Tuesday, September 11, 2007

On a Handshake? CSSD Board Needs It in Writing

When the CCSD School Board agreed to set up the five-year-old Sea Islands Youth Build program as a charter school this year, an approximately 10-student-per-year program became one for 75 students--in the same space. When questioned at the time by the Board, Renee Chewning, its director, assured them that suitable quarters for the enlarged school were available for 2007-08. Almost $100,000 had been given to the school prior to alarm bells going off at 75 Calhoun Street.

Despite her desire to help those most at risk for dropping out to become assets rather than liabilities to the community, Ms. Chewning simply had not done her homework. According to the pastor of the church building being used, notification of the potential sevenfold increase in students was never made, and he knows the facility is not large enough to hold it. No contract existed that assured Ms. Chewning that the facility could be used for so many students.

However, the Board (or the district employees informing it) did not do its "due diligence" either. It was quite ready to hand over approval with nothing more than an oral guarantee that the school had an adequate facility. Not for nothing was Ms. Chewning one of the public speakers at the board meeting several months ago urging the selection of McGinley for Superintendent. Now the school is facing an eviction notice from the church and possible closure, causing more disruption in the lives of students it was supposed to help.

Why? According to the P & C,

"Church visitors have been pelted with items students have thrown out of classroom windows, the yard has been trashed more than once, cigarette smoke hangs in the air, and church windows have been broken, [Pastor ]Warren [ of First Baptist Church of Johns Island] said.
Police have been called to the school three or four times, he said. Earlier this month, six students were arrested for fighting. Church employees and visitors should be safe on church property, but Warren said the school hasn't been able to assure him of that."

The school, whose "unconventional teaching methods with at-risk students who haven't been successful in traditional schools" were featured in August by the P & C, is having problems that could have been foreseen. Too much responsibility has been handed over to students not ready to handle it, judging from the results. Somehow in its plan to empower students, the school itself has failed to be safe for its students, teachers, and passersby.

Sometimes good intentions aren't enough.


Do You Believe It Now? said...

Is the reduction in size at Murray Hill connected to the sudden expansion of Youth Build?

Dr. McGinley announced just after taking charge in June that Murray Hill Academy, the discipline school managed by CEP under its contract with CCSD, was "ineffective". Since then the contracted maximum number of students that CEP is allowed to handle at the newly constructed Murray Hill campus has been reduced from 425 to 325. Further changes included that they would no longer handle students aged 17-20. (Twenty year old students!) These over age discipline referrals were found to pose problems at Murray Hill which also serves sixth grade middle school students.

CCSD officials have now decided these older students will instead be assigned to alternative schools such as Youth Build and Gregg Mathis charter schools, Adult Ed and GED programs or would be reassigned by CCSD to be sent back to the schools which had just effectively expelled them. There is now some talk that the High Tech High proposal for Rivers was being modified to receive these same students and many others that Murray Hill will not be able to handle now that it has been reduced in size.

Does the unexpected enrollment increase at Youth Build by more than sevenfold relate to CCSD's decision to transfer its overage discipline problems out of Murray Hill? Will the High Tech High proposed for Rivers become the new dumping ground? Oh what a tangled web they weave!

Babbie said...

The same thought had occurred to me. How much has now been spent on Murray Hill Academy? And why?