions due to schools' failing performances on the state's report cards. Although the article points out that 25 schools are now rated "unsatisfactory," as usual the number is not put into context. That would be (roughly) a third of the county's schools.

Never mind that "more than half of the county's schools" have had their principals in place for less than three years, let's shuffle them again! That must mean those who have been in place for three years or more at unsatisfactory schools get to move, since McGinley promises a three-to-five-year window to prove effective leadership.

The dirty little secret is that the district has been preparing for this round of musical chairs. Schools such as Burke and North Charleston High that have been rated failing for six years MUST be restructured. No one expected a miracle to occur this year, and it didn't. The choices left to CCSD under NCLB are:
  • replace all administrative professionals or
  • bring in an outside agency to run the schools or
  • make them into charter schools [yeah, likely] or
  • have the state take over the schools [ditto].

Whatever changes McGinley makes, she will be held responsible now for the results. Well, that's assuming that three-to-five years down the road McGinley is still Superintendent.

Jordan's quoted comments pose an interesting dilemma for McGinley: she wants the Superintendent "to put those highly successful teachers [and principals] with students who need it the most," namely, those students in unsatisfactory schools where teacher turnover is high.

McGinley's got the power; does she have the guts?

Tuesday, November 13, 2007

CCSD's New Leadership: Rearranging the Deck Chairs

Buried in today's report of CCSD's Board of Trustees Monday-night meeting is the fact that Hilary Douglas, last year's vice chairman, and Nancy Cook, last year's chairman (and chairman for the last four years), have switched chairs. Now Douglas supposedly is in the driver's seat ["Douglas to Steer School Board"] and Cook is his co-pilot.

Recycling the past will help the future? Douglas was first elected chairman in 1989, eighteen years ago. He was on the Board starting in 1985. These were years when county schools continued unopposed in their downward slide.

What is the record in North Charleston, the area Douglas represents on the Board? Both North Charleston High School and Brentwood have records during his tenure that should cause nightmares. Has Douglas looked out for them in his 15 years on the Board?

Same old same old.

Sunday, November 11, 2007

Lest We Forget

CCSD School Board: Sweetness and Light?

"Sweetness and light": the state of CCSD's Board of Trustees one year after its acrimonious election, as reported by Diette Courrege in Sunday's Post and Courier.

Board members interviewed use the occasion to bash Sandi Engelman once again, suggesting all is "sweetness and light" now that she is gone from the Board. According to members such as Douglas and Meyers, even Arthur Ravenel, Jr's dissentions scarcely sour the mix because he always behaves as a Southern gentleman should. In fact, his politicking for taking powers away from the constituent boards proves how well the Board gets along. Of course, there's the little matter of the Charter School for Math and Science, but Meyers thinks he's quashed that through other means.

Why, if only those nasty critics Sandi Engelman and, perhaps, Lurleen Fishburne, had left the Board earlier, CCSD's schools would be right on track to excellence! The Board was being held back by its critics, of course! Now that Green and Jordan are in there supporting every thought and facial expression of Meyers and Douglas, the Board can make progress. In fact, critics of CCSD can be blamed for ALL of its problems, even those in District 20. If they would just stop being so negative, or at least keep their opinions to themselves, CCSD could make real progress.

Yeah, right.

What the Board needs now is not "love, sweet love," as the song goes, but elements much more challenging (or, at least, specific)--those well-formulated by Matthew Arnold: that is, "sweetness and light." "'Sweetness' is moral righteousness, and 'light' is intellectual power and truth."[The New Dictionary of Cultural Literacy, Third Ed. © 2002 Houghton Mifflin]. Arnold believed that civilization could progress if individuals and nations base their actions on that dichotomy.

"Moral righteousness" and "intellectual power and truth"? What percentage of the Board's actions or, for that matter, those of CCSD's bureaucracy, falls into even one of those categories?

Instead we have self-interest, fiefdoms, and ignorance. Or, as Arnold said, we're here "on a darkling plain."

Tuesday, November 06, 2007

As Long as We Need to Restructure Burke

Now that Burke High School (among others in CCSD) has failed to meet AYP for six years, it faces restructuring, according to NCLB. May I remind you of some highlights of Burke's trials over the past 18 months? I'm sure many readers can add the tribulations of the many previous years.

Let's begin with June of 2006. Burke was almost taken over by the State Department of Education, Inez Tenenbaum then Superintendent. It had failed to implement recommendations made by the state review board during the previous year. What happened next? Promises, promises! In fact, Mayor Joe Riley promised at the time to make (and I quote!) Burke "'a renowned national model for excellence.'" Goodloe-Johnson promised that, after a string of six principals over seven years, the new one would do the trick.

Barely three months later, the P & C (of all sources!) broke the scandal that Burke has been used as a dumping ground for troublemakers from other schools in CCSD. [See my posting of You Can't Make This Stuff Up! for details.] Is anyone on the school board following up on these questionable transfers? What percentage of Burke's students do not live in District 20? Do these transfers continue? How about telling us how many students who live in District 20 are bused to CCSD high schools in other parts of the county? Now, that number would be revealing.

Of course, in May of 2007 CCSD held its famous $77,000 meeting at Burke regarding the use of the Rivers High School building. During that meeting (and at various times since) CCSD has hinted that Burke may get an "AP Academy" or other speciality program. As it is, Burke doesn't even offer enough world language courses to qualify students for USC or Clemson, not to mention other deficiencies in its course offerings.

If plans exist to improve Burke, it appears now that the Superintendent will spring them by surprise upon the residents of District 20. Is she going to meet with District 20 constituents (especially PARENTS) to ask what they would like to see with the restructuring of Burke? Surely that's an important step that needs to be part of any restructuring!

Meanwhile, Burke has plenty of room in its practically-new building.

Why not take all those applicants to Academic Magnet who will be rejected for the coming year's class but meet the old generic standard and create a second "academic magnet" at Burke?

Don't like that?

Why not take all 75 students from Sea Islands YouthBuild Charter (who don't have a school building) and create a spectacular building trades program in the space at Burke?

Don't like that either? What about replicating some vocational programs now at Garrett and offering them at Burke?

Most importantly, what does the downtown community as a whole see as the best solution for Burke? And I'm not talking about NAACP officers who live west of the Ashley!

Friday, November 02, 2007

Ballard to Buist Parents: Live in CCSD or Else!

They must be quaking in their boots. All those who lied to get on the downtown list now are forced to prove they live in Charleston County! Gosh, where will it end?

What a hardship!

Has anyone considered funding a complaint to the U.S. Department of Justice on behalf of black downtown students? Sometimes I wish I had money.

Thursday, November 01, 2007

That'll Work: Task Force to Stop Teacher-Student Sex

"Jim Rex, the head of South Carolina schools, launched a task force Thursday aimed at stopping teachers from having sex with students," according to Channel 4 News.

My question is: If the Summerville High School teacher charged with taking female students to his home and providing alcohol to them is 43 years old and the principal says he has been employed at Summerville for "about three years," where was he teaching before?

And what recommendations did the previous schools provide?

Wednesday, October 31, 2007

Charter Opponents and Failing AYP Face-Off

The page editors of the P & C' s Local & State section have a sense of humor. How else to explain the following side-by-side headlines in Wednesday's paper: "S.C. Schools Static on Federal Goals: Results Expected to Dive Next Year" and "Group Vows to Fight New Charter School: Johns Island Gathering Backs Haut Gap."

McGinley and Rex can try damage control by touting how much higher S.C.'s standards are than those of other states, but the reality remains. While the state has one of the lowest percentages of students to make it into the twelfth grade, it also leads in having the lowest SAT scores. How those scores would plummet if every student stayed in school and took the SAT (as required in Maine) probably would mirror the "dive" coming next year in meeting AYP!

Back to Haut Gap. Does anyone believe it met AYP for this year? How much might it have improved from the overall score of 65% below basic on the PACT in 2006? What does it say about the school that its rally against the charter school drew only "more than 20" from the community, perhaps half of whom were district, school, and community leaders? Let's hear a few comments from parents who have children in that school NOW. Maybe they would like a choice, too.

Meanwhile, fear of segregation is less of a motivation here than keeping a new school building for Haut Gap on schedule for 2008, as the Rev. Michael Mack, PTA President and "community advocate" has admitted previously. The planned new building will double the size of the present student body, even though Principal Padron brags on the school's website that its small size allows for "smaller learning communities and individualized instruction."

Fortunately, with S.C.'s new legislation this charter school need not apply to CCSD for approval to go through the Alice-in-Wonderland contortions faced by the downtown Charter High School for Math and Science. One participant in the meeting did have a good idea, however: why not take Haut Gap charter? Then the Haut Gap supporters would need not go, hat in hand, to the CCSD Board meeting on November 12 to "get the money and resources it needs."

Monday, October 29, 2007

The State of Education? Eloi Are Coming!

Food for thought from Intercepts of October 29 [see sidebar for link]:
"Dumber Than Dirt" and the Phenomenon of "The Guy." You don't see too many things go viral in the education corner of the blogosphere, but I'm surprised that last week's column from Mark Morford of the San Francisco Chronicle hasn't made a national splash.

The headline and subhead alone should warrant some attention: "American kids, dumber than dirt" and "Warning: The next generation might just be the biggest pile of idiots in U.S. history." But other than Northern California edu-bloggers Buckhorn Road and Right on the Left Coast, it doesn't seem to have caught on elsewhere, despite its status as the Chronicle's most e-mailed article and an incredible 517 reader comments, at last count.

It's hard to tell if Morford's article is a manifesto, a polemic, an
overreaction or a publicity stunt, but he cites the experiences of an Oakland high school teacher of his acquaintance. Here's a taste:

"But most of all, he simply observes his students, year to year,
noting all the obvious evidence of teens' decreasing abilities when confronted with even the most basic intellectual tasks, from understanding simple history to working through moderately complex ideas to even (in a couple recent examples that particularly distressed him) being able to define the words 'agriculture,' or even 'democracy.' Not a single student could do it.

"It gets worse. My friend cites the fact that, of the 6,000 high school
students he estimates he's taught over the span of his career, only a small fraction now make it to his grade with a functioning understanding of written English. They do not know how to form a sentence. They cannot write an intelligible paragraph. Recently,
after giving an assignment that required drawing lines, he realized that not a single student actually knew how to use a ruler."

Morford worries that the world's problems pale in comparison to that
of "a populace far too ignorant to know how to properly manage any of it, much less change it all for the better."

I, for one, think Morford is overstating the problem, mostly because he is extrapolating from the Oakland school system, which is the national poster child for education dysfunction. But he touches on something I think is very relevant. We are not a society of the haves and have nots, but one of the "knows" and "know nots."

Everyone has a horror story of clerks who can't make change, job applicants who can't fill out a form, and employees of all sorts who can't follow directions. But a new aspect of American life is even more troubling. I call it the phenomenon of The Guy.

The Guy doesn't have to be male. I only use it as shorthand for a phrase we use whenever we encounter people who are clearly out of their intellectual depth. When your friends complain about spending an hour on the phone with a dense tech support operator, or a bureaucrat with a public agency, or an airline ticket agent, you are likely to tell them, "You didn't talk to The Guy."

The Guy is one of the few people (maybe the only one) in any specified location who can solve problems that aren't in the technical manual, the agency guideline, or the computer instructions. He or she may or may not be the manager. It's unrelated. The Guy quickly corrects your double-billing, replaces a washer instead of tearing out your bathroom sink, prescribes the perfect medication, or immediately gets you a new desk after your principal says it will take three months. You all know The Guy, even though it's getting harder and harder to find him or her.

The gap between The Guy and everyone else is growing. Morford blames it on lots of things. Kids lack intellectual acumen. They're lazy slackers. They're overprotected and wussified. They're overexposed to and overstimulated by television, video games and the Internet. And yes, he even blames standardized tests.

At the same time, he admits, there are many, many brilliant young minds out there. Were they lucky? Private-schooled? Affluent? (I don't think so. Affluent schools aren't immune.)

No. They're self-motivated. They're The Guy. They learn even if the school is bad. They learn even if their teachers are bad. They learn even if their textbooks are out-of-date. They are increasingly becoming the linchpins of the American economy. And so, contrary to Morford's fears, we are not doomed to a new Dark Age. But we are dooming an entire generation to a world of cultural, social and economic upheaval where a handful of people can do almost anything, and the rest can do almost nothing. Maybe H.G. Wells wasn't so far off, after all.

I must admit at times the analogy with Wells's The Time Machine has crossed my mind. That would be the Eloi, not the Morlocks. Hmm. Well, not quite analogous.

Discipline and Murray Hill Academy

Done: Construction of a new single story 48,000 square foot facility [Murray Hill Academy] for Community Education Partners (CEP) under contract to CCSD for 432 students on a 10.5 acre site located on Bonds Avenue in North Charleston. The facility has four learning centers, each with three conventional classrooms and one reading/math/computer classroom. Project scope was increased to include a 4,000 square foot community space for use by the Murray Hill neighborhood and the North Charleston Recreation Department. [Description from CCSD website]

No mention on the website of the cost of this building, but we can safely assume millions.

But on CCSD's website, this school built for 432 students has 63!

CCSD's website link to Murray Hill Academy's website is dead.

The principal listed for Murray Hill on CCSD's website left the school in the middle of the 2006-07 school year. It's now the end of October. Wasn't Lee Gaillard appointed interim principal? Is he still there? Why isn't his name?

Is it true that overage students from Murray Hill were "transferred" to Sea Islands Youth Build Charter School on Johns Island? The one that needs a building? Is that why so few are at Murray Hill today?

Are CCSD students being expelled instead of being sent to Murray Hill?

Has Murray Hill solved its problems (of last year) with uncertified teachers?

How many students is CEP required to take under its contract with CCSD? McGinley lowered the number last summer, but surely it isn't under 100 at this point? Or, is it?

Mismanagement? Waste of taxpayer dollars? What do you think?

Wednesday, October 24, 2007

No Good Deed Goes Unpunished: CCSD & First Baptist Johns Island

Would you believe. . .

  • CCSD's official "who oversees charter schools" was not allowed into the building where the schooling takes place, but Gregg Meyers voted to keep the Sea Islands YouthBuild Charter School open anyway--and send it $98,000 more of taxpayers' money?
  • Sea Islands has no general liability insurance, leaving both the church it occupies AND the taxpayers in CCSD liable for any mayhem or accident that occurs during its sessions, but lawyer Hampton-Green voted to keep the school open anyway--and send it $98,000 more of taxpayers' money?
  • Sea Islands failed to notify the First Baptist Church of Johns Island that its program in which "about 10 students a year worked toward their GEDs, learned construction skills and built homes with community partners" had been enlarged to 75 at-risk students, a number too large for the space available--but real estate expert Jordan voted to keep the school open anyway--and send it $98,000 more of taxpayers' money?
  • Sea Islands is now suing the Church because "it allowed district officials to trespass on its property" [that would be Church property]--but Douglas and Toler voted to keep the school open anyway--and send it $98,000 more of taxpayers' money?
  • First Baptist members, who thought they were helping the community, must now endure the snail-like eviction process to rid its buildings and grounds of Sea Islands Charter while suffering daily vandalism and fear of abuse from students?
  • even Nancy Cook voted against sending the Sea Islands YouthBuild more taxpayers' money?

While everyone wants to better the lives of these at-risk students, is that really what is happening in this case? And when the program was changed, why did CCSD trustees show so little curiosity regarding arrangements for its expansion?

Monday, October 22, 2007

NAACP's Segregation Rally at Burke

Negro Americans, What Now? (1934), a book that argues for integration as the only reasonable solution to America's racial problems, includes James Weldon Johnson's exhortation to "meet any well-meaning white people halfway." That is exactly what was NOT happening at the "Rally for Our Public Schools" at Burke High School last Sunday night, which should have been called the "Rally Against the Charter High School."

In fact, the event, as all participants knew, especially the sponsoring Charleston NAACP, was an anti-integregation rally against the looming possibility of a integrated Charter High School for Math and Science. About 60 attended; who knows if any actually represented downtown constituents (certainly not Darby and Scott). For sure, the participants are confused about who their opponents are. It's not the committee organizing the charter school; in fact, the "enemy" is CCSD itself.

According to the P & C's Adam Parker, "participants [...] decried what they perceive to be an inequitable system whose leaders overlook the needs of minorities [italics mine] in favor of experimental solutions that undermine the public schools." As the presence of CCSD Board members Douglas, Jordan, and Green showed, the "leaders [who] overlook the needs" of those segregated downtown schools were PRESENT at the rally. That leadership gives lip service to "experimental solutions" [read charter schools] but in reality works to undermine solutions and to maintain the status quo. Where are the solutions of Douglas, Jordan, and Green to make Burke a successful and diverse community?

Dot Scott is fond of saying, "if only more white students would attend [Burke]," but she has no plan to bring that diversity to fruition by putting pressure on those very CCSD leaders who hypocritically stood beside her. No one can blame the downtown community for losing faith in CCSD; look what it has done to undermine Burke and the other downtown schools over the last 30 years. Her "Why not Burke" issue is a red herring meant to divert community leaders (who have the overwhelming support of the downtown community) from establishing a desegregated school on the penninsula.

Anyone stating that the charter school is an attempt to bring segregation to downtown schools simply is not in contact with reality or, more likely, is being disingenuous to further other agendas. In less than a decade District 20 has lost 30 percent of its students. Only the threat of a successful charter school has brought CCSD's attention to making Burke a successful school also.

Where are its plans to do so? What are they? All promises and no follow-through, as usual. Why don't Scott, Darby, and the NAACP turn on the perpetrators of the crime instead of those trying to find solutions? If the charter school should fail for any reason, CCSD will again neglect Burke's improvement. Just ask Arthur Peter Lawrence.

Sunday, October 21, 2007

Post & Courier & the Toya Green Mystery

How did Toya Hampton-Green become the CCSD board member elected from District 20? Notice I didn't say "representing," since Green claims she was not elected to do that.

Running for the school board in 2006, Toya Hampton-Green refused the Charleston City Paper's quiz for candidates, stating, "There's too much at stake in this election to play a guessing game."

The "guessing"would have been regarding the size of CCSD's budget, per-pupil spending, the district's absolute rating on the 2005 state report card, the number of schools in the district, the number rated excellent by the state, and the number rated unsatisfactory by the state. According to reporter Greg Hambrick, Green also described herself as a "businesswoman" (in the business of law, apparently) and "soccer mom."

In this article, Green called the Charleston Plan for Excellence "good"; would refuse to sell the district's office; opposed tuition tax credits; was silent on the role of constituent boards and how to improve schools in low-income areas (even though running as a resident of District 20); and claimed to support charter schools. In a League of Women Voters' profile of the same time, Green stated that her three goals for CCSD were to "increase fiscal accountability and promote more equity among the schools, particularly Downtown"; "achieve better student performance by sound policies set by the Board which better support teachers' mission"; and "build consensus on the Board." Hmm.

In a separate article, the City Paper stated that Green was a "C" candidate but "the fact that she's raised more money than any of the other candidates, including the collected A-Team, is an indication of her support in the community [italics mine]. Like other candidates for District 20, Hampton Green's showed a passion for focusing on improving low-performing schools." It also reported that "the nonprofit Blue Ribbon Committee [a "thinly veiled" arm of the local Democratic party run by the same Katherine Cofer who headed Teach Charleston, a contractor with CCSD]" and "the Business Advocating Change political action committee [BACPAC--an arm of the Charleston Metro Chamber of Commerce]" endorsed both Meyers and Green.

The guessing on our part would be, where did Toya Hampton become familiar with American public education? Where did she go to high school? According to an interview in 2004, she stated that she had to "opt for US citizenship" at the age of 18 because of her dual-citizenship with Germany. Most Americans would assume that meant that, because she was born in Heidelberg of American parents, she gained that duality. Actually, in order to have German citizenship, she needed to have one parent who was a German citizen.

In the same League of Women Voters' profile, Green reported that "as part of her father's career in the Army," she had grown up in Fort Belvoir, Virginia; Fort Leavenworth, Kansas; Frankfurt, Mainz, and Wiesbaden, Germany; Tacoma, Washington, and Burke, Virginia. Green has also stated that she is the "daughter of a public schoolteacher."

Consulting my own expert on this matter--that would be my own lawyer-daughter of Green's generation, who has lived several years in Germany and, in fact, gave birth to a child there who does NOT have German citizenship--I confirmed that Green is either confused, overstating her German connections, or both. If she ever had dual citizenship, one of her parents must have been a German citizen. Also, the only reason for giving up German citizenship at 18 would be the compulsory obligation to serve in the German military--that is not required of females. Maybe she had a brother or friend who had to do this.

Green's Charleston connection began when she "took off two years between undergraduate school and law school to work as a team leader and public relations specialist for AmeriCorps, the national service organization," according to the LWV. That's also when she met lawyer Dwayne Green, the son of West Indian immigrants, who grew up in Charleston and plans to become its first black mayor.

Certainly, her in-laws wouldn't have touted the local public school system to her! When they moved from Brooklyn where her husband was born to West Oak Forest [small world department: same street I lived on decades earlier], Dwayne first enrolled at St. Andrew's Elementary, then transferred to Blessed Sacrament for two years, then entered and graduated from Porter-Gaud. His not-rich parents wanted him to get a good education and kept searching for the best.

According to the P & C, "Public school at its best is an authentic reflection of the American way of life, says Toya Hampton Green, a Charleston County School Board member and self-described idealist." Unfortunately, that is also true at its worst. Green has her child safely in Buist Academy, after the child's selection by CCSD's notorious lottery while Green ran for the board. Is Buist "an authentic reflection"? She is quoted as saying that, "seeking a seat on the board was never part of [her] plan," when "motherhood prompted her" to see that "trying to get elected to the board [was] a way of holding herself accountable."

Where did all that campaign money come from? How did she get appointed to so many prominent positions without connections to the community? Why is the Post and Courier so eager to give her a good press? Exactly what has she done on the CCSD board so far besides second Gregg Meyers on every issue?

And has she removed politics as an issue on the CCSD Board, which she originally claimed she was running to do?

Thursday, October 18, 2007

CCSD: What Ever Happened to--Promotion from Within?

"North Charleston High Fights Reflect Discipline Struggle" headlines a Courrege article in Thursday's Post and Courier.


"Goodloe-Johnson's Recommendation for Interim Principal Brings Old Problems Back to North Charleston High."

Fights make headlines; failure to hire permanent administrators is boring. Yet Superintendent McGinley, with the consent of the school board, allowed a school that had achieved a disciplinary turnaround to start in August with an interim principal and two vacancies for assistant principals. One interim principal led to another; finally in mid-October the school had a real principal, and a real discipline problem. Is it any wonder?

According to McGinley, a search began "almost immediately" after Colwell's resignation (official on June 30th but announced publicly on June 13th). So much for the so-called smooth transition between Goodloe-Johnson and McGinley last summer and G-J's long goodbyes. McGinley did not officially take the reins until July 1. Colwell's resignation was announced publicly on June 13th, coinciding with G-J's goodbyes and the lame-duck period when McGinley was vacationing.

Since G-J recommended on June 13th (according to the P & C) that an interim be appointed, no search began before McGinley's official start on July 1. Was a search begun? According to the Superintendent, the applicants she interviewed were "inexperienced." Perhaps they were local personnel who knew about the vacancy.

We will never know who those applicants were, but we can see that McGinley's penchant for out-of-state hires continued. She AND the board gambled that this previously-failing high school that had begun a turn-around could succeed just as well with a temporary principal while a nationwide search ensued.

It would be an interesting study to see how the number of interim appointments has risen during the tenures of G-J and her protege McGinley. Memory suggests that the number has risen dramatically, but at what cost?

Does every administrative post require a nationwide search? Is it possible that Colwell's tenure as principal went so well because he had been at the school for almost two decades when he became principal?

While everyone interested in improving schools wishes the new principal, Eric Vernold, success, one has to wonder how a high school in rural New York compares to North Charleston. Adirondack High has under 500 students, mostly white. Boonville, New York, judging from its location, must be socked in with several feet of snow for a good portion of a long winter. It is not part of any major metropolitan area. There are places less like North Charleston, but not many in the contiguous United States.

Vernold is quoted on his second day on the job as saying, "Neighborhood problems a decade ago stayed in neighborhoods, but today they spill into schools." Where do these ideas come from? What could he know about North Charleston High "a decade ago"? Can we believe that neighborhood problems in North Charleson did not affect the high school then? The problem is that Vernold is generalizing from national data, all he can do at this point.

Unless Vernold has undisclosed knowledge of the Lowcountry, he's going to be on a steep learning curve for the rest of his first year. Let's hope that the community backs him and that North Charleston High can continue on its previous trajectory.

Tuesday, October 16, 2007

McGinley's Smoke & Mirrors with Constituent Boards

"All political power is primarily an illusion. . . . Mirrors and blue smoke, beautiful blue smoke rolling over the surface of highly polished mirrors. . . . If somebody tells you how to look, there can be seen in the smoke great, magnificent shapes, castles and kingdoms, and maybe they can be yours." So said Jimmy Breslin in 1975.

Hold up the mirror to Superintendent McGinley's announced reorganization of the associate superintendents' jurisdictions.

Clear away the smoke.

What do you see? Not "magnificent shapes, castles and kingdoms" but naked consolidation of power.

Here's the list published in Tuesday's P & C of "learning communities" that will streamline organization in CCSD:
  • The Ashley River Learning Community including elementary schools in Districts 9 (Johns Island), 10 (West Ashley), 20 (downtown) and 23 (Hollywood);
  • The Cooper River Learning Community including elementary schools in Districts 3 (James Island), 4 (North Charleston) and 20 (downtown);
  • The Middle School Learning Community including most [why not all?] of the district's middle schools as well as Academic Magnet High and Garrett Academy [two high schools in the middle-school community--makes sense to her, I guess];
  • The Superintendent's Learning Community including most [why not all?] of the district's high schools;
  • The East Cooper and Cooper River Learning Community including the schools Lynda Davis currently oversees — in Districts 1 (McClellanville) and 2 (Mount Pleasant) and [now] District 4 (North Charleston).

Notice anything, District 20 supporters? I'm sure you have. District 20's schools will now be split into four separate "communities" (We're using the word "community" loosely here!). That should help parents know where to go with concerns!

How else to disperse the power of constituent boards but to render them superfluous and their meetings unnecessary for associate superintendents to attend. Great way to encourage dialogue with the community!

But then this "rearranging of the deck chairs on the Titanic" (as one reader puts it) is not about helping students or their parents. It's about bureaucracy. Larry Kobrovsky is too kind in his remarks quoted today. He said, "District leaders may become less responsive to local community members' concerns because officials aren't as connected in their areas." That's the whole idea, Larry! In fact, obviously aiming at helping the poor, "the new configuration means that downtown parents of elementary schoolchildren who have a concern and need to talk with their school principal's supervisor will have to go either to an office in James Island or one in North Charleston to talk about their concerns." Won't that be helpful? Especially if you don't own a car.

In fact, looking another way, you can spot another paradigm shift: if the District 20 schools are split between various "communities," these communities can be counted as "integrated"; in fact, District 20's de facto segregation will be solved with the stroke of a pen. Masterful!

I take it back. It's not smoke and mirrors; it's Through the Looking Glass.

Is it legal?

Friday, October 12, 2007

Downtown Apartheid, Intimidation, and the NAACP

"No matter how complex the reasons that have brought us to the point at which we stand, we have, it seems, been traveling a long way to a place of ultimate surrender that does not look very different from the place where some of us began."

These days when I see or hear from Dot Scott and the Rev. Darby of Charleston's NAACP, parts of Jonathan Kozol's latest book, Shame of a Nation, about the new apartheid in America's schools, begin to circulate in my head. Kozol cogently points out that, in many cities besides small ones like Charleston, local leadership has made its "deal with the devil" and settled for segregated but equal schools--shades of Plessy versus Ferguson! How else to explain Scott's defense of a system that over the last 30 years has left all downtown schools de facto segregated?

Now, once again Scott, Darby, and every other African-American leader they can cozen or coerce onto their team are in full cry against the new downtown charter school, in the process threatening local black leaders to get on board and claiming it's all a plot by Arthur Ravenel, Jr. They will accept all-black schools on the penninsula but not integrated ones.

When confronted with the charter school's racially-diverse leadership and state laws regarding the make-up of charter schools, the NAACP response is "don't confuse us with the facts." In fact, certain leaders, including Hillery Douglas and Ruth Jordan, CCSD board members who claimed support of the charter school at the CCSD meeting when it was approved, have now been caught twisting the arms of black leaders who SUPPORT the charter school. Presumably the intent is to cull charter school support of its black members so that the NAACP can then cry, "Aha! See, it's a plot to bring segregation back to downtown Charleston!"

Bring it back? Is that a joke? Please step into a classroom at Fraser, Charleston Progressive, or Burke--actually, you can name the school; just leave Buist out.

How far have they drifted from the desires of Martin Luther King, Jr., when CCSD board members "ambush" legitimate neighborhood leaders announcing support of the charter school?

According to at least one person present at the following event taking place downtown, sometime prior to Tuesday, October 9:

For the purpose of forcing a downtown African-American community leader to recant his support for the Charter School for Math and Science, CCSD board member Hillery Douglas set up a meeting with Pete Lawrence. The private meeting amounted to an ambush and attempted mugging. It failed to sway the intended victim and may have in fact caused him and other downtown black residents to become more ardent supporters of charter school alternatives as a way to get existing schools back on track.

Arthur Peter Lawrence is a Burke High School graduate, a co-founder of the Friends of Burke organization, President of the Westside Neighborhood Association and a recipient of the City of Charleston's Koon Award for his record of community service. He is actively supporting another African-American, Dudley Gregorie, in his campaign for Mayor of Charleston. After much soul- searching and seeking answers to many questions, Pete recently came out in support of the proposed Charleston Charter School for Math & Science. He said he did this because the existing CCSD schools located downtown are either not available to most downtown students (Buist) or failing so badly that there is little hope for change in the near future. CCSD claims it is unable to adequately improve downtown schools or make them racially diverse, saying that the causes of poor schools downtown are beyond its control.

Pete has also said that, only after the charter school group became active, did CCSD finally begin to take an interest in advancing plans for the improvement of Burke's academic programs. All previous proposals for Burke were for goals assoicated with minimum standards [Note: precisely the phenomenon described by Kozol in other cities]. It was as if CCSD had no interest in Burke's success until it was challenged with the possibility of losing control to another charter school. This one would become an alternative for the relief of long-suffering downtown parents. Pete said he could support that.

What made this meeting with Pete Lawrence unusual is that Pete was given the impression he was being invited to meet one-on-one with Nelson Rivers to discuss his support for the downtown charter school. Nelson Rivers, a Charleston native, is a highly-respected national NAACP official who helped start the NAACP's North Charleston branch.

It was not to be that kind of meeting. When Pete Lawrence arrived, he found a full house. In addition to Nelson Rivers, it included Dot Scott, Joe Darby, and CCSD board members Hillery Douglas and Ruth Jordan. What was set up as a discussion between two individuals had morphed into a onfrontation with a crowd Lawrence had opposed before. Unknown to Pete until it was too late, the meeting had been arranged and specifically designed to pressure him into publicly recanting his support for new charter school. Nelson Rivers was simply there to "mediate." Pete had been ambushed.

Hillery Douglas reportedly got ugly, saying Pete had to change his position or else and accusing him of betraying the black community by not standing with those who opposed this charter school. What Pete Lawrence discovered was the desperation of these individuals, who all had been in some way responsible for the poor condition of downtown schools, for a downtown spokesman to carry their message of opposition to the community [Note: none of these individuals live downtown except Lawrence]. They were opposed to the racially diverse charter school group. They needed someone with a platform within the downtown black community to be their downtown mouthpiece. They decided that Pete was the one because he had dared speak in favor of the new school. They didn't care if forcing him to change his position meant continuing to cut the throats of downtown schools like Burke. In spite of the pressure, Pete did not back down.

Pete wouldn't cross over, leaving those present without a person with downtown credentials to carry their message. Hillery Douglas reportedly became very angry and began threatening Pete. Nelson Rivers had to physically come between them, according to the witness, or it might have gotten worse. Nelson Rivers, as it turns out, may not have been fully aware of the power play going on until after the meeting had begun.

The strong-arm tactics of Hillery Douglas are deplorable, but it is also highly questionable as to why he and Ruth Jordan, both members of the current Charleston County School Board, would choose to participate in a backroom, closed-door attempt to intimidate a downtown school advocate and private citizen, knowing that witnesses could go public. Without question they were trying to force Mr. Lawrence to change his public position. They wanted him to actively oppose a racially-diverse, community-based charter school group which was organized to create public school choices for downtown parents.

Both Douglas and Jordan have gone on record as supporting this charter school, but behind the scenes we find they are doing something else. By this account, they have misled the public about their support for the charter school as well as knowingly participated in what amounts to a politically motivated mugging.

Pete Lawrence, and other determined parents and residents of downtown Charleston like him, are continuously being pressured and in some cases threatened financially to not support the charter school. Others have been verbally abused and threatened by Hillery Douglas for speaking out for public schools downtown. Pete Lawrence has the courage and the good fortune to not be beholden to corrupt power brokers who have been willing to sell out downtown school children. Because he’s a man of integrity and has no financial ties to these bosses, he continues to speak his mind. Others downtown are not so fortunate. Most downtown parents and public school supporters are just glad that there are people like Pete Lawrence who have the ability to speak of ideas that most people downtown can only think or speak of privately.

Downtown schools, especially Burke High School, are fortunate that they are being defended by courageous and unbending supporters like Pete Lawrence against the assaults and neglect of Hillery Douglas and the rest, including Dot Scott, Joe Darby, and Ruth Jordan.

CCSD Shenanigans: The Thick of Derthick

For SIX years--SIX years--CCSD school board members voted to distribute "more money than it was supposed to" from the Lawrence Derthick Jr. Memorial Trust Fund. That's SIX years, folks, when no one watched the store, six years that, if my memory serves me correctly, encompass Don Kennedy's entire service as CCSD's chief financial officer.

To quote Friday's P & C, "The committee administering the fund has given out more money than the fund earned for the past six years. In the future, the district's finance department will notify the board chair of the amount available to be awarded."

Umm. In the future? And the Board weren't notified previously how much was available? What kind of crazy system is that?

Needless to say, the taxpayers will foot the bill for this foolishness, which member Brian Moody called "over-funding" of "worthy and legitimate causes." Moody himself is an accountant, but he didn't notice that a fund that contained $150,000 gave out $50,000 in one year, seriously depleting its principal. Fortunately, member David Engelman pointed out the discrepancy, or as he has said, "what $150,000 investment makes $50,000 in one year?"

Truth to tell, board members used the fund as a personal charity for favored groups, some undoubtedly deserving, and some, like the one run by Nancy Cook, an apparent conflict of interest. Two CCSD board members, unnamed in the article (but one is Hillery Douglas) and a third from the District 20 constituent board make the recommendations to the full CCSD board each year.

As the P & C points out, "The fund isn't supposed to fall below its principal amount, but that happened this year after the board doled out too many grants. The fund has earned an average of $500 in monthly interest for the past four years, but at that rate, the fund would take more than seven years to rebuild itself to the principal amount."

Where IS Al Parish when we need him?