Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Coup for Charter School for Math and Science

It's great news for supporters of CCSD's Charter School for Math and Science and public charter schools everywhere!

David Cowell, who was driven to North Carolina by the edublob's representatives at 75 Calhoun, has agreed to return to Charleston County to head CSMS. He is quoted as saying, "[Its offer] represented an opportunity to come back and work in Charleston but not have to work in the box that I call the Charleston County School District. [The district] became a very, very cumbersome bureaucracy." [See Colwell to Lead Math, Science School in Tuesday's P & C.]

Described as "the most recent principal who had success in leading North Charleston High School," Colwell is too much a gentleman to point out the obvious to the reporter: he was never one of the favored ones at 75 Calhoun. After his years as a teacher and athletic director at North Charleston High School, he had to fight tooth and nail to get the principal's position there before disagreements with Superintendent McGinley sent him over the line to North Carolina, his home state.

Colwell provides a perfect example of an effective leader whom the bureaucracy just couldn't let alone: "under Colwell's leadership, the school became orderly. The number of students arrested and suspended dropped and test scores improved." And we all know what happened after he left, what the reporter euphemistically calls "continually changing leadership."

Meanwhile, new principal Middleton, scrambling to keep abreast of the myriad changes to NCHS's staff and curriculum, must now cope with additional problems of the high school's using a middle-school building for half of the next school year [See Brentwood to House School Part of Year]. Let's hope she's not being set up for failure.

Way to go with facilities' planning, Lewis!

Sunday, June 28, 2009

Get Priorities Straight at North Charleston High School

During reorganization of a high school, if you rehire only 40 percent of previous teachers, why have you rehired every single one of the athletic coaches, that is, 100 percent of all coaches that are teachers?

Juanita Middleton
, former principal of two rural high schools, whom CCSD Superintendent McGinley reassigned to Burke High School as an assistant principal three years ago, has now been selected by McGinley (with the cover of a community-based committee) to head the reorganized North Charleston High School. [Veteran Principal to Lead N. Chas.]

Because of its years-long failing record with NCLB, the high school had to be reorganized, made into a charter school, or face state takeover. Needless to say, McGinley chose the first option.

Most likely Fred Moore, the previous principal, knew when he accepted the job a year ago that his tenure would be brief; he could have read the handwriting on the wall as well as anyone else. It may even have been a condition of his hiring. As McGinley remarked, "The perspective that some individuals may have on what transpired is not the full picture that I have." Right.

None of this is surprising; after all, Superintendent McGinley is known for moving administrators around like ping-pong balls.

But rehire 100 percent of all teachers who are coaches? That means that only about a third of non-coaching teachers were rehired. Some excellent teachers are also athletic coaches, but it's hard to believe that true of all of NCHS's previous coaching staff! So, it was the non-coaching staff that was retarding students' achievement at the school? Do you believe in the tooth fairy?

And those ungrateful teacher-coaches are now whining that they haven't gotten their coaching contracts yet? [see North Charleston Coaches in Limbo]

Poor babies!

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

CCSD's Weeping, Wailing, Gnashing of Teeth

The headline says it all for the big spenders on CCSD's School Board and in 75 Calhoun: Classrooms Left Out in Tax Increase. That's what they'd like you to believe. It is true that many taxpayers do not understand the difference in raising taxes for operating expenses (what the P & C calls "classrooms") and the debt service budget for capital items (like new schools). But that is only half the story.

It should be obvious to the headline writer that the capital budget provides for classrooms--building them! And why did taxes need to be raised for this item? Because due to underestimated building expenses, the District has run out of money in the fund covering the schools under construction or about to be built. Hmmph. That's right. Who's responsible for that?

No one is calling Bill Lewis to account. The School Board and, heavens yes, the administration at 75 Calhoun are more than happy to pile requirement upon physical requirement for Charleston County's school buildings. Who could forget the (excuse me) necessity of earthquake-proofing all schools that were built before 2000? And we must have mega-schools built to satisfy the contractors and land developers who gain from their construction, never mind the impact on the busing expenses in the operating budget.

Lost in this process of everyone-getting-his is the education of students to read. Parents can sit back and revel in the knowledge that, should the never-to-be earthquake come, their children will be "safe" (not really, but the odds will improve). Should they care about the wasted time spent on busing? Do they know that mega-schools have fallen out of favor across the nation as they have become nameless, faceless government factories where no one really knows the children who fall between the cracks?

When you pay those higher taxes, just remember that, yes, the condition of school buildings in the Corridor of Shame is shameful, but it's even more shameful that a hefty percentage of children are entering high school reading on a third-grade level or below.

Around here, they'll be not learning to read in the safest, most expensive buildings money can buy. Gee, an accomplishment the taxpayers can be proud of!

OFA by Any Other Name

By any other name, it's still organizers for the Democratic party. Don't kid yourself.

OFA Holds N. Chas. Forum

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Forensic Audit Needed for CCSD Accounts

And the award for Most Misleading Lead for a News Article goes to. . . School Board Avoids 1 Tax Hike in Tuesday's P & C.

Here's the lead: "The fiscally conservative Charleston County School Board succeeded in passing a $318.3 million operating budget that doesn't have a tax increase." The Board was trying to avoid a tax increase? Really? "Fiscally conservative?" Superintendent McGinley must have written that one herself!

A more accurate lead would have been "Board member Ruth Jordan, who normally follows the liberal spending ideas of Gregg Meyers, messed up his and the Superintendent's plans by voting with the fiscally conservative MINORITY of Ravenel-Kandrac-Toler and brought along Chris Collins for the victory." All McGinley could do was to whine "[that] the board's decision begs the question of what kind of school system the community wants. 'I'm sick about what happened,' she said."

It's easy to tell you what the community wants, Superintendent McGinley: transparency in operating expenses and income and in building expenses and contracts. Every year we go through the same shenigans, with people of good will towards the district attempting to understand the items in the budget asking for clearer budget figures. Every year the district reacts as though it has its hand in the cookie jar.

Until McGinley and her cohorts and supporters on the CCSD School Board practice more transparency, the community will continue to believe that its tax dollars are being wasted.

How about a forensic audit of CCSD's books, including the capital accounts. That just might satisfy Charleston County voters that the money has been well spent. Or it might show something else.

Saturday, June 20, 2009

Differing Standards or Social Class?

Woman Reported Missing. This article appeared in the front page of the P & C on Friday. Katherine Peronneau Waring, 28, of Murray Boulevard, Charleston, had been missing since Friday, June 12th. Seven days later her picture appears, five days after her family reported her missing. Someone tried to use one of her checks at a local bank. She's not answering her phone. Facts not reported by the P & C: she had no car because of DUI convictions. The person trying to cash her check is a known drug dealer. The case is being handled by the City of Charleston Police Department.

Compare this reaction with the almost two-year delay in the North Charleston's police filing a missing persons report on Teista Burwell. In her case, the cell phone was left under her deserted car. She had broken off relations with a known criminal, and, as the paper so delicately puts it, "North Charleston police said they have two incident reports involving Burwell, neither tied to that time and date " (when her car was found). These involved her relationship with the criminal she was trying to shake.

The 20-year-old Burwell attended Fort Dorchester High School and studying for a GED. Twenty-eight-year-old Waring graduated from Choate-Rosemary Hall. Burwell is mixed race; Waring is white.

I'd like to believe that the Charleston Police Department took Waring's case seriously because they learned from North Charleston's mistakes.

I'd like to.

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Paradigm Shift Needed in Missing Adults Cases

Teista Swain Burwell provides only the latest example of thinking by law enforcement officials that needs a major overhaul. [See Woman Finally Listed as Missing]. Nearly two years after her disappearance, one agency has finally listed her as missing; one investigator has taken her disappearance seriously. If it were a local aberration, we could call for heads to roll at the North Charleston police station.

But it isn't.

Too many well-documented cases exist all over this country showing that when someone reports an adult missing, police policy is to first assume the person wanted to disappear. Authorities then tell worried spouses and other family members that adults have a right to disappear if they want to. Then they do nothing to help family look for the missing loved one.

Imagine if missing children were treated that way!

Too often those missing are female, more than half according to FBI statistics. Too often a body is found years later when someone finally investigates to find out what happened.

We all can understand that the police are overworked and underpaid for the hard and often dangerous jobs that they do, but the way law enforcement treats these cases must change!

Paradigm shift
: replace the former way of thinking or organizing with a radically different way of thinking or organizing.

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Swimming Great but Reading Better for Graduates

His heart is in the right place, but his solution isn't. That's the proper response to State Representative Wendell Gilliard's proposal that all public school students must learn to swim in order to graduate from high school. See Gilliard: Require Swim Lessons to Graduate. The lessons would be free, naturally. However, Gilliard has not proposed a way for school districts to pay for them.

Here is a perfect example of why students graduate from high school without learning to read well enough to fill out a job application. What should be the role of the public school in our society? If the schools have too many responsibilities to fulfill, none of them will be accomplished properly.

My heart aches for those who have lost loved ones, especially children, to drowning. Somehow, the community should provide for those unable to afford swimming lessons. After all, water is all around us.

Just don't put another straw on the camel's back.

Update: Even the editors of the P & C agree: Swimming Beyond Schools' Reach in Saturday's edition.

Monday, June 15, 2009

Students' Thinking Outside the Box--Literally

Ever been in a portable classroom, i.e., "trailer"? Many of the ones I've seen have been horrors. Despite the teacher's best efforts, the room remains a box with seats in it.

So I was glad to see that one architectural firm consulted students (and their teachers too, I hope!) at the Charleston Development Academy about designing a student-friendly atmosphere for one [Brainstorming a Model Classroom]. Architects learned what students desired, while the students learned how a brainstorming session could translate into real-world action.

According to the article,

"Later this fall, they'll find out if they've won — and whether the prize money will help get it built. The overall budget is expected to be about $100,000.

"School administrator Cecilia Gordon Rogers hopes it's a winner. The school's enrollment was about 134 this year and is expected to grow to 150 next year, placing a strain on the old Septima P. Clark building at the public housing complex.

"'We have totally grown out of our space,' she says. 'We're looking forward to building this.'"

The rest of us hope Liollio Architecture's entry is a winner also, as Charleston Development Academy continues to show that public charter schools can make a positive difference for at-risk students.

Sunday, June 14, 2009

Ancestors Speak from the Grave at Charleston Event!

Yesterday, one of black icons, Booker T. Washington or Frederick Douglass, spoke from the grave. This indeed is startling news, and I'm shocked that the P & C didn't present THAT news in its top headlines!

See Ancestor of Black Icons Is Thankful in both its on-line and print versions for the latest news from the grave.

Thursday, June 11, 2009

Meyers, the Poster Boy for Chutzpah in CCSD

English words have failed me (effrontery, gall, arrogance, brass, nerve, audacity, cheek, hubris--oops, sorry, that last one was Greek), so I must fall back on the little Yiddish I know to describe Charleston County School Board member Gregg Meyers's reactions to CCSD's literacy problems: chutzpah. At least, that was my reaction toThursday's newest article on literacy problems in the district [Literacy Requirements Debated].

How many years has our erstwhile friend served on the School Board?

How many years has the problem existed?

Meyers should be forced to resign in shame.

Think of the major role he played in creating safe-haven magnet schools for his own children (both Buist and Academic Magnet) while allowing deterioration of schools for poorer students downtown (District 20) and elsewhere during his "service." Apparently, Meyers lives by the motto, "Them that has, gets." Imagine the nerve that went into the following Meyers statement: "If we don't stake out what is most important, then this [learning to read] simply becomes one of many important things." If any one person could be held accountable for CCSD's literacy failures, it would be Meyers himself.

On the other hand, Board member Ruth Jordan's remarks reveal that she still doesn't understand the problem. The article quotes her as saying, " it's not acceptable for students to be so far behind when they reach ninth grade, but [. . .] some district teachers are ineffective. Tying promotion to reading ability would penalize students for their teachers' ineptitude."

So, Ms. Jordan, under that politically-correct condition it would be okay to send students "so far behind" that they can't read their textbooks on to high school? Isn't that what caused the problem in the first place? Use some logic here, please!

To top the CCSD's committee meeting off, "community member" (see previous post) Jon Butzon was allowed to sit in deliberations and provide his two cents. When was he elected to the School Board? Why isn't Elizabeth Kandrac on the committee? Isn't she the board member who has the most direct experience in teaching students who can't read on grade level? Where are Butzon's credentials (besides being a friend of the Mayor)?

Nowhere in the article does the reporter mention that the original goal of No Child Left Behind was to make sure that every third grader was reading prior to entering the next grade. Not relevant here, among NCLB-bashers? Or were the reporter and School Board members even more ignorant than we thought?

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

CCSD School Budget Charades Successful Again

Mike Bobby could tell the taxpayers of Charleston County that the Charleston County Schools operate on a shoe-string, and no one could disprove his assertions. Most people looking at the proposed budget will immediately flash back to those days sitting in algebra class, when X2 + 4xy + 3Y2 needed to be factored. In a sentence, "Let me out of here!"

On the other hand, those knowledgeable regarding accounting will immediately flash back to prior chief financial officers and their sleight-of-hand numbers. Despite the requests and pleas for clearer outlines of expenditures, no such clarity has developed. The public, to put it bluntly, is "foiled again." And that will become "taxed again."

This week's public hearing reported in Wednesday's paper (School Budget Could Mean Tax Increase) was a charade to provide cover for the coming tax increase--and it will come! Supposedly three "community" members (i.e., non-CCSD-attached) attended the hearing; however, the only one who spoke, Jon Butzon, is a community member in the same sense that Nancy McGinley is: not. No one who has attended closed-door sessions of the School Board could represent the community at large, and anyway, he represents the Mayor! Holding a barely publicized meeting at 5 p.m. on a Tuesday was guaranteed to keep naysayers away.

Ask yourself: if the meeting had kept secret from the public, how many fewer participants would there have been? What does that answer tell you about how well it was publicized? Instead, 75 Calhoun rounded up the usual suspects from employees who have a vested interest in getting as many dollars as possible (and I don't mean "for the children"). CCSD Board members in favor of a tax increase (all but two--Ravenel and Kandrac) arranged their "cover" by voting initially for no increase. CFA Bobby obligingly came back with a budget in which, as his fellow conspirator Toya Green puts it, "the cuts that would be required if no tax increase is passed would be so painful that [. . .] those in the majority would approve some sort of increase." Which they planned all along.

These folks "in the majority" are more than happy to raise taxes. Let's not forget that those elected to the Board in the last election, those that constitute the majority in favor of this tax increase won thanks to the endorsement of the Charleston County Democratic Party.

The idea that we have a non-partisan school board is as ludicrous as thinking that this one doesn't want to raise taxes. We're stuck with them for now. Will voters' memories be long enough to "throw the bums out"?

Tuesday, June 09, 2009

Belaboring the Obvious in CCSD; More Money, Please

Oh, you wanted us to teach them to READ! Why didn't you say so? We'll get to it right away.

That pretty much sums up the response of CCSD's administrators and School Board to the series of articles on literacy (or the lack of it) in Charleston County's schools. See School Board Focuses on Students' Literacy in Tuesday's P & C.

Now, to be fair to the School Board, why should it need to "outline its expectations for students and their ability to read"? Isn't Superintendent Nancy McGinley paid beaucoup bucks to take care of such standards? Why should she and her minions at 75 Calhoun need guidelines?

It must have been a real pleasure to hear CCSD administration try to put the best face on its failures to follow through with the expensive "initiatives" announced in the past. And, can you imagine? The P & C's exposes have made Gregg Meyers feel bad. In fact, he's now grateful that the problem has been brought to his attention.

Further, after her more than five years as Chief Academic Officer and now Superintendent, McGinley feels a "new sense of urgency" about reading statistics. After all, she'd been focused on "building capacity to improve literacy rates." Now she understands that she actually needs to improve literacy!

Wait for it-------

The next idea from 75 Calhoun will be that CCSD has inadequate funds to improve literacy, when in reality it suffers from inadequate will.

Imagine a "culture" where fourth graders can read.

Saturday, June 06, 2009

CCSD's Five Empty School Buildings: Secret Plans

With pieces like this one, why does CCSD Schools Superintendent Nancy McGinley pay Eliott Smalley? [5 Schools Close Permanently, Making Friday an Emotional Day for Many]

We can't accuse McGinley of FTPA ("failure to plan ahead"). She has plans for these buildings, all right--they're just a secret.

Can you say "developers"?

Thursday, June 04, 2009

CCSD's Lewis's Doomsday Approach Wins $7.5 Million Down Payment

Cousin Arthur's thrown in the towel. Arthur Ravenel, Jr.'s now supporting making Charleston County schools earthquake proof. I suspect he's decided that some battles just aren't worth fighting. Let's face it: he has little encouragement from the results of the last election. Still, he's been resident in Charleston County longer than most of us--and how many earthquakes have damaged the city during his lifetime? None, of course.

What has the sky-is-falling crowd won? [See Safety First with Schools in Wednesday's paper] The major changes proposed by ex-Californian Bill (can you pronounce "San Andreas Fault") Lewis come with a major price tag "to be named later." So far the CCSD School Board has "seeded" only $7.5 million into the process to get it started. Those were "leftover" dollars. We should all hope for such leftovers.

Wait till Lewis goes for the big bucks.

Experts differ on how far to go in retrofitting (or the necessity of replacing) school buildings in this not-earthquake-prone, not-on-a-fault-line area. A totally earthquake proof environment does not exist and never will, here or elsewhere. Lewis has encouraged the doomsday approach; the CCSD School Board has knuckled under. Is there any hope that they might get a second opinion regarding how much work is really necessary? The necessity for millions to be spent on the Rivers building was revealed much too closely to the request for its use by the Charter School for Math and Science for anyone with common sense to believe that politics is not involved in the process.

Also, it would be fitting if a second opinion came from a firm that did not have a vested interest in recommending major big-bucks work. Well, since Arthur has caved, all we can do is hope.

As for the "comparatively undistinguished" Memminger Elementary building, it's probably far better built than the recently-constructed (under the aegis of Bill Lewis) West Ashley High School, which is already falling apart. Whatever happens to its 1950s building, let's not forget that Memminger's property is prime real estate that Joe Riley's friends would love to get their hands on. The property also has a long history in education that predates the present building.

If you think that greedy developers are not in the equation, you may have just fallen off the turnip truck.

Wednesday, June 03, 2009

New Acronym for Lowcountry Development: FTPA

My students hate to see the dreaded FTFD--failure to follow directions--on their research papers. If only I could reach out to Charleston County Council members to brand them with an FTPA--failure to plan ahead. [See Question of Waste in Wednesday's P & C]

Who ever heard of shutting down an incinerator prior to figuring out what would become of the waste and how much the change will cost? Is this really "going green," or is it simply political maneuvering gone amuck?

Guess what. No one knows, including the council. This decision is irresponsibility at its worst.

I thought that no one could top the decision to remove the port from Daniel Island without proper planning for railroads to handle the traffic forced back into North Charleston, but I was wrong. Or, at least, I thought that our elected officials could learn a lesson about FTPA from that fiasco, but even Mayor Summey's son didn't--and he has seen the results of FTPA up close and personal.

Did anyone consider making the smokestack on the incinerator taller so its discharge would dissipate in the upper atmosphere? Could the Council have shouldered the responsibility of planning for waste prior to shutting it down? Imagine what else suffers from FTPA that we can't even see!

Tuesday, June 02, 2009

CCSD NCLB Transfers Also Opaque

Transfer to where?

Charleston County schools that students can transfer from:

Elementary: Boykin Academy, Burns, Charleston Progressive, Chicora, Frierson, Goodwin, James Simons, Jane Edwards, Mary Ford, Memminger, Midland Park, Mitchell, North Charleston and St. James-Santee.

Middle: Alice Birney, Baptist Hill, Brentwood, Burke, Haut Gap, Jane Edwards, Frierson and Morningside.

High: Baptist Hill, Burke, North Charleston and Stall.

Why is half of article missing?