Wednesday, March 21, 2007

Trust CCSD? Bridge for Sale

What will make CCSD change the way it does business? No doubt many posters on this blog are pondering the same question.

Sometimes the Post and Courier does provide hints, however. Take this statement from today's front-page story on changes in the district's special education programs:
" [CCSD] had such serious problems in the past with the way it provided services to students with disabilities that it was in jeopardy of losing $1.5 million in federal funds last year." AND "A scathing state audit in 2006 found 48 areas in which the district wasn't in compliance with state and federal regulations."

Yes, the audit looked at the underbelly of the beast. The district finally addressed deficiencies that had damaged its students for years (and who knows how many) for FINANCIAL reasons, not a desire to help special needs students and certainly not a desire to answer the justifiable complaints of their parents.

Of course, CCSD now proudly proclaims all of the ways in which those same students' and parents' problems are being addressed, but this concern and the district's actions were provoked by the threat of the loss of funds.

Money talks. Money certainly has talked in the Buist Academy lottery scandal (that's not too strong a word, is it?). A cursory look at the postings from supporters of Buist's principal and its record will reveal money's loud voice.

Furthermore, judging from the many comments of the Buist lottery's supporters and detractors, virtually no one defends the lottery results as producing a kindergarten class that is truly randomly selected from four accurate lists, as CCSD has promised would be the case.

I have a bridge in Brooklyn to sell anyone who trusts CCSD to remedy these problems without its undergoing both political and financial pressure. Personally, I find the attitudes of the "our Buist"-needs-to-manipulate-the-lottery-to-survive crowd self-serving, yes, but, especially, embarrassing. THESE are the people who are "well connected"? I, for one, am proud I'm not connected to them!

I do believe the political pressure is building, if this blog is any measure. The long and thoughtful comments in response to it appear to be the result of the P&C's refusal to report on the issue. Every day when I look at the Letters to the Editor, I wonder how many were received about Buist and considered not suitable to print. Five per day? Ten? I bet they could fill up the Op-Ed page every day.

If this so-called "magnet" school is not in fact a magnet for the academically talented but instead a magnet for the well-connected and rich, is it in danger of losing funds from state or federal sources? Is it possible for CCSD to justify its protocols as necessary to keep the rich and well connected in the public schools?

Well, Post and Courier, how about it?


Anonymous said...

People are allowed to move and the Buist directory is only the business of Buist parents. Any parent that showed that directory to the downtown crowd is a traitor to the school. Leave Sallie alone. She was under intense pressure to look the other way when dealing with addresses by people more powerful than herself.

By the way, she didn't even know who Darius Rucker was last year. The manipulation of the lottery is done by someone with a lot more influence than poor Sallie. The only reason they keep her around is because she knows too much. Sallie Ballard could talk and many names you know with public responsibility would be in big trouble.

Sallie has had a terrible year.She's actually not the sharpest knife in the drawer so she's terribly confused as to how she got in this position. You guys are piling on the wrong group of people.

Most Buist parents have no idea how powerless they are. The corrupt system was set up long before most of them had kids at the school. The corruption in the lottery, testing, and retention is so routine after years of "the system" that those in charge fail to think twice about it. It has seemed like the normal thing for years to pick the class as soon as applications come in.

Children are chosen purely on the basis of how much of a benefit or a threat their parents are to the school. Attorneys are a great benefit to the school so that "the system" can be protected. Attorneys are also threatening so the children of all lawyers are given spaces. Parents with fundraising experience and connections to the "right" politicians are always welcomed. Teachers and teachers assistants are kept happy because sometimes they can put the right word in for someone close to them.

Basically Buist is a great treasure chest for CCSD. Whenever necessary CCSD can reach into the treasure chest and reward anyone they think it is necessary to reward. Among the people they reward with a spot at Buist are: past and future fund raisers, school board members, employees and relatives of the "right" elected officials and donors to the general fund. Donations to the Buist foundation are a little too obvious and not as beneficial to CCSD. Those of you looking into the foundation records won't find much. These attorneys aren't stupid!

All of this is justified in the minds of the perpetrators because every once in a while they can offer a good education to a child that would not otherwise have it. Do any of you really think Sallie is capable of keeping all of this going herself all of these years? Is she someone that you sense has a keen intelligence?

Buist seats are also rewarded to children with older siblings that are discovered in other public schools with high PACT scores. Little Johnny is let in and suddenly the big sister that was never put in the lottery but has extremely high PACT scores is number 1 on the sibling list! Buist suddenly has a middle school child with a proven PACT record to replace whoever was kicked out for slipping into an 84 average. This is also an age group in which they try to sprinkle in a little ethnic diversity now that they have so little in the lower grades.

Do you find Sallie has an interesting vision for the school? In the five years she has been in charge has she changed anything for the better? The school is stagnant.

The IB program was introduced to her by a teacher. Mrs. Barrett did all of the work to get it going over the years. Sallie is simply a pawn in the mess that is CCSD. She is not a leader for the teachers. She can't even discipline the children properly because her hands are so tied. The children of the more powerful people in the school can get away with anything.

District 20 getting preference would be a disaster because people living so close together in a city would quickly discover that Johnny doesn't really live downtown. They might even know that their next door neighbor was number 1 on the sibling waiting list, not Johnny's brilliant big sister. They might demand better for their community than this sham of an admissions process.

Was the District 20 Constituent Board really so naive? Did they think they could hand over names and real addresses of these people and CCSD would give up this charade? Buist is a valuable asset in a very poor school system. The mayor has a vested interest in keeping the status quo at Buist and it looks like the governor of this state does too.

Anonymous said...

It's just a game about numbers, not really educating the next generation. What a sham(e)!

Here are some numbers we can weight. CCSD has the Academic Magnet High School and proudly notes that it was listed as number 10 on the list of 1,100 best public high schools in the nation. But how many other local high schools could be found anywhere else on that list. NONE! ZERO! NADA!

The Charlotte (NC) area had eight. Even the Greenville-Spartanburg area had nine on the list. If each of those schools in upper SC averaged only 1,000 students, and Charleston's AMHS has less than 650 students, that means that a parent in the Greenville area has at least 9,000 chances to receive an excellent and highly challenging high school education in 9 different great public schools. A Charleston parent has less than 650 chances in one public school with very few and highly limited avenues for preparing to get in. If numbers are the game, then we're loosing the race.

Anonymous said...

Are the charges in the first post true? Sounds like this stuff could be verified. So the only real danger in academically qualified District 20 applicants being given priority is that the charade would be blown and it would become a self correcting system with so many people so close to it talking openly about what they see. What's wrong with that?

Anonymous said...

It would be hard for the P&C to not report the legal case against Buist and CCSD was refiled last Friday. It did that today almost a week after the fact. It's curious that this story is buried on the inside where we've come to expect Buist stories to be hidden. It's out of view and definately not on the front page.

Babbie said...

To the first poster: What is Sallie Ballard's background? HOw long has she been at Buist? Where was she before that?

chucker said...

I'm retired and have no school age children involved so I am fascinated by the points raised here. Bloggers rule.

Keep putting feet to the fire.

I might add that "facts" and "charges" are more credible when the person commenting is identified.

Anonymous said...

Ms. Ballard has been principal of Buist since about 2001. She was one of the people responsible for choosing to use the YCAT which replaced the earlier entrance exam. She is originally from the Philadelphia area. She was employed by CCSD for some years before she became principal at Buist, possibly as its assistant principal. Others will need to fill out the resume.

Anonymous said...

She was the Vice Principal for many years. I also hear from teachers that she only leaves the first floor and checks out the 2nd and 3rd floors a couple of times a year. Maybe that's why the third floor bathrooms were such a "problem".

Anonymous said...

Do you think that the school board members and Dr. Goodloe-Johnson didn't believe the addresses were false? Of course they always knew! When the downtown board gave them the proof it was akin to the idea of the LAPD giving OJ evidence in the Nicole Brown Simpson case.

Anonymous said...

Maybe sometimes late at night the people that covered up the admissions scandal at Buist can't sleep. I hope they wonder where the eleven children that really live downtown are going to school. Are they stuck in a failing school? Did their parents have to take out a loan to pay for a private school? Does a child take a bus far away early every morning after getting a NCLB transfer? Those were real kids.

Do they think about the schools the cheater's kids were zoned for in the suburbs? Why weren't those schools good enough? They may even resent their friends and political allies they helped out. You know, something like "why did that bastard put me in this position? He could have paid for private school many times over!"

Do they worry that so many people know what they did? Is it hard to look the Constituent Board, the reporters, and dozens of people downtown in the eye? The proof of what they covered up was in black and white and public record.

Maybe CCSD and the school board tend to think it's just a small issue in a big school system that's hard to manage and full of bigger problems. However this was all over the paper last summer and on two national news programs this winter. This was really bad publicity! They would have tried to appear to do the right thing if not for the fact that all of the cheaters were very well connected people. They were surely also afraid that the scandal would lead to a terribly embarrassing audit of many past years of admission at Buist and other magnet schools.

Babbie said...

Has the lottery scandal gotten worse since Ms. Ballard became principal? Buist has been in its present form for 30 years--what was happening previously? If "we" are "piling up on the wrong group" when looking at the principal, who SHOULD be looked at?

Anonymous said...

Buist was a school for African American students and it was always called Buist. Master iron worker Phillip Simmons and many other prominent downtown people attended Buist Academy. The building was used for other things over the years. It became a magnet school only 20 years ago. The US Justice Department wanted downtown schools desegregated. Buist as a magnet school was the response by the CCSD to the potential threat of busing.

Initially it was hard to get white parents to send their children to Buist. People used false addresses to get into Buist as soon as it started showing promise as a school. It became much worse in the last 7 years.

People cheated almost as much trying to get in on the minority list! Buist even let a blond blue eyed child in on the minority list because she had a great grandmother from Spain. A "minority" from some parts of the middle east qualified but a " minority" from other parts of the middle east did not. There are many examples of the minority list being taken advantage of and the school board often handled it poorly. Big surprise, huh?

Parents had it all figured out. It was well known that it was much easier to get into Buist as a countywide minority than a downtown minority. The white downtown list had very little competition unlike the many black families that applied. Many people in the black community downtown have been disappointed in Buist for this reason for many years. There was a lawsuit and the school board gave up the minority list without a fight.

The downtown black community became even less trusting and more resentful of Buist. All of this time downtown schools remained high poverty and nearly 100% African American. No downtown school has more than two white students. Some have none.

A list was added the year after the lawsuit: ten spots for children from failing schools. The hope was that most of these children would be minorities and the school would remain diverse.

The year the minority list disappeared there were even more potential spots for white downtown children. People went crazy trying to get in on the downtown list. That class (which is now in second grade) is nearly all white and full of more children with fake addresses than in any other grade. They qualified for the failing schools list too because nearly every year all of the downtown schools are listed as failing. Judging by the car pool line (Hummers, Expeditions, Escalades and Mercedes SUV's) very many of the parents are quite prosperous.

The funny thing is that the group that now wants to take the downtown list away is made up of many parents from this second grade class. Many of the cheaters hope to get rid of the very tool they used to get their children into the school. As Mr. Brandenburg said in his e-mail, without a downtown or failing schools list there would be no need for address verification.

The black community downtown applies to Buist less and less every year. They don't trust the system. This year many white families downtown didn't bother either because they too now know what is really happening in the admissions process. By the way, once a child is in Buist or even before they ever start school the parents with false addresses can "move" out of downtown. No one cares that a shocking number of people suddenly "move" to Mount Pleasant from downtown as soon as they receive the admissions letter. This policy has always been a great tool for the cheaters.

The recently formed Buist Task Force was a joke. It was stacked with a majority of people that had a vested interest in changing nothing about the school. Anyone with a "minority" opinion was shouted down. Every year the school gets whiter and wealthier. Strangely children on the waiting list tend to really live downtown.

The foundation was started the first year that Mrs. Ballard was in charge.

Memminger45 said...

In 1986 and in response to the US Justice Dept./NAACP desegregation suit, Buist Academy was started as the elementary portion of a magnet school plan designed to make Dist. 20 look like it was racially integrated. Buist Elementary School had been closed for at least 1 year in one of the many reorganizations of downtown schools conducted by CCSD which would eventually lead to more real estate sell offs. Buist was vacant and had not yet been offered for sale as surplus property so it was identified as the site of the proposed elementary magnet school.

Memminger45 said...

As part of the same plan an "Academic Magnet" high school was also proposed, again to make Dist. 20 appear to have alternatives to what had by 1985 become a totally re-segregated district. Charleston High, the city's oldest high school, was shut down in 1982 and its buildings abandoned by 1985. That site on Rutledge Ave, immediately adjacent to MUSC, was proposed for the high school portion of the magnet school plan.

After some debate by the county school administrators it was nixed. They were already in negotiations to sell the property and didn't want to derail that plan.

It might be appropriate to ask how many other real estate deals have determined the direction of our downtown schools? Is real estate still driving CCSD, even in this Buist matter?

Discussions of deferred maintenance and renovations involving the old Charleston High building came up so as to effectively turn attention away from reopening the city's original public high school as the site for a new academic magnet high.

Both Buist and Charleston High were built about 1921 and were designed/constructed by the same contractors. Arguments about the condition of one vs. another were simply misused for the agendas already in place, not unlike current CCSD administration discussions about other Dist. 20 schools. Building conditions don't really drive CCSD's agenda, it's the other way around. If the availability of a building doesn't agree with the agenda, then the building is pronounced "unsafe" or the property is quickly sold as surplus. The inconvenience of a building's availability for an unwanted program no longer poses a problem for the present agenda.

Memminger45 said...

There was serious political opposition to both proposed magnet schools that might be located downtown and that would target downtown students (White or Black). This opposition came from some very interesting sources, including members of the county school board itself and from leaders of local private schools which since the 1960's had enjoyed an unquestioned access to a growing pool of downtown students that only got bigger as downtown public schools declined in quality or were closed. Racial integration was secondary to the fact that all downtown schools were being stripped of their most challenging programs and the same were being reassembled in the newer suburban schools then being planned by CCSD. Some even gave the downtown magnet school idea support only to satisfy the Federal courts and then they schools would probably wither and die. Others thought that the public's association of Buist as a former all Black school would be enough to stymie its support among White parents, that's why its supporters established racial quotas and did not reserve seats for Dist. 20 in the beginning.

Both moves were designed to LIMIT Black admissions to Buist to not more than 40%. As for the high school portion, no other surplus buildings were available downtown at the time. (Murray was CCSD offices, Crafts had just been sold, Buist was spoken for, Charleston High had just been sold in a sweetheart deal with MUSC, CA Brown had been disposed of almost as quickly and Rivers was now overcrowded with all the displaced students front many of these school closures.)

In what was seen by some as a cynical move by the oponents (both Black and White) it was proposed that the new "Academic Magnet" High School share space with Burke High School. It would be a school within a school. That didn't last long, because the AMHS supporters refused to allow the name of Burke to appear on their diplomas. This added insult to injury. The Murray campus idea was torpedoed as an alternative site for moving the AMHS in the early 1990's, after CCSD moved into the Taj Mahl on Calhoun St. The AMHS was relocated to North Charleston from whence it will never return.

Unfortunately, Mayor Riley (a Bishop England grad with no real personal experience with public schools via parents, siblings or children) was unable to lead downtown residents or preservationists into welcoming the AMHS at the classical old Murray Vocational School building located on Chisolm St. just south of Broad. Ironically, the opponents to having the magnet public high school downtown were most against "having that type of element in our neighborhood." To be fair to those who supported the mayor's efforts to keep the AMHS downtown, most of the most offensive opponents didn't have children or grandchildren in local schools at all (public or private). They were loud enough to push away what could have been an imaginative solution for public education on the peninsula.

It has been fights like these and the many unfortunate attitudes of people in a position to change things (including new and old Charlestonians, city and suburban, Black and White) that make the Buist scandal seem like more of the same with no positive outcome likely. Of course, it may just needed to get this bad for us to become so fed up that we have to fix it. Buist was born late in a continuing contest about how to fix a broken public school system downtown. So far our leaders have failed us all.

Babbie said...

Very informative post, memminger45. It certainly filled in some blanks for me, since I remember when Buist was all black. If you've been in the Academic Magnet HS at the old Navy Base, you know how substandard that building is, not to speak of difficult to find. The first time I was over there I assumed that it must be the "poor stepchild" of CCSD. By the way, the Corpus Christi Independent School District from whence MG-J came, if you can believe it, was in even worse shape than Charleston's and probably still is.

Anonymous said...

Speaking of MG-J's past, when she graduated from the Broad Foundation in 2003, she stated on their website: "I believe that in order to be a successful must have the courage and strength to advocate for equity and excellence for all children."
I wonder what happened to that person? She must have "pulled the wool" over their eyes. She has fought the Dist. 20 Board at every turn as it has been fighting for equity in our Dist. 20 schools. I guess she believes in "equity and excellence for all children" as long as they don't live in Dist. 20.

Anonymous said...

Too bad the board members of the Broad Foundation didn't see her last night at Fraser. They would have been humiliated. She's not a leader. She's a dictator and she treated the Fraser parents like trash. How does the County Superintendent get away with this behavior?