Monday, December 29, 2008

CCSD's Underutilized Schools: Why?

While Sunday's editorial in the P & C [see School Pride, Tough Choices] seeks to be the voice of reason in an emotional climate, the writer glosses over both the qualities of and reasons for the proposed closings of schools such as St. Johns and Lincoln High Schools as well as elementary schools both downtown and on the islands.

Not one of these schools is in an area of declining population. In fact, the opposite is true. Logic tells us that "something is rotten in the state of Denmark."

Can we cut to the chase? Hundreds of students in these attendance areas have been allowed to transfer to schools in other constituent districts, most recently under NCLB, but most for years under various cooked-up personal reasons. These are the mostly apartheid schools, resegregated through artifice with the full cooperation of the School Board. These facts explain why CCSD refuses to provide numbers to the public on students attending schools other than in their attendance area.

Faced with sanctions under NCLB for years of failing [read "loss of federal funds"], Superintendent Nancy McGinley and the Charleston County School Board coterie urge these closures. After all, how would NCLB sanctions look on McGinley's record when she interviews for her next position?

This analysis holds no water for Lincoln High School, which is not failing. McGinley must be really annoyed at how bad this small, community-supported school makes her ideas of mega-high-schools look. Could it be that smaller high schools can be more successful?

And what about the closings of Charlestown Academy in North Charleston and Charleston Progressive Academy downtown? Close down the schools that are succeeding so that scores will rise at other schools?

Under cover of a bad recession McGinley and Gregg Meyers mean to remake CCSD in their own image. That means mega-schools instead of neighborhood ones. That means using earthquake scares to tear down every building not built by Bill Lewis.

When they get through with the Charleston County School District, it will have no history or traditions, this in an area settled in 1670.

Friday, December 26, 2008

Charleston's NAACP Silent on School Closings

McClellanville, North Charleston, Johns Island, downtown Charleston--name all of the areas most affected by the School Redesign proposals of Charleston County Superintendent of Schools Nancy McGinley. Notice what percentage of the neighborhood schools put forth for destruction are almost all black--that would be 100%. Notice which communities will be most affected by destruction of neighborhood centers--that would be traditionally black communities.

Then ask yourself: where is Dot Scott? How about Joe Darby? Developed laryngitis, have they? Has the NAACP taken a year-end vacation? Did it take the Ministerial Alliance with it?

Or have they sold out?

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Wilmot Fraser Calls CCSD Like It Is

Check out Tuesday's P & C for a Letter to the Editor from Wilmot Fraser, who the reporter claimed was thrown out of last week's School Redesign meeting at Burke High School. [See School Closings Threaten Communities' Culture, History. Photo courtesy of P&C.]

Fraser puts the Charleston County School District's suggested District 20 closings in the proper perspective (something that both Superintendent McGinley and the reporter lacked):

"This meeting was clearly structured not to solicit public opinion regarding proposed school closings and restructuring but to sell the public the point of view that the current economic crisis demands that public schools as we know them be shuttered and deconstructed to achieve false economies. The public clearly rejected all of the administrative proposals. No one spoke in favor."

"I personally criticized the planned closing of Wilmot J. Fraser Elementary. Its closing would tearing apart the history and culture of the community it serves because schools are not just buildings but cultural legacies of how to teach and learn successfully that can serve us well long-term if we bother to understand them."

". . . if we bother to understand them." There's nothing quite as valuable as boots on the ground.

Sunday, December 21, 2008

Williams's Op-Ed Explains All for CCSD's Meyers

Gregg Meyers of the Charleston County School Board: good buddy of editor emeritus Barbara Williams.

Just in case you ever wondered why Meyers has such good press from the P & C, the answer appears from perusal of Sunday's op-ed commentary, Charter Schools, Old and New, Still a District Sore Point. Williams carefully clarifies all of Meyers's objections to charter schools, especially his "concerns" over the Board's supervision of James Island Charter High School.

Please, butter wouldn't melt in his mouth.

Don't forget who's the real impetus behind restructuring and closing schools--and making life as hard as possible for the Charter School for Math and Science. If Meyers had not proposed to Superintendent McGinley that she come back to the Board with a plan, none of the nonsense we're dealing with right now would be happening.

Did it occur to Meyers that such proposals would make the idea of charter schools even more attractive in CCSD?

Saturday, December 20, 2008

Schools Sharing Space: Imagine That!

Even the New York Public Schools can have some good ideas:

Problems? Yes, but possibilities galore for the Charleston County School District. If only someone would think "outside the box." [That's a pun, by the way.]

Friday, December 19, 2008

Brian, You Expect CCSD to Make Sense?

According to Brian Hicks in Friday's P & C,
It just doesn't make sense to some folks on Johns Island.

Why would you completely rebuild a school and then, three years later, stick it on a list of possible facilities to close?

[See Close St. John's, Heart and Soul of Community?]

Who knows how much has been spent in the last three years on upgrading schools that CCSD now plans to close?

Wouldn't that data be interesting!

In Case You Don't Subscribe to the P & C: Rivers Campus

From Friday's Letters to the Editor:

Honor public's choice for Rivers site

Friday, December 19, 2008

All three of Dr. Nancy McGinley's School Redesign options for Rivers Middle School destroy this handsome 1938 building designed by Albert Simons and relocate the Charleston Charter School for Math & Science (CCSMS), a middle high school, to Archer Elementary School.

How well can the Archer building, designed for 283 little children, serve the needs of 480 teenagers? In addition to being too small in scale and capacity, Archer won't meet the many special needs of high school students — including science labs and a gym. Does Archer make sense for a middle high school?

Dr. McGinley's plan also raises other questions. What happened to the public's vote on Rivers last year and the school district's four year agreement with CCSMS to use Rivers Middle?

On May 22, 2007, about 250 people participated in an elaborate public engagement process concerning the Rivers Middle campus. After hearing and discussing the alternatives, they were asked to rank various alternatives through a formal voting process. CCSMS was the undisputed winner of the vote.

In keeping with the vote, on April 14, the Charleston County School Board approved a four-year agreement for CCSMS to use Rivers. Yet eight months later, all three redesign options banish CCSMS from Rivers Middle.

Do votes by the public and signed agreements mean nothing?

On Aug. 20, CCSMS opened on the Rivers Middle campus with the most diverse student body in Charleston County. Before its first year of operation, it built a waiting list and already has more applications than spaces for next year's 6th grade.

Bucking the tide of declining enrollments in peninsula schools, CCSMS, will grow from 188 today to 480 in 2012 if it is allowed to stick with its four-year plan and facility agreement.

One sure way to improve educational opportunities for all District 20 children is to respect the public's choice for the Rivers Middle School. That choice is that the Charleston Charter School for Math & Science — designed for that campus and doing very well — remain there.

CCSMS is currently accepting applications for 2009-2010 for grades 6-10. Applications are due by Jan. 14 and are available at: Prospective students and their families are invited to an open house on Jan. 10 from 10 a.m.-noon.

Board of Directors
Charleston Charter School for Math & Science
King Street

Thursday, December 18, 2008

Option 4 for CCSD's District 20: An IED

Now that the District 20 public venting has ended, CCSD Superintendent of Schools Nancy McGinley hopes that all will just dissipate their energies complaining to each other so that she can get on with closing schools. Let's not let that happen.

District 20 needs its own IED (yes, Improvised Explosive Device) to give CCSD School Board members reasons to vote against the McGinley-Meyers-Green guided missiles. Improvised, of course, because 75 Calhoun has guaranteed that dissenters do not have the proper data concerning school capacities, school expenses, and potential student bodies. That means that they will respond (as McGinley has already) that District 20 residents simply do not understand the problem and are reacting emotionally to a "data-driven" inevitability. In fact, if you view Mr. Bobby's economic explanation to public audiences, he believes not only are you economically ignorant, you are also simple-minded.

Allow me to quote from Core Knowledge what one respected educator has observed about being "data driven":

"Gone are the days when educators dismissed data as having only a limited utility for improving schools and school systems. What’s taken its place, argues Rick Hess, is 'The New Stupid' — where data-based decision making and research-based practice 'stand in for careful thought, serve as dressed-up rationales for the same old fads, or [are] used to justify incoherent proposals.'”

"The key is not to retreat from data, Hess counsels, 'but to truly embrace the data by asking hard questions, considering organizational realities, and contemplating unintended consequences. Absent sensible restraint, it is not difficult to envision a raft of poor judgments governing staffing, operations, and instruction—all in the name of 'data-driven decision making.’”
Wow! Did he just describe CCSD or what? Trendy poor judgment and lack of sensible restraint.

Start from the assumption that any suggestion deviating from CCSD's plans will be met with sniggering and belittling. McGinley et al fervently hope that any plan put forward will compromise enough schools that you will have signed on for your own punishment. Don't let that happen. Whatever plan you put forward must be outrageously bold and sensible; there is no way to propose dollar savings with no reliable information, so don't waste time trying.

What to do?
  • Announce that most dollar savings must be found in Mt. Pleasant, James Island, and West Ashley.
  • Immediately move to structure Charleston Progressive as a charter school. (Yes, I know they said they won't consider more charters; call their bluff).
  • File a lawsuit in federal court claiming that the School Board is attempting to resegregate the schools;
  • Call the bluff of the NAACP and Ministerial Alliance, both of whom have remained strangely silent on McGinley's proposals.
  • Ask for what you really want and have wanted for decades; don't bend to seismic or economic threats.
My suggestions:
  • Forget the seismic upgrades and the costs associated with moving students around to do them;
  • Combine all grade-level-performing students from Charleston Progressive and Buist into one magnet school that is K-8 (let's call it Courtenay Magnet, maybe);
  • Put CSMS in the Rivers building and let its board decide about upgrades;
  • Make all downtown elementary schools K-7, planning that in better times they will become Pre-K through 7;
  • Make Burke High School grades 8 - 12, for reasons enumerated previously on this blog;
  • Put the so-called Career Center / technical high school in Burke as a magnet;
  • Redraw district lines to include nearby parts of Mt. Pleasant, West Ashley, and North Charleston to fill any remaining spaces and bring down per-pupil costs.
There. That should be bold enough.

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

CCSD's Sham Redesigns in District 20: Sue

Some people are so accustomed to deception they don't know any other way. This statement clearly is true for Charleston County Schools Superintendent Nancy McGinley and her henchmen.

The removal of Wilmot Fraser fils from Tuesday night's School Redesign meeting at Burke High School only proves the point. He wanted to change the preapproved agenda. How dare actual members of the community challenge the fly-by-night plans of outsiders (McGinley--Philadelphia; Meyers--New Orleans; Green--Germany & various army posts, etc.) telling them what's best for their community! [See 350 Jam Schools Meeting, Demand to Be Heard.] Fortunately, they didn't just fall off the turnip truck, as the School Redesigners seem to believe.

What McGinley and School Board members have received is the frustrated, pent-up anger of those who have been prevented from engaging in true dialogue for too long. True, these sham community imput meetings weren't started by McGinley, but she has been only too content to follow in her predecessors' footsteps.

Say, what ever happened to the OLD plans for downtown schools? You know, the ones gathering dust on some CCSD shelf, for which a facilitator was paid $70,000 not too long ago?

The proper derision met talk of "seismic upgrades"(TV coverage reported laughter and catcalls; the P & C quoted Sandra Perry, a supporter of Fraser, as saying, "'I've been there 50 years, and I haven't seen an earthquake knock down Fraser yet,' . . . in response to the district's position.") The community knows full well that these are an excuse to close some schools and destroy others.

Too much disinformation passed by CCSD and the media goes unchallenged. On Channel 5 Wednesday morning, viewers were blithely told that Charleston "lies on a major fault line."
No, it doesn't.
No one yet knows with any certainty why the area suffered a major earthquake about 120 years ago: not announcers, not geologists, not even Bill Lewis of CCSD! Charleston is no San Francisco; it's not even a New Madrid. No one has found a fault line; the county is in an intraplate area. To quote the experts:
Nobody is exactly sure what causes these earthquakes [in intraplate areas]. In many cases, the causative fault is deeply buried, and sometimes cannot even be found. Under these circumstances it is difficult to calculate the exact seismic hazard for a given city, especially if there was only one earthquake in historical times.
So what's the big rush now? The bond issues for these upgrades haven't even been voted on yet, have they? If we've waited 50 years, why not a couple more?

We know the answer. Those in control of CCSD have seized the opportunity of weak school funding (brought on by our state legislature, I might add) combined with so-called necessary upgrades for earthquakes and a now reeling economy plus new School Board members who don't yet realize what's going on in the dog-and-pony show to ensure that no integrated school other than Buist exists downtown and to show the Feds next time they look at NCLB results that CCSD has no failing schools. They'll simply move the schools across the street, create sham mini-magnets, and give them new names, get rid of that pesky CPA magnet that keeps asking for a magnet's assets (that might take resources away from Buist) and squash CSMS in the embryo stage so that everyone can see that an integrated school downtown is impossible. Oh, yes, and sell off Fraser and Archer to developers.

Now that's Adequate Yearly Progress (AYP) in a nutshell.

Apart from lobbying School Board members to, at the very least, postpone voting on these very complex proposals in January, and, at most, to vote against the whole package at any time it comes up, residents of District 20 need to band together, pool resources, and hire a lawyer. Sue in federal court. Point out that CCSD plans to resegregate the district.

We may not be able to stop them, but at least we can slow them down. And time is valuable.

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

The Worm Turns on Johns Island

What Charleston County Superintendent of Schools Nancy McGinley should have learned by now in the second round of School Redesign meetings is that CCSD is not now and never has been an urban district (a la Broad Institute). Despite the inroads of Yankee transplants into rural communities such McClellanville and Johns Island, the residents remain proud of their generations-long heritage and want to keep it.

So it should be no seven-day-wonder that the residents of Wadmalaw and Johns Islands have banded together to propose their own more sensible plan to redesign schools on the islands. [See Islands' Residents Offer School Plan.] If only the School Board would take notice.

The residents of District 20 downtown, including those who support the Charter School for Math and Science, are facing their own armageddon Tuesday night as they band together to rebel against the most convoluted and self-serving proposal of all. Let's hope all will be heard, not merely listened to.

Monday, December 15, 2008

CCSD: Shaft District 20 and CSMS in One Blow

An elephant never forgets. Nor do Superintendent Nancy McGinley of the Charleston County Schools and her supporters on the Board of Trustees. They had the Charter School for Math and Science rammed down their throats (so to speak) and, despite their machinations, finally situated on the Rivers campus.

Even as you read this blog, CCSD is paying its lawyer to protest CSMS's right to reside on space owned by CCSD. And these so-called charter-loving folks have declared themselves above the law when it comes to considering future charters.

So it should hardly come as a surprise that all three options under the School Redesign proposals include putting CSMS into the Archer building, thus giving an elementary school building to what will become a 6-12 school. Furthermore, Archer will hold only 280 students; CSMS plans to enroll 480. That should be a good fit. The extra 200 can sit on the grass outside.

Let's face it: if the new Board members go along with the majority of the old (and so far they show no signs--other than Kandrac--of being other than cheerleaders for McGinley), they can ram this travesty through. They have the votes. All supporters of CSMS can do is make as much noise as possible and round up its own lawyers. What ever happened to the Office of Civil Rights, anyway?

It must be galling for McGinley and friends to see an integrated and successful downtown school arise after CCSD has managed to gut all previous ones.

Even beyond that travesty, after treating Charleston Progressive Academy, an erstwhile magnet school now in the Courtenay building, as the poor stepchild for years, McGinley et al will close it. That, my friends, is another piece of the pattern revealed in District 1 and District 4. CPA isn't McGinley's child, so why not jettison it willy-nilly, even though it is one of the most successful elementary schools downtown. As I stated previously, it's all about the numbers (and I don't mean financial ones).

"Seismic upgrade"for Courtenay, indeed. Does that make sense for new buildings? Yes. For the old ones? No. It's just another way to spend taxpayer dollars and keep cronies employed. Furthermore, let the Montessori school find space in Mt. Pleasant or West Ashley. Or how about on John's Island? I understand it has some excess capacity.

No, here's a better plan.

MERGE CPA with Buist
  • Any child now attending either school who is on grade level will remain; others will return to the schools in their attendance districts. Brilliant, isn't it?
  • That way, CCSD will have kept its promise to CPA's parents when it designated it a magnet school.
  • Kept its promise. Its promise.
  • This merger should be much less expensive than the options proposed by CCSD.
Redraw attendance lines for Burke High School!
  • Include those parts of Mt. Pleasant and West Ashley that are closer to Burke than to Wando or West Ashley High Schools;
  • Keep the eighth grade at Burke so that eighth-graders will make a smoother transition into high school; those prepared can take world languages and algebra at the high-school level;
  • Add the technological and vocational classes to Burke that its parents so highly desire.
Make all elementary schools K-7!
  • Redraw lines where necessary to include students from Mt. Pleasant and West Ashley to keep buildings full;
  • Keep Fraser and James Simons open; their space will be needed for the downtown students who will return once CCSD gets serious about improvement; otherwise, Bill Lewis will come hat in hand to ask for more millions to build schools before these students are out of high school.
Look what can be accomplished with a minimum of fuss and money. Oh, I forgot. That's not what McGinley and Meyers have in mind.

Friday, December 12, 2008

The Old Shell Game in CCSD

When Toya Green opens her mouth, does Gregg Meyers's voice sound as loud to you as it does to me? That was my reaction to what the P & C on Friday called "Chairwoman details crisis" in its coverage of the second-round School Redesign meeting in North Charleston's Constituent District 4. [See School Officials Learn Lesson.]

CCSD has suggested so many changes and shifts in student bodies in this part of its redesign proposal that only one conclusion is possible: move those students around to the point that no one looking at test scores will be able to compare future results with present ones.

Isn't that what this is all about anyway?

Option 1:
  • School A, now 6-8, will become 7-8 for one year, then switch to 3-5;
  • School B, now 6-8, will close for one year, then open magnetized as 6-8;
  • School C, now 6-8, will become 7-8 for one year, then magnetize as 6-8;
  • School D, not on line, will become 6-7 for one year, then magnetize as 6-8;
  • School E, now 9-12, will stay 9-12 for one year, then magnetize as 6-8.
Ha! That's only the middle-school proposals.

As the article stated,
"The atmosphere was more subdued than in McClellanville on Wednesday night but the crowd ignited at the mention of Charlestowne Academy, the only area school that might be closed under the proposal. . . . The district's proposal calls for Charlestowne Academy, a K-12 magnet school, to close and for its building to be used by Clark Academy, a program for high school students at risk for dropping out."

District 4's per-pupil expenditures are lower than the district overall. No purpose exists for shutting down Charlestowne Academy, considering that it stands out as a school that actually is meeting goals--rated Excellent, etc. Sound familiar? It should. The same exists for shutting down Lincoln High School. Yet if the achievers now at CTA are dispersed among the rest of North Charleston's schools, their overall scores will rise. Of course, McGinley hasn't considered that angle. Right.

Let's also consider the angle that Communities in Schools, run by Mayor Riley's sister, which is heavily involved in the development of Clark Academy, would be delighted to get its hands on the building now being used for Charlestown Academy. Disperse those higher-achieving students AND please the Mayor--how could McGinley et al resist?

Then there's the asininity of shutting down Brentwood once again and calling it something else. A rose by any other name. . . .

"Some questioned the district's spending, such as its administrative costs, and whether that has led to the district's predicament." McGinley answered with "We've done everything we can without touching the schools. . . . The (state) cuts have been so severe that we don't have anywhere else to find the dollars."

Here's a thought: how about McGinley's returning her windfall extra $300 per month in-district travel allowance now that the price of gasoline has fallen.

What? She really needs $1100 per month? What's she driving?

Thursday, December 11, 2008

Stand Up for McClellanville! Democracy at Work

Do not go gentle into that good night.
Rage, rage at the dying of the light.

Maybe Dylan Thomas wrote about dying in this villanelle, yet it gladdens the heart to see that residents of McClellanville have chosen not to file meekly away into classrooms to fill out yet one more form to be ignored by CCSD. Instead on Wednesday night they attempted to create the actual public discourse that CCSD, and Superintendent McGinley in particular, dread and avoid at all costs in public meetings, school board meetings, and the like. [See School Officials Get an Earful in Thursday's P & C.]

"People wondered aloud when they would be able to talk in an open forum about the proposals that would close their schools. They walked up to the front of the room and asked to be heard, and [the paid facilitator] Robertson relinquished the microphone.

"Some questioned how they could give feedback now when they still didn't know the results of a previous community forum on the criteria that would be used to rank schools for closure."

Open forum! Imagine that.

What did McGinley learn at the Broad Institute? Apparently not that small communities take pride in their schools and see them as centering their communities. It certainly had not occurred to her that the black community in McClellanville first gave up its black schools for integration and is now being asked to give them up again--this time to melt into the woodwork at Wando and Cario. Trade a close-knit community for a number in a warehouse. Maybe 150 is too small for complete high school offerings, but 3300 is about three times too large!

The most closely-guarded secrets of 75 Calhoun include the number of high school students who live in the McClellanville district (District 1) and attend public high school elsewhere in CCSD. Even more top secret would be the racial mix of students that CCSD's School Board has allowed to transfer out of the district for "convenience." It stinks.

Despite the rantings in the P & C article's comments section, Lincoln High School is not a failing school; in fact, this year it earned a Good rating overall and in improvement. Does anyone seriously believe these students will be better off if they go to Wando?

On the other hand, land in McClellanville has rapidly risen in value in the last few years. Why, only a couple of blocks away from this school are million-dollar homes for sale. Why not tear down the school and build more of them? Maybe McClellanville can attract some more millionaires from New York. That seems to be the CCSD mindset.

Let's be practical. If it's all about saving money, Option 3 should be Option 1, the only option. It is the only one that makes any sense from every point of view. Middle schools, such as McClellanville and Cario too, are sinkholes of academics, regardless of the best efforts of all concerned.

A high school with Grades 7 through 12 is not unreasonable; such structures exist everywhere, in most cases to the benefit of students. More advanced eighth graders are able to take their "high school" credits such as Algebra 1 in high school. Doesn't that make sense? And why not put sixth graders in elementary school?

This option leaves McClellanville Middle School vacant. Selling it would be short-sighted. That would assume that Charleston County is not expanding in its direction. Look at its picture above. This should be torn down? And then in a few years, probably before today's middle-schoolers have graduated from high school, Bill Lewis or his replacement will come to the taxpayers with a proposal to build another multi-million-dollar school.

Still left unaddressed is the overcrowding at Wando and Cario. Golly gee, what about redrawing district lines? Given the number of students who cross them every day, at this point they exist for purposes of segregation only.

I wonder how much money has been spent renovating these schools in McClellanville over the last decade. Plenty, I'll bet. Got to keep those cronies busy.

Tuesday, December 09, 2008

CCSD School Redesign's Ramifications

While we all scramble to get our heads around the complex changes proposed by CCSD's erstwhile Superintendent McGinley, at the behest of Gregg Meyers & Co., here are a few observations, with more to come later on specific proposals:
  • If citizens' concerns raised during the first round of public meetings affected this redesign, its complexity hides the results;
  • None of the information indicates what will happen to the buildings and land around the closed schools--it's a great time for a fire sale, isn't it, real estate values being so high and all;
  • McGinley's blaming closures on the present economic crisis; however, the true culprits here are those in the state legislature who changed the way schools are funded;
  • Weren't we happy last night to see "experienced educator" Jane Riley complimenting the district on its plans? Let's hear more of her ideas. We're all ears.

Sunday, December 07, 2008

Post-McKissick: Will Summerville Stop Importing Players?

A phenomenon it is. How John McKissick's career as football coach at Summerville High School developed its longevity is a worthwhile story to read in the P & C. [See Lifetime of Wins]

Perhaps the local press awaits his retirement to investigate the illegal recruiting of players that fuels that success. Almost everyone I meet has a story, just not for publication. What does that say to our students about ethics? Cheating is okay if it's football?

Thursday, December 04, 2008

School Board Thinks It Supercedes SC Legislature

My conscience is clear. I didn't swallow the promises made by Collins, Fraser, Green, and Oplinger to support charter schools. I wonder how all those parents at Drayton Hall Elementary who voted for them feel now. Cheated? Betrayed? [See Drayton Hall Denied Charter]

Meanwhile, the Charleston County School Board has decided to rewrite the rules for charter schools set down by the state legislature. Six members of CCSD's Board don't like the law, so they've decided to ignore it until someone forces them to pay attention. Fortunately, this time they're not dealing with those with no money or influence, so repercussions will be forthcoming. Prepare yourself for seeing more school budget money going to defend lawsuits. Sigh.

This law-breaking decision became entirely predictable when these four cheerleaders for 75 Calhoun were elected. Hold onto your hat. It's going to get worse.

They're so dense that they don't realize that every time they oppose charter schools they add more support for school vouchers.

Out of the frying pan, into the fire.

Wednesday, December 03, 2008

P & C Editorial Sense on Drayton Hall Charter

Soon we will know if today's meeting of the Charleston County School Board of Trustees to reconsider Drayon Hall's charter status made any progress. We'll see, in fact, if they followed the law.

A pointed editorial in Wednesday's paper [see Back School Choice Options], indicates that

"The law includes a provision that allows a district to reject a charter conversion on financial grounds but requires more than a mere declaration that the loss of funding will have an adverse impact. Charter school regulations require that districts specifically demonstrate "a direct negative impact on students." A district also must show specific options it considered to counter that negative impact, but to no avail."

Well, Superintendent McGinley? Let's hear about those options you explored.

Tuesday, December 02, 2008

Mission Creep in Charleston County Schools

What next? Free couples' counseling? Braces? Taxi fare? Somehow the Charleston County School District has gotten into its head that it must provide social services. [See Fund Will Offer Help in Crises.]

Much more interesting is the genesis of the fund at present supervised by Superintendent McGinley, a fund that contains $13,000. She said she "sometimes receives donations from community members, and the district receives rebates from vendors based on its volume purchasing."[boldface added]

Are we to assume that such money just started coming in to the school district? Does anyone else wonder what has been done with such monies in the past and by whom? People just habitually hand the superintendent money willy-nilly, no strings attached?

And "volume purchasing" of what? Has the district received "rebates" previously? Why aren't they returned to the original account from which those vendors are paid?

Thirteen thousand dollars to send flowers, buy bus tickets, outfit children--these fall under "unique, catastrophic or emergency situations," according to Chief Financial Officer Bobby.

Says Superintendent McGinley, "We have to be good human beings and take care of people in dire need . . . . When tragedy strikes, we'd like to offer some help. There's always a need to reach out and help people in need."

How about donating money to the local Red Cross?

How about focusing on education?

Monday, December 01, 2008

Do Students Cheat? How About Parents?

What high school teacher would be shocked by the latest poll showing that more than 60 percent of high school students admit to cheating on a test during the last year, or that more than a third used the Internet to cheat on an assignment? Not one that is in contact with reality! [See Survey Finds Growing Deceit Among Teens.]

Of course, we all hope that our own children are in the minority who do not cheat, but ask yourself: if you could cheat on your income taxes and not get caught, would you do it? If you believe that "everyone else" gets ahead of you because they cheat, would you? If you did get caught and you could blame the tax preparer or the government or ignorance and get away with without serious consequences, would you cheat?

Students today don't even know the meaning of the word "Draconian" because they and those responsible for forming their ethics make too many excuses for bad behavior, whether it be cheating, stealing, or lying. Too many teachers suffer burnout from facing the hurdles (angry parents, administrators that want parents to go away, etc.) to enforcing a cheat-free classroom. How many parents will say, "Thank you for catching my child"? High school teachers of writing require more and more class time for drafting so that they know that the work is the student's own (and not his-or-her friend's or parent's or something found on the Web).

Don't forget--this financial crisis was largely brought about by mortgage brokers who were so greedy for commissions that they didn't care what consequences ensued, even encouraging applicants to lie on applications. And the applicants did. They weren't high schools students.

Sunday, November 30, 2008

Feel-Good Hispanic Story Ignores Feds' Failures

It is the government's fault.

Failure to enforce immigration laws directly impacts students in public schools, no matter where those schools are. The Charleston County School District is one of the last to feel the fiscal brunt of an influx of non-English-speaking students whose parents came illegally across our borders. [See Sunday's P & C for a story that puts the best face on this latest anchor weighing down its schools, Embracing Diversity.]

A few statistics reveal the outlines of the problem:
  • "The number of Hispanic students in Charleston County nearly has doubled in the past five years";
  • "In [the last] eight years . . ., the number of ESOL teachers has nearly tripled";
  • "The district's Hispanic population growth has necessitated the hiring of a bilingual parent advocate and a bilingual administrator";
  • "Hispanic students make up nearly half of the roughly 750 students at Midland Park Elementary School in North Charleston, up from just 20 percent five years ago";
  • "[Midland Park] employs a translator, three full-time and 2 part-time ESOL teachers as well as bilingual teachers, psychologists and speech pathologists to work with its Spanish-speaking students and parents."
Schools are not allowed to ask the immigration status of parents or their children. Try getting a number out of district staff for how much these children have added in costs to CCSD? Won't happen.

Probably most of these children are American citizens by virtue of being born in the United States. Most native-born Americans do not realize that other countries do not have similar rules. Do you think you could claim citizenship for your child if he or she were born in Mexico or Guatemala? Even School Board Chairman Toya Hampton-Green seems to believe she could have claimed German citizenship by being born in Germany! Not unless one of her parents were German.

This influx of Spanish speakers adds to public schools' many problems. Is there any doubt in your mind that dollars that could have gone to raising achievement for the children of legal Americans now is spent coping with non-English-speaking students and illegal parents? We are paying through the nose for Mexico's and Guatemala's failures. Do we feel sorry for these struggling people? Yes. Should we be forced to support them? No.

Our local developments spring directly from our federal government's failures, but you won't see the federal government making up the difference.

You will.

Saturday, November 29, 2008

CCSD Special Meeting Called; Oplinger Hiding


Saturday's P & C reported the Charleston County School District Board of Trustees' vote on making Drayton Hall a charter school. The story had been held since last Tuesday. [See Drayton Hall Elementary in Limbo on $2M Charter Question.]

Perhaps the reporter spent those days trying to reach still-missing-in-action new Board member Ann Oplinger. According to the story, "Ann Oplinger, who wasn't at the meeting, could not be reached for comment." Meanwhile, member Gregg Meyers waffles.

The Board has scheduled a "Special Meeting" for December 3 at 4 p.m., presumably the one Green originally suggested for the 1st. That tidbit wasn't in the P & C, but CCSD's website now lists the notice.

Let's hope charter school supporters make it their business to be there.

Friday, November 28, 2008

Demography Rock-Hill Style for CCSD

[What follows is based on both FOIA requests and corresponding partial answers from Charleston County School District staff as well as the analysis by various members of the community not associated with district staff.]

When Bill Lewis, Chief of Operations for Capital Programs for the Charleston County School District, needed demographics for growth projection in the public schools, where did he turn but to Rock Hill, South Carolina, that well-known center for demographic research.

In fact, to save himself the hassle of a publicly-advertised Request For Proposals (RFP), he requested seven or eight separate reports, all for charges just below the CCSD policy on cost thresholds for requiring Board approval. Reasonable estimates put the total paid to McKibben Research Associates between $60,000 and $70,000, although it may be higher still. McKibben himself was paid $500 to attend at least one constituent board meeting in which he merely read from his report.

If that behavior isn't smelly enough for you, no one at district headquarters will admit who ordered the reports, although Superintendent McGinley has stated that they "belong to Bill Lewis." Yet the McKibben Reports ( as they are known) are the basis for a wide range of CCSD planning, from buses to facilities; school redesign rests on these unacknowledged step-children.

Apart from the money trail, other more worrying aspects remain. No one in CCSD seems to be willing to vouch for the quality and content of the reports.

To make matters worse, the reports contain no concrete data, no maps, and no hard evidence that the information supplied to McKibben by CCSD has been independently verified using US Census, City of Charleston, or SC Department of Education figures. For the amount of money, taxpayers would assume that McKibben would provide its own up-to-date data!

On top of that, McKibben's analysis consists of seven or eight reports that are boiler-plate documents, with standard wording throughout, almost verbatim copies of each other. [See blog posting below: the Fairfax County Citizens Task Force had already discovered this little "short-cut."]

Nowhere do the McKibben Reports mention the effects of transfers into and out of attendance zones, especially the effects of NCLB transfers. As one observer writes,
"A disturbing discovery was to learn just how much important and available information is missing from the reports. Some include student numbers that CCSD has so far refused to supply to anyone under previous FOIA requests. There is no mention in the district population and school enrollment reports of any NCLB transfers. Nor is there any analysis of what impact this mass movement of students out of their neighborhood attendance zones has had on the schools that are receiving these transferees or on the schools and districts those students are leaving.

Any attempt by CCSD to claim that NCLB numbers are low would be a confirmation that they are simply putting those transfers under a different heading. How else can CCSD explain the large number of students being transferred from other parts of the county to West Ashley High when that school isn't even eligible under NCLB?

If these numbers are buried within each of these eight reports as "students enrolled within their attendance zone," then all the numbers are skewed as much as 20-30% off the mark. That would make it even more questionable why Moultrie, St. Andrews, and James Island are left out of the redesign process. Their overcrowded schools have directly resulted from the abject failure of other CCSD schools. CCSD's added incapacity (or refusal) to verify accurate addresses for those attending schools in zones or districts where the students are legally assigned is only salt added to the wound.

On average, 10-20% of the students attending every school are either attending using a false address or transferring in under a policy other than NCLB. How have these numbers been considered by CCSD and their hired demographer, or have they been addressed at all?
At the CCSD Board of Trustees meeting on December 8th, ten days from now, Superintendent McGinley will present her proposals for school closings and redesign based on numbers in these reports. She is fully expected to ignore these nagging questions. Will the School Board ride along?

[BTW, McKibben's educational credentials make him more a trained sociologist than a demographer: "Ph.D. Sociology/Demography, Bowling Green State University, Ohio, 1990; MA Sociology, Syracuse University, New York, 1982; BA Sociology & History, State University of New York at Geneseo, 1981." Prior to starting his own business, he taught in several university sociology departments, presumably where he got the idea to become part of the edublob.]

Thursday, November 27, 2008

P & C Ignores CCSD Board's Drayton Hall Vote

Despite an early on-line posting regarding the November 24th meeting of the Charleston County School Board, the P & C pulled from publication its coverage of the tie vote on approval of charter status of Drayton Hall Elementary. Non-coverage included Ann Oplinger's suspicious nonattendance and/or vote and Toya Hampton-Green's call for a December 1st meeting to reconsider the charter when all members would be present.

A quick look at the on-line minutes of that meeting posted on the CCSD website confirms the story. However, noticeably missing is Green's call for a December 1st meeting. Instead, the minutes show Superintendent McGinley's self-serving report of the five "partial-magnet" schools being created for parental choice. She does not mention that these schools must be restructured in some way because their NCLB results require it! The minutes neglect to report her comments against Drayton Hall's choice.

The P & C has reported all previous CCSD Board meetings. Why ignore this one? So much local news is being covered that there's no room? Has our local paper become like the economically failing New York Times--"all the news that fits [our agenda], we print"?

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Members Show Colors on Charter Schools

Where was Ann Oplinger Monday night? Somewhere so far into the galaxy that she couldn't even reach a telephone to vote? Maybe the color of her flag was yellow.

So it would appear from the 4- 4 tie vote from the Charleston County School Board on the granting of charter status to Drayton Hall Elementary School at Monday night's meeting. Having failed to get a majority, the Board will meet again on December 1. [See School's Request to Convert to Charter Denied]

Will Oplinger attend? Will she be able to use a telephone?

Following CCSD Superintendent Nancy McGinley's lead to vote against charter status were staunch charter school supporters (not!) Toya Hampton-Green and Ruth Jordan and newly-elected members Chris Collins and Chris Fraser. Golly, what a surprise.

Monday, November 24, 2008

Data-Driven McGinley Forgets Data on Schools

Data-driven. Isn't that what Charleston County Schools Superintendent Nancy McGinley claims for her every decision, for every waking moment as she contemplates the future of CCSD's schools? Thanks to an eagle-eyed former educator, she has been called on the carpet for forgetting the most basic of her mantras.

From Monday's P & C's Letters to the Editor:

"School defense lacks statistics"

Monday, November 24, 2008

"I am a retired educator and am always interested in education in our state. I regularly buy The Post and Courier in my hometown and keep up with the education issues in Charleston.

"I enjoyed the Nov. 14 article about the single mother, Candace Capers, and her commitment and sacrifice to ensure that her three children get a responsible education and better life than she has experienced. I greatly admire someone independently taking responsibility for one's life situations.

"I was perplexed to read in the Nov. 19 issue the superintendent's response to Candace's situation. While I appreciated reading about the fine credentials of her administrators, I had expected Dr. Nancy McGinley to address more specific issues — mainly statistical information.

"What do current statistics show when comparing the reading grade level of peninsula students to students in Mount Pleasant schools?

"What do current statistics show about personnel turnover rates in peninsula schools compared to schools in Mount Pleasant? For example, what percentage of teachers leave the peninsula schools within the first or second year compared to Mount Pleasant schools?

"How many schools on the peninsula offer foreign languages (other than Buist) compared to the number of schools offering foreign languages in Mount Pleasant?

"To me, these are significant issues that would entice someone like Candace to seek education off the peninsula for her children. Unless the statistics can show comparable standings, I would expect more individuals to seek educational opportunities for their children elsewhere, and I would commend them for doing so.

"Nothing should be more important to parents than the education of their children.

Alston Court

Thank you, Ms. Griffin. You've eloquently made our case!

Saturday, November 22, 2008

Stacking the Deck on CCSD School Redesign

Charleston County School District staff recommendations regarding community input on criteria for School Redesign (taken from CCSD website):

Survey Results in Rank Order

Criteria Total % (Important and Very Important)

Building Condition 93%

Program Standards 91%

Time and miles to nearest school 87%

Available space in nearest school 87%

Improvement Rating 86%

Population & Enrollment Trends 86%

Enrollment vs. Building Capacity 85%

Adequate Yearly Progress (AYP) 85%

Campus Size 83%

Enrollment Decline 81%

Absolute Rating 81%

Building Use 77%

Fidelity of Mission (Magnets) 75%

Per Pupil Cost 75%

Minimal School Size 75%

Transfers Out 69%

Shaded criteria represent the staff’s recommendation.[in bold here]

So why did "staff" consider "Fidelity of Mission (Magnets)" and "Per Pupil Cost" more important than "Building Use"?


Without public discussion the new School Board approved the twelve criteria selected by "staff." Transparency rules?

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

McGinley's Predictable Reaction to Candace-the-Mother

In very nice words, of course, an op-ed piece by Charleston County School District Superintendent Nancy McGinley informs Candace-the-Mother that she doesn't know what she's talking about. [See Five-year Climb: From 'Below Average' to 'Excellent' in Wednesday's P & C.] Perhaps McGinley is worried about too many copycats?
  • "Five years ago, our state improvement rating was "Below Average." This year, it is projected to be "Excellent" — the highest improvement rating the state can award, and the first Excellent rating the district has earned since report cards began in 2001." Try not to count those chickens before they're hatched, even if the School Board has already given you a raise for this "projected" rating.
  • ". . . Five years ago, there was great variation in what children learned from school to school. Today, we have a high-standards, district-wide curriculum that spells out precisely what teachers need to teach in each subject and grade level." Surely McGinley knows the difference between teaching and learning! Talk to any teacher.
  • ". . . All of these elementary school principals — along with Cecelia Rogers at the Charleston Development Academy on the West Side — are working tirelessly with community partners to move schools forward and give parents the kinds of attractive education choices they can be proud of. They will never go back to where we were five years ago. The most attractive "education choice" is still mastering a basic curriculum.
  • ". . . Downtown and all across the county, we are making the goal of a high-quality public education for every child — the heart of our democracy — a reality in Charleston. I invite Ms. Capers — and any parent interested in their children growing up prepared to succeed in a diverse, competitive world — back into our schools to see what a difference five years can make." The improvements are so great that today Ms. Capers's child would not be able to see the difference? Really?
One of the unsolicited comments on this blog provides a relevant counterpoint to this paean of praise:
"There are capable teachers in the downtown schools, and there are students who could be equal to any student East of the Cooper; but every day, they have a classroom in which one, two, or three students are able to create chaos and no one does anything about it. The administrator tells the teacher, "Have you called the parents?" The teacher says yes, and the principal sends the teacher to see someone else who is successful in a classroom East of the Cooper. Meanwhile, the one, two, or three students are undermining the classroom because we have to accommodate them. The only real accommodation they need is some discipline, bottom line, and I don't mean paddling. I mean that when a student goes to the principal's office, [it should be] like the old days. There is not an investigation on who was right, the child or teacher. Bottom line, the adult is being paid and not the child. Today we have put the children on an equal footing with the teacher. We must hear the child's point of view, and then we decide if the teacher was right or wrong. What ever happened to the thought that the adult in the classroom is right? Children today know how to work the system so that they are not ultimately held accountable for their actions until it is to late.

"Now, on the other hand, a principal tries to do the right thing, and downtown tells them that they cannot do it because it will lower the marks for the school in the ratings game. So downtown creates a document that looks like they are addressing the issues of a failing school, but it is a paper tiger. It looks fantastic in theory, but when theory hits the pavement, it gets run over.

"And then those who want to destroy the public school system use the negative school press to push their political points, and at the end of the day, the adults do not lose. They go back to their nice homes. The only losers are the children because they are growing up and not getting the education they deserve.

Monday, November 17, 2008

Why Statistics Matter to School Districts

The McKibben Report. What is it? Why does it matter?

McKibben Demographic Research [see ] is a part of the edublob servicing the needs of public school systems, in this case estimating the school population that may reside within particular boundaries. These numbers, used for planning purposes, project whether schools in 10 or 20 years will be crowded or empty. Sometime in 2007, the Charleston County School Board authorized a report on the population of District 20 (the downtown schools). So far, the district has refused to disclose how much it paid McKibben for that service.

The looming recommendations for school "redesign" and closings depend on the projections in that report. But how accurate is it? Downtown residents have been considerably annoyed at what they perceive to be ill-treatment concerning its dissemination. A copy of the report given to the District 20 Constituent Board in February 2008 was missing two thirds of its pages!

When McKibben met with the D20 Board in September 2008, he was insulted that his conclusions were challenged, even though he (and the district) "made [the report] virtually useless by its lack of a cover letter, client instructions, supporting data and maps. . . [and] Though he was asked to present supporting documentation, he didn't." As one "stakeholder" has pointed out, "Without creditable documentation, Dr. McKibben’s assertions are unsupportable and should not be used as part of the school reorganization plan."

Yet, that is exactly what is happening. No supporting documentation.

Just for fun, let's turn to the experience of the Fairfax County School Board, found easily on the Web. [See
Fairfax County Public Schools Enrollment Proj ection Task Force.] Fairfax also used McKibben for planning purposes. Although the district used his findings, the final report of the Citizens Task Force noted the following shortcomings:
Appendix E-Shortcomings in Dr. McKibben's Final Report
The contract with McKibben stipulated the items listed below from Sections5 .2 and 5.3 of the RFP. The Task Force carefully considered the SchoolBoard's stated requirements in its review of the final deliverable [sic]. Some of these requirements were not provided in the final deliverable; these are annotated below. McKibben did discuss several of these issues in his meetings with the Task Force. If McKibben had the opportunity to meet with the School Board, after final report submission, many of these items may have been addressed at that time. The Task Force is not suggesting that McKibben's recommendations would change by adding this information to the final report; . . . . "

I won't bore you with the requirements--just the annotations.
  • He certainly analyzed the current methodology but did not document his analysis in the final report.
  • This information was not provided in the final report.
  • This information was not provided in the final report.
  • The case analyses were completed but not documented in the final report.
  • This information was not provided in the final report.
  • Ditto.
  • Ditto.
  • Ditto.
Getting bored? Here's the clincher:
"The Task Force would also like to advise the School Board that this report is essentially identical to the ones he submitted to Kershaw County Schools (South Carolina) in August 2005 and West Noble Schools (Indiana) in February 2006."
Say what?

Perhaps we can surmise what annoyed McKibben when he was asked about the documentation he gave the district--and why the district hasn't provided documentation to the constituent board.

There isn't any.

Saturday, November 15, 2008

Replace Joe with "Candace-the-Mother"

If she didn't exist, we probably could have theorized her existence, but what Candace Capers discovered about elementary education in downtown Charleston bears repeating--in fact, merits becoming a symbol of the failures of the system, a system that fails those with the most meager resources.

Whoever introduced reporter Diette Courrege to Ms. Capers is owed a debt of gratitude (I have my own candidates for this person, but I'll let you think about it.). Not only did Saturday's P & C decide the story merited front-page news, but Courrege wrote it with nary a comment from any educrat in the Charleston County School District. That must be a first! [See A Mother's Sacrifice. Photo from P & C online.]

Gleaning facts from the article leaves the following items revealing CCSD's failures, both past and present, and Capers's endurance:
  • Capers herself finished the eighth-grade, but at 25 she is unable to assist a third-grader with a math problem;
  • Her 11-year-old daughter "reads books to her that she can't read," a situation that reveals that when Capers finished the eighth grade in downtown Charleston (presumably in 1996 or 1997), she was not reading on a sixth-grade level. Her chances of succeeding in high school were minimal at best;
  • Even with this inadequate background, Capers recognized that in 2003 students in the first grade at Sanders-Clyde (our infamous model school) were not learning; unlike many downtown parents, she was able to see the difference because her child had been educated for two years in Mt. Pleasant--and her child saw the difference;
  • Capers managed to negotiate the system to transfer that child and Capers's subsequent children back to schools in Mt. Pleasant, although what basis she used is unclear, as are many transfers unclear to the general public; apparently the reason she used precludes her children from getting transportation from the district.
What excuses will Superintendent McGinley and cronies make for this revealing tragedy? That things are getting better? Tell that to MiShawna Moore's victims.

I do have one bone to pick with Courrege, however. The article cites the anonymous statistic that about 1000 students resident on the peninsula travel to outside public and private schools. Source, please? Does that include magnets? Is the figure realistic? What about home schoolers? How many are elementary students? How do we account for all of the students bused into the peninsula to non-magnet schools?

One statistic. We need more reliable information.

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Flying Blind on CCSD School Closures

Community meetings will begin within the month on yet-to-be-named proposed school "restructuring" and closures. New Charleston County School Board member Ann Oplinger managed to get dates out of Superintendent McGinley at CCSD's last meeting: "Charleston County residents who want a say in which schools are closed and restructured should mark their calendars for Dec. 10, 11, 15, 16 and 17."[See School Closing Hearings Planned in Tuesday's P & C.]

One aspect that district staff have refused to share without FOIA is their projections on the school population for the district, data that should loom large in any decisions made. For example, what if two elementary schools downtown were closed and only five years later the remaining school (Sanders-Clyde) became too small to serve its community?

Think it can't happen? You might check out what's been going on in Seattle District 1 for the last few months. Other parts of CCSD, such as McClellanville and Awendaw, should be equally nervous. Undoubtedly, McGinley and Bill Lewis would say "oops" and try to convince the taxpayers that more schools needed to be built. Naturally.

Here follows the labyrinth of excuses produced so far by district employees to emails from a concerned "stakeholder":
  • to Clara Heinsohn on October 9th: "I wait for your response to the request I made on Monday [October 6] for the data CCSD intends to apply to its "school redesign initiative"; . . . It would seem specific data should be presented to the public at some point and in time for those who attend to develop specific responses to the challenges the superintendent said the county school district is facing. . . . At what point will the public have a chance to discuss the appropriate data? If the public is to be part of this process, the process appears to have been set up to allow participants at the next meeting to discuss and apply that information in support of the criteria that was discussed at the last meeting. Ultimately the goal would seem that the superintendent should want the public to make some sort of recommendation to the administration before she presents her report to the full board. . . .When is the meeting where the public will be able to review the data and make its recommendations based on factual information and reliable measurement standards?"
  • to John Emerson on October 13: "I am resubmitting my original request for specific information and data in accordance with FOIA.. . .Most of it relates to a request that was made through the office of communications on or before April 21, 2008. . . I am asking that you make available via electronic transfer the data Nancy McGinley, Bill Lewis and Elliot Smalley have officially said, on several occasions, was available and being used by their offices in preparation of the proposed redesign, reorganization and/or closure of schools."

    "The information requested involves demographic and financial data relating to each school within the county system. Nancy McGinley said in mid-September at the Burke meeting this information was already being tracked, so no trouble or additional expense should be associated with this request."

  • from John Emerson on October 16: "I am still reviewing your request. In the meantime, I wanted to make sure you know that, consistent with the FOIA, you will be charged for the costs incurred in gathering and copying any documents and information we provide."
  • to John Emerson on October 16: ". . . the superintendent and other members of her staff have said this information was already available. I requested an electronic transmission of the same data and documentation because the administration regularly moves this type of information internally. . . . It would be reasonable to assume that no costs should be associated with this request since the information is already available. These documents and the described data have been referenced repeatedly by administration officials during their presentations to the public and the board relative to the reorganization plan. It's not unreasonable for a member of the public to be given access to the same information the superintendent says she is using. I hope you aren't attempting to invoke this feature of the FOIA in order to get me to withdraw my request."
  • to John Emerson on November 4: " With an attached copy of my original message to you for your reference, this is to mark the passage of 15 business days since I submitted this specific FOYI request. Since I have received no notice to the contrary, I will conclude that all of the information originally requested will be forthcoming."
  • from John Emerson on November 5: "I recognize that you want electronic copies of these documents. I am rechecking to verify the cost for a PDF copy. The quote I have is for hard copies."
  • from John Emerson on November 5: "I am sending you a package of documents. I am still waiting on some of the information. Please note that it will cost approximately $60.00 to photocopy the documents responsive to question #12." [Note: see below]
  • to John Emerson on November 6: "I suggested electronic transfer in order to save time and reduce costs in time and paper. The requested information was for data that should already exist in some assembled form. I may have described it differently, but I am open to any suggestion that might save time and effort. This would include a presentation in a different format."
What was request # 12? Here it is:
The McKibben report has been described as only applying to District 20. If population trends are being considered as part of the county-wide school reorganization plan, then it is requested that population and demographic data CCSD is using to measure every school and attendance zone within the county also be made available as part of this request.

The delay-linger-and-wait strategy rules in CCSD, the intent being to hold meetings for public input without giving the public the ability to make informed comments or decisions.

So will the Superintendent and School Board be making informed recommendations? Who knows?

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Can Green Surmount Past as Ventriloquist's Dummy?

"She's hoping to make changes to the board's meetings and agenda, such as allowing the board to have more say in what is discussed rather than [Charleston County School] district staff making those decisions." That's what newly-elected Board Chairman Toya Hampton-Green told the P & C's reporter in Tuesday's New School Board Members Installed.

District staff have been making agenda decisions? Why?

Let's see Green tear off the shackles of lockstep thinking with Vice Chairman Gregg Meyers. Too often her remarks have kowtowed to His Mightiness. That would be change.

She can signal that she's her own woman by proposing, and lobbying for, changing the Board's rules regarding adding and removing items from the agenda.

Saturday, November 08, 2008

P & C Won't Touch $1200-A-Day CCSD Consultant

It doesn't matter that the money couldn't be used to hire another teacher for the Charleston County School District or that other educational consultants are paid more.

The important question is, is any educational consultant so valuable that his or her time should cost $1200 per day in a school district that is scraping around for funds? What could that person be adding that would be worth that much? That's what WCBD Channel 2 reports: School Consultant Paid $1200 a Day

Sandy Brossard is an educational consultant who serves several schools in Charleston county, including Stall High School in North Charleston at a fee of 12-hundred-dollars a day. News 2 checked with Stall principal Dan Conner, she visited the school twenty days last year, and collected more than 24-thousand dollars. The average teacher in Charleston county makes 253-dollars-a-day. Conner says, “She has been in on us doing our reform on Stall High School. Whether it be curriculum change, instructional changes as far as how we teach, our assessment strategies, Sandy has come in and led our charge to move this school forward, which our data will show, we are inching forward. We’re a Title-One school, the money that we’re given from the state in certain categories, you have to spend a percentage of that on professional development, so it’s not like I can say I ‘de rather get a teacher with this money. There is a percentage that has to be spent on professional development.” [italics mine] It’s all a part of an effort to improve student achievement in the classroom. Conner says it’s money well spent. He says, “Our HSAP scores have improved over the last two years, our ninth grade repeaters taking HSAP has almost doubled and in passage rate.”

The district is facing budget cuts, and may have to close schools, and from the calls and emails we received, some people believe the fee is too much. Conner says, “People want to keep hammering in on that 12-hundred dollars a day. Her networking there is no amount of money you can put on how valuable that has been for us. [italics mine] She’s worth ten times the money that we pay her because of her night and day, 24-7 information from her. She’s the best tool that I have had to use to help our kids in this school.”

Wando High School in Mount Pleasant received a grant to pay for the educational consultant. Principal Lucy Beckham says, “Sandy Brossard came into our lives five years ago. We were doing pretty good already as a high school, but not as well as we wanted to do. We applied for a comprehensive school reform grant.”[italics mine] Beckham says the 12-hundred-dollars-a day fee is not the issue. She says, “Anyone should want educators to get continuous training. Our goal is continuous improvement as a school. It doesn’t matter where the money comes from. A doesn’t matter if I raise it from the vending machine, state money, federal money, whatever kind of money, that’s not the issue. [italics mine] The issue is are our high schools getting better, are we putting together the right amount of support to take them to the next level.”

Louis Martin, associate superintendent for high schools for Charleston County School District tells News 2 money to pay for education consultants comes from technical assistance funds from the state. Martin says consultants have to be approved by district administrators, who monitor how money is spent. [italics mine] Martin says, “The money that’s being spent is all directed towards improving student achievement.”

According to Martin, last year Brossard visited seven low and high performing schools 59 times. At a rate of 12-hundred-dollars a day, totaling more than 70-thousand dollars. This year, she’s contracted for 38 days at the same fee. He says high school graduation rates at four of the seven schools that use the consultant have gone up.[because the way they were figured was changed!]

News 2 took the issue to school board chair Hillary Douglas. He says while training is essential, there may be ways to make cuts. Douglas says, “I thought they were excessive.” When asked if he thought the money would be better off spent elsewhere? Douglas says, “It could be, could be. We have needs all over the district. The district is not only looking at consultants, we’re looking at every contract the a we have to make sure we can save money.”

Principal Dan Conner says they’ve lost a lot of money this year, half a million dollars at Stall High School. For that reason, he can’t afford to hire Brossard this year, but he still gets help from her. Conner says, “She’s the gift that keeps on giving. I have no money for it, but I still talk to her three or four times a week or communicate via email or phone call.”

School district officials tell News 2 that Brossard’s fee of 12-hundred dollars a day is low compared to other consultants who charge more than 22-hundred a day. [italics mine]

Nancy Busbee, director of Office of Federal and State Accountability for the South Carolina Department of Education tells News 2, through the Technical Assistance fund, below average and unsatisfactory schools get between 75 to 250-thousand dollars to improve schools. Of that money, there is no limit on how much schools can pay consultants, as long as the school can show the service is meeting the school’s needs assessment.

News 2 checked with other school districts as well. Berkeley county has seven literacy and math coaches, who are employed by the district, but are paid according to the teacher pay scale, which range from 165 to 377 dollars a day. Dorchester district 2 does not use outside educational consultants.

Painful to read, isn't it?
The City Paper thought so and was contacted by Elliot Smalley in the district's defense after it published its questions--especially pertaining to what Brossard actually does and how successes can be traced back to her efforts:
The district’s spokesman Elliot Smalley got back to [Greg Hambrick] very quickly with his take on the News 2 piece.

“She’s one of the best high school consultants in the country, and she’s had a tremendous impact on our students,” he says. “That’s not ‘news’ — that’s a good investment, and one that progressive, high-performing districts all around the country are doing.”

Well, that explains all. One of the best in the country just happens to be located in Columbia, South Carolina.

I wonder what qualifies her to earn $1200 a day. She appears to be a school reform coach for High Schools That Work [see High Schools That Work] and at one time principal of Brookland-Cayce High School. Maybe we should call it job switches that work. $1200 per day.