Thursday, February 19, 2009

Buist Again? Let's Take a Step Back

Charleston County School District Board member Ruth Jordan, who lives in West Ashley and is chairman of the Board's Policy Committee, has roiled the waters by suggesting that Buist Academy not be allowed "to become segregated again." Putting her in charge of the Policy Committee is an exercise in chaos now and yet to come! Nevertheless, any suggestion that the "magnet school's admissions procedures could be overhauled to attract more minority students" coming from this quarter should be met with the derision it deserves.

Here is a history lesson that attempts to be purely expository:
  • Buist began as an all-black school when Charleston's schools were segregated and not consolidated into one district.
  • To meet requirements imposed by desegregation lawsuits, Gregg Meyers (a present Board member) put forward the plan to create a 60-40 school to show the Civil Rights Division that the district was integrated, and the plan was accepted.
  • The school's admissions process uses four lists and a lottery to select students, but the results were required to be 40 percent minority.
  • The school thrived while other schools in what became District 20 of CCSD disappeared or became all-black and failing.
  • A lawsuit about five years ago killed the 60-40 race-based requirement.
  • Since the ruling, the percentage of minority students attending Buist has declined--CCSD putting the percentage at 25; those in District 20 suggesting that in the lower grades the percentage is more like 15.
Now, the rest of the story.

The present situation couldn't appear more biased and controversial even if it had been put into effect by a White Citizens' Committee operating in cabal. And it's easy to see who is at fault: present and former school board members, their political cronies, and present and former superintendents hired by the school boards. Until the following messes are purified with the daylight of transparency, no one will accept new OR old guidelines.

Before present parents of Buist Academy start jumping down my throat, let me point out that most parents who have sent their children to Buist over its years of operation as a magnet have not played the system in any way! No, Buist's controversies derive from how CCSD has tampered with Buist's admissions to benefit the few and well-connected. The tampering has proceeded under CCSD's "trust us with no verification" policy. There are three aspects to the tampering: implementation of the lottery; verification of the lists; and abuse of "testing" procedures.
  1. The potential for abusing who "wins" the lottery is immense, as has been well-documented on this blog and elsewhere. Until the Buist lottery becomes as transparent as the SC Education Lottery, its results will continue to be suspect.
  2. Already well-documented here and elsewhere has been CCSD's reluctance to cull from the lists those who do not qualify for them. Due to some well-placed complaints (covered by the mainstream news media), procedures have tightened. However, due to the immense secrecy surrounding who is on what list and where and machinations when vacancies have occured in upper grades (such as allowing seats to go unfilled), no one will trust the process until the lists are public.
  3. Buist's potential kindergarteners are NOT taking an "entrance exam" that is an intelligence test; therefore, the school does not select the "best and brightest," as is frequently suggested. The school's results are a combination of motivated parents, self-selection (more likely to be middle-class), and resources that CCSD has poured into the school. In fact, concerning the entering "interview" a previous commenter wrote,
"In the preface to the YCAT, the publisher states that the test is not designed to be used as the sole criteria for assessing a student and the test results should not be used as a single determining factor for directing where a child is placed in school. It further states that the test is to be used only in combination with other measures of a child's abilities, otherwise its results if taken alone may be highly unreliable, especially at the youngest age levels of kindergarten and pre-kindergarten. If that is the recommendation of those who designed the YCAT test, then why is Buist using this test exactly in the manner that the publisher has said it is not to be used?"

If that isn't damning enough for you, how about that the proctors asking the children the questions are not uniform and not qualified, and the reported results are not verifiable by any other human being.

Now, here it comes: District 20 has been such a thorn in the side of the powers-that-be that CCSD will make it a county-wide magnet without a list for District 20. McGinley and Meyers will point out that District 20 now has several "partial magnets" for its population, so why should its residents complain?

Hey, as long as the voters of Mt. Pleasant and James Island can vote District 20 residents like Toya Hampton-Green into office over the objections of residents of downtown, it's deja vu all over again. What's mine is mine and what's yours is mine.


Anonymous said...

And because of Buist's no verification policy ALL of the schools now have to verify addresses...even the magnet schools! Red tape for one means Red tape for all....

Anonymous said...

As for the policies and rules...CCSD will say "Don't do what I do, do what I say do." Trust us? Honesty and CCSD are two mutually exclusive concepts that are not able to coexist in the same universe.

I'd like to see what else the emperor's tailor will try to sell us this time.

Anonymous said...

The so-called partial magnet schools will not be funded in any manner close to Buist Academy. Either fund all schools like Buist or do away with Buist. Why does CCSD continue to think that inequitable funding of our schools is okay?

Anonymous said...

Until the admissions process at Buist is no longer handled by insiders, the entire system will still be seen as seriously flawed. Currently the principal oversees both the testing and the selection of students (the ones she prefers). She also gets to make the call if a vacancy exists or not, without regard to the actual number of empty seats in the 20-25 student classes at Buist.

The computer generated lottery also lacks transparency. The administrative official in charge of the process has too much vested interest in cooperating with the principal in maintaining the status quo. Just listen to her excuses as to why they don't use an open process like the state's lottery. Funny, and it's the education lottery, too.

It's salt on a wound that the chairman and vice-chairman of the county school board are personally interested in not rocking the board. After all, they have personal interests (their own children and those of their circle of friends) in keeping the Buist mystique unchallenged. It has always been within their power to support another equally well favored school by which to make accurate comparisons. With the current demand, they could have created a half dozen schools like Buist by now. Until there is a true measure, we'll never know if Buist is doing all that they say.

To the superintendent, Buist is there to be seen as a bright spot in the administration's largely dim record. It's not to be disturbed. Never mind so many qualified students who want into a school like this are relegated to failing programs because their parents lack the wherewithal to work the system.

How did the Buist principal put it? Under oath in 2006, her testimony in an administrative hearing went something like this: "We don't recruit minority children from downtown schools because from downtown neighborhoods because if we took the best students from District 20 schools it would make those principals look bad." You can read it for yourself. It's in the transcript the administration's lawyer asked the board not to pay for.

As long as Sallie Ballard is the principal, Janet Rose is keeping the lists and county board members are ignoring their own policies, nothing will change the admissions scam at Buist. Buist parents who don't cheat will continue to be wrongly accused. Most importantly the public will continue to distrust the entire system, from McClellanville to Edisto Island and from South of Broad to Lincolnville. Ruth Jordan can make all the noise she wants but we know nothing will change.

Buist Academy itself is not really the problem, but the admissions process is hiding at Buist is a symptom of a disease that's killing public trust. Without major changes among personnel within the entire system and a whole new approach committed to genuine reform, CCSD and most of its 80 plus schools that remain, have no prospect for recovery.

No matter what happens, CCSD's public relations department will keep sending out more meaningless misinformation about progress. Despite Ruth Jordan's furry, it signifies nothing.

Anonymous said...

Sallie Ballard's paraphrased quote might have been more like this: "We don't recruit minority children from downtown neighborhoods because if we took the best students from District 20 schools it would make those principals look bad."

Does anyone in charge of CCSD care about anything other than administrative report cards? They definately put the academic progress of individual students last.

Anonymous said...

As a parent whose child did not get into Buist, I feel strongly that the lottery system is fair, but it should be only 2 categories.

Sybling, which strenthens any school, and County.

The district 20 list needs to be removed, as it is unfair to the rest of the county.

Additionally, much of the funding for buist comes from the parents who personally donate to enhance the school.

I won't give up on trying to get in again when my youngest enters the lottery, but unfair?

What a bunch of soe losers. Not everyone gets to go. End of story.

Anonymous said...

Concerning this post "As a parent whose child did not get into Buist, I feel strongly that the lottery system is fair, but it should be only 2 categories. Sybling, which strenthens any school, and County.
The district 20 list needs to be removed, as it is unfair to the rest of the county."

This is exactly correct. There should be 2 lists each weighted 50% and if the sibling list isn't long enough, then it'll fill from the county list. All families of Charleston county should have the same access, and steps should be made to keep families together via a sibling list.

Everyone should stop tearing the achievers down and work to bring everyone else up....because what happens when the achievers stop achieving? Everyone suffers the consequences.

Additionally, much of the funding for buist comes from the parents who personally donate to enhance the school.

Anonymous said...

I do not believe there should be a sibling's list or any other list. Who says just because one child in the family is bright or academically gifted that the other children are of the same caliber. Personally speaking, I think there should only be ONE list to give everybody in CCSD a fair chance at admissions to Buist Academy. If the constitution states that it is a county-wide school, let's just have a county-wide list.
I am sick and tired of this issue. All schools should be equally the same regardless of what type school it is. We applaud our magnet school programs but schools that are not considered magnet schools should also be funded the same.They all should have foreign language offerings, etc. Let's get to the business of educating children. My heart bleeds when I see the children, who need education the most, are the ones hurt the most. The road out of poverty runs in front of the school house. Let's show our low- socioeconomic and minority students the road that clearly brings them out of their destituted situation.

gaohui said...


Anonymous said...

As far as I have heard, Buist does not get the most funding. Some schools in the poorer neighborhood get free i-pads for their students.

Burk high school offers free lunch programs to their students who stay there for 5-6 years, due to the "no child lack behind" program. And guess what, are they studying or selling drugs at school at age 21? Revolutionizing Buist will not solve other schools' problems. Our poor education system is more of a social issue.

Anonymous said...

I went to buist I see no problems with there list or lottery ..great school and wonderful teachers....

Marianne Burke said...

All my kids went to Magnet schools when we lived in Charleston county because I wanted them to experience diversity as well as strong academics. My girls did not make it to the top of the lottery for Buist and went to the neighborhood public schools then the School for the Arts in North Charleston, where they experienced a rich and diverse student body. My son did make it to the top of the lottery list, and he went to Buist in the early 2000's. We loved the magnet school idea - drawing white families from outside the city to an inner city school that had been predominantly black. My kids, who are white, grew to know and friend students from a variety of ethnic backgrounds and that inclusiveness and acceptance of differences in people has followed them into adulthood as a result of their experiences in Charleston County Magnet schools. But when the privileged white families started to dismantle the original intent of the magnet schools by insisting their darlings have a better chance to get in than the deserving inner city kids - it broke my heart. It was one of the factors that led to us leaving Charleston. The selfish white families that did not care about the important work being done at Buist to advance our society past racial hate. It breaks my heart still a decade later.