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?

Thursday, October 11, 2007

CCSD by the Numbers: What's Wrong with This Picture?

During the last eight years of booming construction in Charleston County, CCSD enrollment has steadily dropped by 6 percent. Say what?

Yes, according to last Saturday's Post and Courier, Mount Pleasant's are the only schools gaining enrollment in CCSD.

The number of students isn't declining--CCSD ENROLLMENT is.

How can the reader figure that out? Let's take the case of Johns Island, a community in which my mother briefly taught home economics at the high school about a million years ago--when artesian water spouted from its fountains!

According to the P & C, "Johns Island community advocate the Rev. Michael Mack has been challenging parents to send their children back to the area's public schools." Where are they now? Are they being homeschooled? Are they in other districts? Are they in private schools?

Mack wants "religious leaders. . . to schedule a community-wide meeting about the problem." I guess that one went right over my head--what does religion have to do with CCSD enrollment? Is Mack trying to make sure Johns Island kids GO to school or go to CCSD schools on Johns Island? Actually, constituent board member Eric Mack (could he be related?) worries mainly that falling enrollment will delay construction of a new Haut Gap Middle School building.

CCSD should be worried: Johns Island enrollment has dropped 19 percent in the last eight years during a time period when construction on Johns Island is booming. Maybe the drop reflects new residents' opinion of the state of CCSD's Johns Island schools--that would be
  • St. Johns High (rated Unsatisfactory),
  • Haut Gap Middle (rated Unsatisfactory),
  • Angel Oak ("a Title 1 School," rated Below Average),
  • Edith Frierson (rated Below Average), and
  • Mt. Zion (rated Below Average) Elementary Schools.

Is there a pattern here? I'm sure that teachers in these schools are working as hard as they can to improve the picture for all of the district's residents, but parents can hardly be faulted for opting out IF THEY ARE ABLE.

"I am out of touch with reality," is the response of Superintendent McGinley to the report. Seriously, what she said was that enrollment was dropping on Johns Island because of "lack of affordable housing." Yeah, right. Johns Island has always been known for its expensive housing. That's why it has such a large community of "undocumented workers."

Nor, as quotations from the head of S.C.'s Education Oversight Committee seem to imply, is Johns Island's enrollment dropping because people are moving to the suburbs (it IS a suburb) or leaving to find manufacturing or agricultural jobs and emptying out the area (that would be upstate).

So why aren't more younger families moving into Downtown District 20, North Charleston, McClellanville, and Hollywood instead of into Dorchester County? Maybe they are and aren't sending the kids to CCSD schools.

And, as one supporter of District 20 points out, "What about the 1200 resident downtown students who are attending CCSD schools off the peninsula? It would make sense that if quality neighborhood schools were more readily available, more students from the neighborhoods might attend them. It goes without saying that CCSD is already paying a huge transportation cost penalty for not making this a priority." Numbers indicate a drop of 1400 for downtown schools over the period in question. [Of course, some students from other districts are bused into downtown.]

Can you imagine how the number would change if the district cut its 50 percent dropout rate in half?

From the Post and Courier:
Charleston County School District enrollment, broken down by geographic region, using the 10-day student count. Schools' students were counted based on their geographic location, even if students from across the county attend the school.
Region 1999-2000 2007-08 Change
Downtown 4,518 3,142 -30 percent
Mount Pleasant 7,960 10,678 34 percent
North Charleston 15,978 13,259 -17 percent
West Ashley 7,600 7,457 -2 percent
James Island 4,500 4,554 1 percent
Johns Island 1,630 1,318 -19 percent
McClellanville 769 438 -43 percent
Hollywood 2,082 1,457 -30 percent
TOTAL 45,037 42,303 -6 percent

Monday, October 08, 2007

Open Forum: Monday's CCSD Board Meeting

Your comments on Monday night's CCSD School Board meeting are welcome.

Sunday, October 07, 2007

Connect the Dots in CCSD

Here's a good example of why I have problems with the P & C's reporting about CCSD:

Saturday's edition contains two stories, each written by Diette Courrege, on CCSD. They appear on separate pages of the Local Edition. One is titled, "Student Numbers Continue to Drop"; the other, "Burke Gets New Leader: Academic Dean Gadsden Going to Brentwood."

The second article seems unconnected to the first. In it, when asked about staff changes in October, the district's new chief academic officer, Randy Bynum, "said the change was part of a broader reorganization taking place in the district." The next sentence, unclear whether it issues from Bynum or is added as background by the reporter, is "The superintendent plans to change the responsibilities of associate superintendents and already has restructured some administrative offices." Well, that suggests these two phenomena are related, doesn't it?

Except they aren't. What possible connection could exist between these changes and the Superintendent's plans? The two are NOT connected.

The reporter should have followed up on the first statement (about "broader reorganization") or even (Is it too much to ask?) thought to ask if the changes in administrative assignments are RELATED to drops in student enrollment?

Because they are. In fact, these changes are a direct result of lower numbers.

The important result of these changes is that Burke High-Middle is losing an administrator. The high school will have one less because the assistant principal is taking leadership of the seventh and eighth grades. The person moved to Brentwood Middle is filling a vacancy (although one could ask why Brentwood, of all places, was left this long with a vacancy!).

Burke's numbers are down; CCSD pulls an administrator on that basis. Does anyone besides Randy Bynum think this move is helpful to Burke? Doesn't Burke, a school nearly taken over by the state last year, need MORE help rather than less?

Bynum suggests that "[Cannon's] new role will give him the opportunity to broaden" his involvement "in the Burke community." That's one way of phrasing it.

How about, "spread himself more thinly over the Burke community"?

Saturday, October 06, 2007

CCSD's Shame: 15 Vacancies at Buist

"Let them eat cake" is what Marie-Antoinette is reported to have said when told peasants rioted because they had no bread. Though today's historians claim she never made such a callous statement, we can now imagine its coming from the mouth of Principal Sallie Ballard of Buist Academy.

How else to explain the presence of 15 vacancies this fall in the upper grades? Isn't Buist's arcane, mysterious, and closely-guarded waiting list purported to contain thousands of names?

Oh, wait! Those parents have all been contacted by Ballard and have turned down Buist admission because they realize their present schools are so much better academically than Buist!

No, of course not.

I know! All students in the appropriate grades for these vacancies have been tested and found wanting in the brains department.

Yeah, right.

Wait! Maybe . . . the list has been misplaced and Ballard has been frantically searching all fall.

Sickening, isn't it? Fifteen motivated and deserving students in CCSD are being cheated out of a better education at this very moment. How would you feel if your child were one of them?

How many eighth-grade parents at Burke would like to know that their top-scoring PACT-test-qualified child is eligible and possibly has as many as eight empty seats waiting at Buist if they should choose for their child to take advantage of one? Has any one told these parents that these vacancies exist? Do Buist and CCSD officials plan to explain these vacancies to the parents of students on the tightly-held waiting lists?

To those able to take action on behalf of those in District 20, a few suggestions from supporters:

  • Ask the Superintendent's office to supply a complete list by grade of what constituent districts are represented in each class or grade level at Buist. It has this data, we know, because it was provided in 2004.
  • Find out how many current Buist students show a legally verifiable primary residence in District 20. Ask that McGinley "certify in writing." She is the one ultimately held accountable.
  • If the figures are remotely believable, then it will become obvious to what extent District 20 children have been cheated. A statistician from the College of Charleston could verify the probabilities.
  • The current Buist kindergarten should show at least 35% District 20 residents (25% from the District 20 list plus at least 10% from names announced at the lottery from the three remaining lists). That would be a breakdown of 10 plus 4, for a total of 14.
  • If the number of verifiable District 20 children in this year's kindergarten is significantly less than 14 out of a class total of 40, the parents of District 20 children have been cheated (with administrative approval) once again.
  • As for Buist grades one through eight, CCSD would have a hard time justifying to the public an enrollment that shows less than 10 verifiable District 20 children in each of grades one through three and at least 12 or 13 verifiable from District 20 in each of grades four through eight.
  • Hillery Douglas has already let slip that last year's numbers at Buist show less than 20% of Buist's students come from District 20. Coincidentally, the Buist student body now contains less than 22% African-Americans. . . even though grades 5 through 8 were admitted before the policy change, using the 40/60 quotas for minority/white.
  • If Hillery Douglas's figures are correct, as a conservative estimate, more than 60 living, breathing, verifiable District 20 children and their families are currently being kept out of Buist with the approval of the Superintendent's office.
  • District 20 children wait for openings in every grade. The Chronicle might like to run a story on the 15 vacancies as a public service announcement.
  • In the unlikely chance that any one of the four Buist lists (such as the one for District 20) is vacant, the public has a right to know. The principal at Buist has no right to withhold this information nor use it as proprietary information to recruit the favored. If she has done so, her actions should become the subject of a professional ethics complaint.
  • If McGinley is serious about resolving the Buist admissions issue as it relates to District 20, she should immediately declare that all 15 vacancies be filled and filled first with qualified District 20 applicants. Anything less than filling current vacancies with qualified District 20 children (at least until each grade reaches 25% of its enrollment with real District 20 residents) capitulates to past mismanagement. It also can be interpreted as an admission that her administration has become a party to fraud.

Without an explanation for these Buist vacancies, Ballard is just stalling with McGinley's support. And maybe the Office of Civil Rights needs to revisit its opinion of the desegregation of downtown Charleston, a purpose for which Buist was invented.

Thursday, October 04, 2007

Academic Magnet Lottery? You've Got to Be Kidding

Why now? That's the question CCSD parents should ask themselves.

Oh, yes. I know what Janet Rose said--that there were too many qualified applicants for Academic Magnet High School (AMHS), and to avoid its being "elitist," a lottery should select those admitted.

Why now? Because AMHS enjoys national recognition now.

And those parents who previously sent their children away to Choate and Phillips Andover or signed them up for Porter-Gaud or Ashley Hall are thinking to themselves, "Wait a minute. Why spend tens of thousands per year for what we can get for free in a nationally-ranked local school"?

Everything was going along so swimmingly for CCSD until AMHS became full about four years ago; then, based on a School Improvement Committee recommendation, the school began to rank applicants on four criteria--and admit them according to that ranking. No wonder we've been hearing rumblings on this blog regarding Buist Academy students who haven't made it into AMHS.

Yes, that's correct. Graduation from Buist Academy is no longer an automatic ticket to the Academic Magnet High School! Gregg Meyers and his ilk should breathe a sigh of relief that their children have already completed their public school education!

Of COURSE, rankings will eliminate some Buist applicants; no one (except a few deluded Buist parents) claims that the school has cornered the market on the brightest students in CCSD. Certainly, the YCAT doesn't test for that, as everyone who's paying attention already knows.

Logic would seem to suggest that the solution for so many bright, well-qualified students would be to make AMHS larger to accomodate them.

When did CCSD ever operate according to logic? No, CCSD self-interest suggests the lottery solution.

Why, if AMHS took all of those qualified students, their high schools' test scores would drop; their principals and the district superintendent would look bad! That's logical, also.

If the most talented CCSD students will attend AMHS on a roll of the dice, CCSD needs to ask itself why it has a magnet high school at all. What philosophy justifies leveling by lottery?

To put the icing on the cake, in Wednesday's P & C article, Courrege stated that "District officials . . . say they have to adhere to the county school board's policy on the process, but they're not sure what that policy is. To figure it out, they are going through nearly 20 years of archived paper records."

In fact, they'll let us know when they finish inventing it.

Do they really believe they can manipulate admission into AMHS as they have for Buist?