Thursday, October 17, 2013

"Charlestowne Academy" Building Example of CCSD's Failures

It's not Charlestowne Academy on Rivers Avenue that may become a homeless shelter if the Charleston County School District's agreement for a land swap with Mayor Keith Summey goes through.

No, it's the Charlestowne Academy--Charleston County Discipline School--Bethune Arts and Community Center--Bethune Elementary School campus. The building's construction date seems lost in the mists of time. Perhaps a reader has a long memory and can fill in the blanks. What is certain is mismanagement of this CCSD asset by multiple superintendents and School Boards.

What happened to Bethune Elementary School's use of 5841 Rivers Avenue is unclear, but probably the (black?) school was a victim of integration and consolidation in Charleston County. It was vacant. By 1982 this albatross was rented for $1 per year to the city of North Charleston for use as an arts and community center, an agreement that lasted for at least 10 years. How's that for a great return on investment? One would hope that CCSD got something else in return!

Before 1996, CCSD decided to use the building for its first "discipline" school during times in the nineties when students were actually expelled from CCSD's other schools in large numbers. That lasted until CCSD built a special campus as a discipline school, an idea that was ultimately rejected as non-PC.

Notice, none of these decades involved an entity named Charlestowne Academy.

1996 was a banner year for formation of magnet schools in the district. Not only Charleston Progressive but also Military Magnet and Montessori schools were approved, with some opposition, by the district. Charlestowne Academy was formed as a magnet school with no academic entrance requirements that would focus on "back to basics," starting as K through 10. The school focused on academics (no athletic programs) including the Spalding Method ( and Core Knowledge ( in its lower grades.

In its first years, this school was more successful in the results in its lower grades than any of the other magnets, with the exception of Buist Academy. Parental involvement was required; the school had an effective discipline system; and, of course, its curriculum was parent-driven, not district-driven. It was so successful that the lower grades used a lottery system to select only one-third of applicants. And, it was more integrated than almost any other school in the district.

What happened? It's true that the high school portion never really got off the ground. In hindsight, the plan should have started with perhaps kindergarten through fourth and add-a-grade per year, as many new schools have done. Sticking students in trailers at the Bonds-Wilson campus apparently was not a turn off, but in 1999 the school moved into the old discipline campus.

No, the school's success was its death sentence. As new superintendents and new school board members arrived, they saw that the school made the other non-magnet schools look bad by comparison, so one by one they stole away the details that made it successful. One of the first to go was required parental involvement. Next, the school was informed it must use the same ineffective discipline program as the rest of CCSD. Maria Goodloe-Johnson pulled the rug all the way out when she decreed that all CCSD schools must use the same curriculum. These developments should serve as a warning to the folks at Meeting Street Academy that hope for a deal with the district!

Since 2009 the campus has been for sale with apparently no takers except for member Chris Collins's lease agreement that was finally dissolved this year. So of the thirty or forty years that the school has existed, how many were utilized with full use of the property by the district?

How many other properties also lie fallow?

1 comment:

HdeS Copeland said...

Regarding your last question about how many properties have been equally under used and neglected, I've asked several times since last December and received no answer.

John Barter was the last board member to "assist" in my request for an answer. He referred my letter to the superintendent's legal counsel. Last April, about a week after my letter was forwarded to the superintendent's attorney, Mr. Barter received a copy of a reply John Emerson sent to me. It effectively said the answer about the district's vacant properties would be forthcoming.

Haven't heard a thing since and I'm sure John Barter hasn't either. Mr. Barter is probably thinking the question is resolved.

Well, it's not. Nothing has changed. The district is still wasting its assets with no one checking or assessing the damage. - Henry Copeland