Friday, May 30, 2008

Let's Hear NAACP's Scott on Sea Islands Failure

Would you believe that Charleston's chapter of the NAACP is now calling for Governor Sanford to remove Arthur Ravenel, Jr., from the CCSD Board of Trustees over Ravenel's use of language? As reported by local TV stations, Dot Scott is at it again.

Some things that don't bother Scott and the other officers of the NAACP:
  • de facto segregated schools in District 20 (on the peninsula);
  • under-the-radar busing of white students out of District 20 and black students in to make segregation possible;
  • the CCSD Superintendent's foray into charter schools as part of changing Murray Hill Academy represented by the monumental and expensive failure of Sea Islands YouthBuild;
  • the failure of CCSD to provide programs at Burke High School desired by its parents;
  • overloading of resources on Buist Academy as a magnet school while withholding same from Charleston Progressive Academy, an almost all-black magnet school only two blocks away; etc.
How could Ravenel's remarks possibly be as damaging to CCSD as these failures? It's all politics, folks. As long as the majority on the CCSD board aligns itself with Dot Scott, we can expect more of the same.

Thursday, May 29, 2008

Lipstick on a Pig: North Charleston's Middle Schools

Question: If you had the option to send your own children to a better-performing school, would you take it? Would you decide that your child's education is too important to experiment with based on promises from CCSD's administrators? Or would you take the chance that disciplinary and academic conditions in the failing school your child is slated to attend have changed? See Thursday's North Charleston Schools Courting Students.

For most of us, that's what's known as a "no-brainer."

NCLB in this case is working quite effectively! Parents who care are opting out of Brentwood, Alice Birney, and Morningside Middle Schools in North Charleston because, because--they can! Now ordinary, middle-to-lower-income parents have the choice that richer parents have opted for all along. How American!

The P & C doesn't like this situation, and neither does CCSD. Surprised?

In the story splashed across the front of Thursday's local section, the reporter makes no mention of NCLB. If you weren't paying attention to CCSD's situation, you might have assumed that students were going elsewhere in the district on a whim! Courrege's lead says, "Hundreds of North Charleston children opt to go to middle schools elsewhere in the district rather than trying the ones in their neighborhoods." The REST OF THE STORY appears in the back pages.

According to Patricia Yandle of the District office, "Each of the three North Charleston middle schools has at least 95 students who plan to transfer to other higher-performing middle schools next school year under the federal No Child Left Behind law. . . . Most of those students were incoming sixth-graders." Of course, the schools' principals want this cadre of parents to stay. These would be the most involved in their children's education. ALMOST makes you feel sorry for them.

However, changing "perceptions" about these schools is NOT what is needed. REAL change is! And it is happening, just too slowly for these parents. Losing students like these to other schools is causing CCSD to attempt change, as can be seen from the list of "goodies" held out to the parents like an olive branch--technology, arts-infusion, single-sex core classes. Does anyone believe these attempts would have been made without the pressure of NCLB?

When the so-called "rumors" about these schools stop, when their failing status under NCLB changes, THEN these students will return. Well, not these students. By then these will have graduated from other schools that are not failing.

Wednesday, May 28, 2008

CCSD's New Attorney: What Conditions?

Among other problems swept under the rug (excuse me, relegated to the back pages) of the P & C's reporting on the most recent meeting of the CCSD School Board was a one-sentence announcement that the Board has finally solved the draining of resources caused by not having its own staff attorney.

The sentence: "-- The school board agreed to hire new district staff attorney John Emerson and pay him $145,000 annually."

Now, that sounds like a lot of money to most ordinary people, who make a great deal less. It also sounds good after the approaching-half-a-million-dollar item for legal expenses on CCSD's expenditures record for this year.

HOWEVER. It's not that much for an experienced lawyer, especially one with the following description as provided on the website of Nexsen Pruet's Columbia office:

John Emerson practices in Nexsen Pruet's Employment and Labor Law Group and in the firm's Business Litigation Group. Mr. Emerson has been certified as a specialist in Employment and Labor Law by the South Carolina Supreme Court. He advises clients on all employment matters. Mr. Emerson has appeared on behalf of management in state and federal courts throughout South Carolina.

He has also appeared before state and federal administrative bodies including the Employment Security Commission, the South Carolina Human Affairs Commission, and the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission. Mr. Emerson is a frequent speaker on employment issues including wage and hour law, discrimination claims, and at-will employment.

In 2005 the Alumni Association of the University of South Carolina School of Law presented Mr. Emerson with the Compleat Lawyer Award (Silver). The award recognizes alumni who have "made a significant contribution to the legal profession and who exemplify the highest standard of professional competence, ethics and integrity." The Silver Award is given to attorneys in practice for 14 years or fewer.

While continuing to practice law, Mr. Emerson served as Chairman of the South Carolina Educational Television Commission (2001-2004). He was appointed by Governor Jim Hodges to lead the Commission, which oversees South Carolina's public television and radio networks.

Career Highlights
  • Former Judicial Clerk to the Hon. Robert F. Chapman of the U.S. Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals (1992-93)
  • Former Chair, Public Relations Committee of the Tort Trial and Insurance Practice Section, American Bar Association
  • While attending law school, Mr. Emerson was a member of the student editorial board of the Real Property, Probate and Trust Journal and the ABA Moot Court Team. He was admitted to Order of Wig and Robe and received the John Holland Scholarship Award.
So are we to assume that $145,000 represents a cap on the fees that will be paid to Emerson or a base salary to which extra hours will be added? Or is this a part-time position? Or is Emerson so desperate to live in Charleston that he jumped at the chance to represent one of the most litigious and litigated against school districts in the state (yummy!)? Obviously he has the right political connections.

Time will tell.

To Draw Attention from CCSD Board's Failures

The P & C is at it again. And why not? No news source in the Lowcountry will counter its propaganda. Well, The Chronicle might, but unfortunately it doesn't have much clout.

So it is that once again the local rag finds Arthur Ravenel's comments of a month ago to be front page news, complete with Board Chairman Douglas's sanctimonious posturing, while important new information gets buried in the back pages. Instead of headlining Ravenel's Comments Denounced, the news should have read " CCSD Finally Votes to Revoke SeaIslands Charter." But then the focus would have been on the Board's AND the Superintendent's failures instead of Ravenel's.

Let's not forget who bear the responsibility for encouraging this charter school in the first place.

One way that McGinley and her cronies could build a bit of "street cred" is to admit their mistakes. Why, if they like, they can even say "Mistakes were made," not naming themselves.

Not going to happen.

Saturday, May 24, 2008

CCSD Invents Reverse Busing

Knowing the results of CCSD's methods over the last 30 years or so, one must be reminded of the innocently ominous tone of Sylvia Plath's "Mushrooms." In such a way has CCSD, with the full complicity of its school board, but not that of its District 20 constituent board, created de facto segregated schools on the Charleston penninsula.

In fact, under the radar CCSD has invented
REVERSE BUSING, in a stunning sleight of hand that will NEVER be covered by the Post and Courier and could not have been foreseen by the activist judges that mandated busing for integration during the seventies and eighties in places such as Charlotte.

Overnight, very
Whitely, discreetly,
Very quietly

Our toes, our noses
Take hold on the loam,
Acquire the air.

Nobody sees us,
Stops us, betrays us;
The small grains make room.
So many of us!
So many of us!

So many of us, indeed, simply assume that the population of District 20's schools merely reflects the demographics of the penninsula's population. Nothing could be further from the truth.

Thanks to the legwork and brainwork of some concerned District 20 residents, the following statistics now make clear that very gradually over the course of school year after school year CCSD has participated knowingly in re-segregating the downtown schools. This while erstwhile civil rights attorney Gregg Meyers sits on its school board.

The estimates and numbers below are updated to 2006. The information used comes from US Census data, SC Department of Education data, and public data from CCSD sources. It seems unlikely that the situation has changed dramatically in the last two years.

The bottom line is this:
  • For the approximately 5,000 seats in District 20 schools, there are about 5,000 school age children (PK thru 12) living in District 20.
  • Roughly 1200 of these children live south of Calhoun Street.
  • The racial make up of the population of District 20 is approximately 51% Black, 48% White and 1% "other."
  • As recently as 2006 District 20 had an enrollment of 3100 students.
  • Of the 3100 students attending District 20 schools in 2005-06, only 2100 students were residents of District 20.
  • Nearly 1,000 students attended District 20 schools but resided outside of District 20.
Okay, Buist may account for some, but not for more than 300.
  • Approximately 1200 District 20 residents attended CCSD schools outside of District 20.
Why? That's nearly one-third of District 20 school-age residents, isn't it?
  • Nearly 1700 District 20 students attended either a non-CCSD school or were home schooled in 2005-06.
We don't need to ask why for that.
  • At least a third of District 20's nine schools, including its only high school, had between 30% and 80% of those school enrollments made up of non-District 20 residents.
  • From the information available each of the five District 20 elementary schools draw more than half of their enrollment from outside of their specific attendance zones.
  • At least 1200 students, and possibly as many as 2500, annually enroll or withdraw from a District 20 attendance zone to which they have not been assigned.
  • The vast majority of these out-of-zone school transfers relating to District 20 students and schools appear to have been allowed without anyone informing the District 20 Board.
  • The assumption is that at least 1200 students annually attend a District 20 school without the submission of an appropriate transfer request being processed by the District 20 Board as required by law.
Worried about saving on gasoline? Does anyone believe that CCSD doesn't bus these students into and off the penninsula every day?

Busing in the service of segregation. I submit that is against the law. Is anyone paying attention?

Friday, May 23, 2008

P & C Takes Sides in CCSD Dispute

Splashed all over the front of the P & C Friday morning was one of the most important stories to come out of CCSD this year! At least it must have been to receive the place of honor above the fold. So, was this startling information about the school district banner news about its achievements or even its failures?

Of course not. It was about a spat among CCSD school board members facilitated by employees of 75 Calhoun. [See Threats to McGinley's Job Alleged ].

Lost in the explosion about "he said--she said" was the reason for the anger. Found in the detritus was a stick to beat members of the school board (mainly Arthur Ravenel, Jr.) who don't take directives from Gregg Meyers et al. Seizing the chance to overreact in an election year, Douglas and his toadies made noises about changing the policies of the Board so that language might be a cause for public censure: "A board member who violates the code could face public discipline."

Spare us the sanctimonious simpers. No one excuses foul language, not even Arthur Ravenel, Jr., as it seems from his later TV interview today, and his explosion of temper was truly uncalled for, for the person who took the agreement with the Charter School for Math and Science to use the Rivers building off the Board's agenda was not present. In fact, no one has said who took it off, so we must read the tea leaves. Judging from remarks regarding the Superintendent, it must have been McGinley.

Needless to say, the P &C ignored the issue, hoping not to pick at the scab that has formed over the ongoing dispute between organizers of CSMS and the school board, which is seething quietly over its inability to stop CSMS's fulfillment. That continues to be the real story.

Oh, and one other observation. Courrege apparently parrots whatever Meyers et al say to her. How else to explain the statement that, "Cook and Toler frequently vote with Ravenel on controversial issues"? That statement was, of course, made to cast doubt on their neutrality in the dispute. Instead, it reveals the reporter's ignorance about the relationship between Cook and Ravenel.

May we get on to the topic at hand--when IS the CCSD board going to grapple with the CSMS agreement? When hell freezes over?

Thursday, May 22, 2008

"New" Memminger Auditorium: Dream or Nightmare?

It looks like a great space. No doubt it has the latest equipment. But for some residents of CCSD, the refurbished Memminger Auditorium that opens with Spoleto this week is a sad reminder of what might have been. [See Refurbished Memminger 'Like a Good Dream'].

What a loss to the school district! And for what? A few parking spaces? Let's face it. Those in control at 75 Calhoun won't be satisfied until the space now occupied by Memminger Elementary no longer belongs to the district either. It's too valuable a property to dedicate to school children, no matter how many years the land has served in that capacity.

After all, what's tradition in a city like Charleston?

Monday, May 19, 2008

Nexsen Pruet, Memminger, and Buttered Bread

Hooray for Memminger Elementary School! It has been discovered by the Nexsen Pruet Law Firm. [See Law Firm Discovers School Neighbor.] According to the May 12th article in the P & C,

"Memminger Elementary needed 280 sharpened pencils, 140 water bottles, yogurt and peppermints for the upcoming PACT test. The school wanted to put on a science fair later this month and needed display boards and ribbons for the winners. The administration wanted to recognize its volunteers for their hard work this year with a picnic. And there was something else Memminger was in dire need of.

"One thing we were in desperate need of is a (public addess) system, because sometimes it works and sometimes it doesn't," said Principal Diane Ross.

"The answer to their prayers was right down the street, less than half a mile away.

"Ric Tapp, one of the litigation partners at Nexsen Pruet, told student support specialist Leah Hambright and Memminger's parent educator Maurice Johnson that he thought people who worked at his firm would be interested in helping the elementary school reach some of its educational goals. Johnson and Hambright put together a successful presentation for several lawyers, and about a week later, they had everything on the wish list.

"When these two gave their presentation... we had seasoned lawyers in tears," said Chris Ogiba, a lawyer at the firm.


"Ogiba said many of his co-workers didn't know that Memminger was such a close neighbor, but now he feels the relationship between the school and the firm will only strengthen.

"Everyone [at the firm] wanted to make sure this is just the beginning," he said. "We're in it for the long haul. ... We're neighbors."

Everyone has a nice, warm, fuzzy feeling now, right?? That was on May 12th.

Five days later, CCSD announced that it had finally hired its promised in-house lawyer. The cynical among us know what's coming next, don't we?
"John Emerson has been hired as the district's new staff attorney. Emerson practices in Nexsen Pruet's Columbia office as a part of the employment and labor law group and the business litigation group."
Frankly, I'm glad to see that someone at Nexsen Pruet knew which side its bread was buttered on and thought it wise to help Memminger out.

Coincidence, you say? Sure, just about as much of a coincidence as the resignation of Rusty Thomas the day before the fire report came out.

Note: Thanks to a sharp-eyed reader for putting two and two together for me. As this person has said so succinctly,
One would think that a law firm as rich and powerful as this one and with designs on taking over the CCSD contract would have been (a.) less obvious in the choice of its beneficiary; (b.) more generous so as not to look "niggardly;" (c.) careful to avoid the appearance that it has been oblivious to Memminger's plight for over forty years; and (d.) gone the extra step of setting up a Non-profit to provide for continuing donations to and fund-raising for this school.
Of course, the money could have been donated to the school anonymously through rather than directly to the school in a public manner. But then Nexen, Pruet would not have received the free publicity.

Sunday, May 18, 2008

Tom Ravenel Convicts Himself in Interview

Self-serving whining.

That's what greeted Sunday's readers of the P & C as they read its interview with former State Treasurer Thomas Ravenel, smartly splashed all over the front page for maximum publicity.

Let Thomas speak for himself:

"Ravenel remains angry that he has to go to prison at all. If the case had been pursued in state court rather than at the federal level, he and his legal team contend he probably would have gotten a slap on the wrist and no incarceration time at all."

"I think what happened to me is that I went through a midlife crisis."

"[He] began running with the drug crowd because they were young."

"Contrary to public opinion, [cocaine]'s not that addictive," he said.

"He knows that he did wrong by using drugs while in elected office but says he deserved a break from federal Judge Joe Anderson."

"A first-time drug user should not go to prison," said Ravenel.

"His habit was mostly recreational, he says, buying sporadically and saving it for party times, although he said the frequency of his use increased."
A first-time user? Is he kidding? Not addictive? Really? Didn't get a break? Wasn't the amount he was charged with holding reduced from 400 to 100 grams?

Believe it or not, this whiner is so arrogant that he plans to run for office again in the future.

The State's reporter asked more pointed questions in Columbia Wednesday than the P & C's, or The State was more interested in printing details (provided by Tom himself) of his usage:

He said the first time he used cocaine was during a trip to the Bahamas when he was 18 and a rising senior at St. Andrews High School.

At The Citadel, Ravenel used “a couple of times.”

Then, “I went 15 years without doing it” until a 1999 vacation in Aruba.

He told investigators he did not use again until a 2002 New Year’s Eve party.

By the spring of 2005, when he was in his downward spiral, Ravenel began hosting and attending parties in his Charleston mansion district where cocaine was common.

“Here, have a little bump,” he said other users would tell him. “Next thing you know, it’s ‘Do you have a bump?’ Then, ‘Let’s go buy a bump.’ That’s how it happened.

Does this mean we have the whole story now?

Tuesday, May 13, 2008

CCSD & Sea Islands YouthBuild: What Now?

If you can make any sense out of what is going on with this charter, I'd be glad of your comments. The P & C's recent article [YouthBuild Gets 2-week Reprieve ] was not illuminating!

Monday, May 05, 2008

SC Montessori Programs: Where's the Beef?

Maria Montessori, a pioneer in childhood education, took children from the Italian equivalent of housing projects and showed that they were educable. Since the recognition of her success early in the twentieth century, her methods have spread in various incarnations around the world.

My own experience with "real" (not American) Montessori was my child's enrollment in a preschool that mixed children from 3 to 5 years old with highly-educated, wealthy parents in a private school with small classes. It was a good experience for my child, although I'm not sure that a more traditional atmosphere wouldn't have been the same.

Now the SC State Department of Education is touting Montessori programs as one of the ways to improve graduation rates. According to Monday's Post and Courier, the state's coordinator of Montessori education, Ginny Riga said, "Montessori isn't for everyone. Some students need more structure or learn better through lectures, but she contends that's a small percentage. 'There's so much emphasis on the love of learning and respect of learning, instead of push, push, push for skill and drill.'" Lectures? Please, stop the straw-man arguments.

You know, until she made that last crack about "push, push, push for skill and drill" as being antithetical to "the love of learning and respect of learning," I was ready to go along with Riga. Now I want the hard statistics on South Carolina's 33 Montessori schools, adjusted, of course, for the usual socio-economic factors.

According to the article, SC's Montessori schools have been around since the mid-1990s. That's long enough to gather preliminary statistics on whether they have produced more engaged and more prepared students. Has anyone been charged with finding out? And, by the way, how many of these programs go past the sixth grade? That might have some bearing on whether graduation rates would be improved.

As they say, "Where's the beef?"

Friday, May 02, 2008

YouthBuild Builds at Last: CCSD Soap Opera

The long, sad odyssey of Sea Islands YouthBuild Charter School seems to be coming to a resolution, if a temporary one. Today's P & C reports that the school finally has a building. [See Sea Islands YouthBuild Home at Last ]

At the end of the school year
The school managed to dodge the cut-off of district funds several times during the year [see several postings on this blog], but this summer the CCSD School Board will be forced to choose: is it going to fund this school in the future or not? Has the school met its obligations to remain in good standing?

Comparisons have been made between Sea Islands and the new Charter School for Math and Science over the last few months. It's time to take stock. The two charters certainly have been treated differently by the CCSD School Board; that's because, leaving aside differences in their missions, these two charters are entirely different in genesis, motivation, and parental involvement. Perhaps there are some lessons to be learned.
  • Sea Islands was encouraged by 75 Calhoun to form under the well-meaning guidance of a former employee of CCSD and friend of 75 Calhoun in order to meet the needs of older at-risk students who would no longer be eligible for Murray Hill Academy because the district changed its policies regarding Murray Hill. The students targeted for YouthBuild were unlikely to have much parental support or involvement in its organization.
  • Charter School for Math and Science started as a grass-roots effort among parents of District 20 students who were discouraged by their choices of failing schools. From the beginning, it seems, the CCSD board was miffed that it did not control the actions of this group.
  • When the CCSD Board of Trustees approved YouthBuild, it failed in its duty to these needy students by trustingly accepting the word of its organizer that a facility that would meet state standards was available for use. Such was not the case.
  • The CCSD Board of Trustees never trusted CSMS in any regard because it hated the idea of a charter high school downtown, with members repeatedly hinting that its organizers were racists. Strong grass-roots support among all races downtown won over public opinion.
  • The lack of a building and monthly perambulations of YouthBuild from pillar to post, coupled with lack of busing, guaranteed a major reduction in the number of students in attendance. Meanwhile, the district continued to pay funds based on initial numbers of students. Records of attendance were not made available to the district when requested.
  • When CSMS organizers saw the old Rivers High School building sitting vacant and requested its use, the School Board attempted to quash and/or gain control over it by suggesting exorbitant rent, then raising the number of millions needed to bring the building up to standards (never mind that the building had been vacant for a very brief period) to a ridiculous figure.
  • Perhaps as part of its agreement with CCSD to keep getting funding despite its not following the rules, Sea Islands did not ask for space in public school buildings, although certainly such space exists. Now it has signed a three-year contract to rent an old warehouse that students themselves will renovate.
According to Larry Blasch, chairman of YouthBuild's board, "the school will spend another $30,000 improving the space so it can clear state and local inspections and be occupied by students." So the space will finally meet requirements just as school is getting out for the summer?

Given that expenditure and the signing of a three-year contract, it seems reasonable to assume that the fix is in, even though the Board will be not updated in regard to continuing its support until its meeting later this month.

Taxpayers deserve to know what CCSD has gotten for their money in regard to students at YouthBuild: How many credits have been earned per tax dollar? How many diplomas?

And has CCSD learned its lesson?

Delay, Linger, and Wait: Again with the Fire Report

Why do politicians make important announcements late on Friday afternoons? No, this is not a trick question.

It's to get bad news out when their audience is paying the least attention. Some won't even get the word until the following Monday, and by then the worst of the storm will have blown over (at least that's what politicians hope).

So it should come as no surprise that it was late on Friday afternoon, only a few hours ago, that Mayor Riley, who no one doubts has political skill, announced that the long-awaited requested panel investigative report on the fatal fire at the Sofa Super Store will now be delayed until the middle of June.

The middle of June. For a report that originally was supposed to come out in December. Actually, what Riley said was, "the panel's report could be released over the summer, but he refused to commit to a definite timetable." Now the excuse is a wait for the results of two federal probes.

You know, Joe, at this point people are beginning to murmur, what has he got to hide?

Thursday, May 01, 2008

The Stupidity View of the Post and Courier

It's not rocket science.

The lead paragraph (or two) of a news article should mention who, what, where, when, why, and how, if those facts are known. The same is true of any writing that seeks to inform. Do you remember when you were first introduced to the "5 W's and an H"? I don't either, but I know it was early in high school.

So you must ask yourself, what's wrong with the Newsless aka Post and Courier? In Wednesday's edition an article about Horizon Middle Academy (who) informed the public that this charter school will not open its doors (what) next fall (when) because of lack of funding (why) caused by its approval through the SC Public Charter School District instead of through CCSD (how).

Oh, did I leave something out?

You mean WHERE? WHERE?
[See Opening Farther Out on Horizon]

Yes, the reporter left out the fifth "W" because , I suppose, if you have to ask, you can't afford to know this information.

And the editors (they still do edit, don't they?) didn't care or didn't catch it or assumed that anyone reading the P & C lacked the same amount of curiosity that the editors did.

Okay, enough of being cute. It's on Johns Island and is being organized as an alternative to Haut Gap Middle School. I know because I had to look it up. So many potential charters have been announced in the last year that I couldn't remember which one Horizon was either.

If I believed in the conspiracy view of history (which I don't), I would assume that the P & C didn't want to give Horizon any more publicity than it was forced to and figured that saying where the school would be located would only encourage those misguided parents to seek out Horizon in place of sending their children to a failing school.

No, I believe in the stupidity view of history. According to that view, what others chalk up to conspiracy is easily explained by the usual incompetency and imbecility.

Remember, we are talking about the P & C.