Sunday, November 03, 2013

CCSD Should Build on Success at Orange Grove Charter

West Ashley has two middle schools, but their enrollment is so low that the Charleston County School District is considering closing one and combining on one campus.

Contemplate that for a moment. . .

West Ashley is a large area, replete with young families with children. So why has enrollment dipped so precipitously in its middle schools? Because families who can find other choices take them.

Parents who can do so choose a better school for their sixth to eighth graders. Who can blame them? Their children are not an experiment, no matter how much CCSD would like them to be.

Then there's Orange Grove Charter School. From its inception, it has been successful at just the criteria where CCSD's other schools fail. When its pupils leave Orange Grove after fifth grade, parents must choose among a failing middle school, a private school, a magnet school (such as School of the Arts), or homeschooling.

No one should have any difficulty in understanding why Orange Grove wants to expand to include grade eight. Given its successful track record, no one, even CCSD's School Board and its charter-hating superintendent, should stand in its way.


Clisby said...

I'd like to see most elementary schools go through 8th grade.

HdeS Copeland said...

Not sure if a K thru 8th grade school is the best way to go in every situation, but the downtown community appears to be pretty sure of one thing. The majority of parents and neighborhood residents want a centrally located middle school for the downtown community that is both physically and administratively separated from Burke High School. Almost no one, with the exception of district employees, has expressed support for continuing the middle school program on the Burke campus. No matter how you draw it, the Rhett building is still on the Burke campus.

The community is almost totally opposed to maintaining anything close to what has existed since 2005 when the superintendent, then in the #2 position as the district’s chief academic officer, pressed the county board to close Rivers Middle School and move all remaining 7th and 8th graders to Burke High School. This was over broadly based and loudly expressed community objections. - Henry Copeland

HdeS Copeland said...

It was a mistake in 2005 to move the middle school program to the Burke campus. The community said as much at the time. Unfortunately the district administration was bound and determined to go forward with a poorly conceived plan regardless of calls from the community for an alternative. As predicted, the district's middle school plan for downtown failed almost immediately. It was a surprise to no one, except maybe the superintendent, when the community responded by creating a new charter school to fill yet another void that had been created by the administration’s lack of understanding.

Recycling the same 2005 plan 8 years later in the same location with many of the same people in charge can't possibly be expected to produce different results. Just like the recently proposed middle school merger plan for St. Andrews and West Ashley middle schools, a top down solution that is merely floated past a hand-picked “community” task force is bound to have serious problems later. If the public isn’t genuinely part of the early planning process, public buy-in later may be next to impossible.

Last year the Edisto Island community wanted to maintain their K thru 8th grade program at Jane Edwards, the only remaining public school on a large and otherwise remote sea island, but the superintendent opposed it. In a flip of the same argument, the McClellanville community wanted to keep their middle school grades at Lincoln High School, but the superintendent opposed that, too. She even proposed (but later withdrew) an idea to put the remaining Lincoln High students on a luxury bus, a school on wheels, I guess. She suggested shuttling Lincoln students for half-day classes at the already overcrowded Wando High more than an hour away. Not to worry, she said, they would all be back at Lincoln for football practice every afternoon.

Forget trying to make heads or tails out of the superintendent’s conflicting arguments for moving middle school students, first into a high school, and then into an elementary school. The only thing that rings true in both cases is the superintendent’s overriding desire to “fix” her own personal school report card and her almost total disregard for the value of genuine community support.

Orange Grove Charter Elementary School works because it has community support under the state’s uniform charter school laws. Their community support comes as a result of Orange Grove administrators genuinely understanding and effectively responding to the needs of the community. That’s exactly why Orange Grove parents want to grow the school. Before this discussion is over, Orange Grove parents may very well propose to start a charter high school program. Do they really have any other choice?

Unlike Orange Grove’s management team, CCSD’s corporate model doesn’t recognize the value of this kind of relationship with school communities, neighborhoods and parents. Traditional (non-charter) public schools in Charleston County continue to be at a disadvantage as long as the superintendent’s office is deaf to public opinion. The district’s cycle of school failures won’t be resolved until CCSD’s corporate model is changed. - Henry Copeland