Tuesday, May 31, 2016

No Downside to Takeover of CCSD's Burns Elementary

Reading the latest state report card for Burns Elementary could make you cry. Despite the best efforts of teachers and administrators, its at-risk performance continues to stun with horrific percentages of children not meeting standards in any subject. For a look at these statistics, see the following PDF:
Burns Elementary Report Card 2015

What will change the dismal-looking outcomes for Burns students? Not more of the same. It's been tried to death.

So it's mysterious why objections have been raised to a program that seems to be working in an outstanding way for two other schools: According to a recent editorial, "Millicent Brown, co-founder of the Quality Education Project, worries that the school would not be accountable to the district, although it would have a board of trustees comprised of representatives of both Meeting Street Schools and CCSD — one of them Superintendent Gerrita Postlewait." 

Who is Millicent Brown? From her biographical note at the Avery Research Center, 
"In 1948, Millicent Ellison Brown was born in Charleston, South Carolina to MaeDe and J. Arthur Brown. Her father was the local and state president of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP). In 1963, Millicent replaced her older sister Minerva as the primary plaintiff in a NAACP-sponsored lawsuit Millicent Brown versus Charleston County School District #20. Filed to desegregate the Charleston public school system, the lawsuit resulted in Brown becoming one of two African-American students to integrate Rivers High School in 1963. Graduating from Rivers High School in 1966, Brown the attended the College of Charleston and received her B.A. in History, 1975. She  received her M.Ed. in Education from The Citadel in 1978. From 1989 to 1991, Brown served as the Director of Exhibits and Museum Education at the Avery Research Center. Brown earned a Ph.D. in History from Florida State University in 1997, writing her dissertation on history of civil rights activism in Charleston from 1940 to 1970.
Dr. Brown's remarks must carry some weight in conversations about the history of desegregation in CCSD--she lived it. However, it's been 50 years since she attended Charleston County public schools. Does she really believe that a conspiracy is now afoot in the district? A conspiracy to do what? Re segregate schools? That's already happened! Burns Elementary is a good example. How would a public/private partnership make things any worse?

Even the NAACP's Dot Scott agrees such a partnership is worth trying at Burns. So far, it's working at Brentwood. 

Who would've thunk it?

Friday, May 27, 2016

NAACP Desperate to Stay Relevant in CCSD


No one has any difficulty understanding why the NAACP fights the closing of Lincoln High School or desires more diversity at Charleston County's Academic Magnet High School. Yet for reasons unknown the organization's vitriol against the Charter School for Math and Science knows no bounds.

Since the creation of the Charleston School for Math and Science, Dot Scott and company have railed against its existence. First, it shouldn't be able to use the old Rivers campus. Then, it shouldn't use the Rivers building. As the school prospered and students multiplied, the NAACP hammered home year after year the mantra that the school's nefarious purpose was to reintroduce (!) segregation to the district, even as CSMS became and remains the most diverse school in the entire district.

That's not good enough for the NAACP. The school's success must be destroyed.
From the beginning, CSMS teachers have worked at the will of the administration. No contracts, no hearings, no New-York-style rubber rooms. Any teacher taking a job at CSMS knows the rules.

In its wisdom the NAACP, whose spokesman admits that its meddling has nothing to do with race, proposes changing the school's charter to make the state's Teacher Employment and Dismissal Act apply to its hires. Three teachers who were not rehired didn't like their evaluations.

Sour grapes, pure and simple.

Tuesday, May 24, 2016

CCSD Member Walkout Plays to Media

Will black members of the Charleston County School District's Board of Trustees walking out of a meeting have the effect of keeping Lincoln High open? Or bring about Cindy Bohn Coats's resignation as chair of the Board? Don't hold your breath.

Conditions in CCSD result from decades, decades of mismanagement. Further, for the last decade the NAACP has acquiesced to CCSD's plans because administration met its need to be seen as the voice of the people. 

Removing Mt. Pleasant from the equation, not one area of the district admires its schools. How did that happen?

Blaming the present school board members en masse for the mistakes of past school boards is simply wrong. Look at the record of each individual. Think about those members whom the district and the press reviled because they wanted more information. How about the reality that most members have no experience to lead them to question financial realities? 

It's the system, stupid.

Saturday, May 21, 2016

CCSD's Emerson Must Go to Regain Community's Trust

He works for the well-known law firm of Delay, Linger, and Wait. 

Acually, John Emerson is the lawyer for the Charleston County School District, but delay, linger, and wait are his mantras. Why should Superintendent Postlewaite keep the lawyer hired by the former superintendent? He should go post-haste!

The Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) complaint revealed this week shows everything that is wrong with how CCSD has communicated with the community in the past. Does the new superintendent want the community to believe her administration lacks transparency? If she keeps Emerson, we will. 
Lawyer Jay Bender, a Freedom of Information Act specialist who represents The Post and Courier, called the district’s reasoning [i.e., Emerson's] “absolutely absurd.” He said the district is flouting the state’s open records law by failing to turn over the documents more than three months after the newspaper filed a FOIA request.
“I don’t know what it is that makes cops and school boards think they can game the system and you will go away and that the public will never know anything unpleasant ever happened,” Bender said.
The complaint concerns the removal of an algebra teacher with no explanation. For the rest of the story, see below.

Tuesday, May 17, 2016

Backward Policies in CCSD on K-8 Schools

How long will it take for the Charleston County School District to learn that middle schools are educational sinkholes? There was a time, maybe 50 years ago, that educational professionals (aka edublob) decided that removing grades 6-8 from elementary schools was a great idea. After all, preteens had problems to solve that younger (or older) students did not. Therefore, shoving all of those growing pains into one building sounded great. Fifty years later the Charleston County School District seems stuck in that failed pattern.

Those of us who have dealt with middle schools know that going old-school K-8 provides better educational outcomes. So it becomes easy to identify with Sanders-Clyde parents who resist sending their middle grades over to Simmons-Pinckney, even though it is a new school.

If learning in a stand-along middle school is so great, why aren't students at Buist also being yanked from their K-8 environment? Just think--Buist would then have space for more sections of lower grades! These moves to consolidate in a middle school are not about helping students; it's all about misplaced priorities that have brought about an $18 million shortfall. One misplaced priority was in creating a new middle school in District 20.

Having seen middle schools literally all over the country, I can state that I have never seen one that was not chock-a-block with problems. It's an easy prediction that, despite the best efforts of teachers and principals, Simmons-Pinckney will be no exception. 

For further reading on this issue, see the following article from the respected ASCD:

Monday, May 16, 2016

CCSD Should Sell the Taj Mahal (Gulp)?

In the midst of the financial mess left by the Charleston County School District's McGinley administration, local residents are reaching for ways to remedy its $18-million shortfall without raising taxes. 

Good luck with that.

Now, it is true that, as one taxpayer suggested in a recent Letter to the Editor, the Charleston County School District owns land and buildings that are underutilized. 

See http://www.postandcourier.com/20160515/160519618/letter-solutions-for-school-budget-crisis

In fact, not too long ago the district did sell property to fund operating expenses, as pointed out at the time. Yet, selling assets to pay operating expenses means that the district devours itself. Financing with the sale of assets can continue for only so long. We haven't seen the last of shortfalls.

Still, the idea of moving administration out of the Taj Mahal at 75 Calhoon is an enticing one, entertaining, in fact. As Jerry Lahm points out, 
There is no logical reason whatsoever for administrative offices to be on some of the most valuable commercial real estate in the City of Charleston. 
And if it is decided to sell it the district wouldn’t have to pay for a new building, it could just retrofit the old Charlestowne Academy building that has been sitting empty on Rivers Avenue for years. To make it even better, it is central to the entire county with plenty of free parking.
Hear, hear!

Saturday, May 14, 2016

Calls for Reform of SC School Funding Unheard for a Decade

We told you so. 

It would be nice to think that makes any difference to the current mess in school district funding or on the Charleston County School District's $18-million shortfall. 

Thanks to the stupidity of voters and politicians over the last decade or so, Charleston County taxpayers will end up with the worst of both worlds: a penny sales tax AND owner-occupied homes subject to school taxes. 

Blame the politicians who in 2006 voted to change the rules on school funding knowing that Charleston County's share would fall. Blame those property owners who sniveled over how much their homes had appreciated in value--causing the burden of school property taxes to increase. Blame those who imagine that sales taxes fall mostly on tourists.

Here's a walk down memory lane for those of you new to the property tax controversy:





Tuesday, May 10, 2016

CCSD Needs Perp Walks to Gain Credibility for Raising Taxes

The party's over in the Charleston County School District. The rest of us are left to pay for it. Thus, Monday the CCSD School Board voted to raise taxes. Thanks to a very short-sighted state law, those in owner-occupied homes won't feel the pinch--just small businesses and renters. Duh.

The Board has hired a law firm to look into possible criminal charges against the perpetrators of the district's $18 million shortfall. While most likely most of that waste was out of stupidity, we can hope that someone pays--if not with money, at least with reputation. 
Board Chairwoman Cindy Bohn Coats told The Post and Courier that the school board has hired Winston-Salem-based law firm Womble, Carlyle, Sandridge, and Rice, LLP to review criminal implications and ethics violations stemming from the recent forensic audit of district payroll and benefits. That audit revealed a “lack of basic budgetary control” that predated the $18 million budget shortfall that the district discovered last fall. 
In an email, Coats noted that seven executive-level employees who held “critical fiscal responsibilities” during the years covered by the forensic audit will no longer be employed by the district after the 2015-16 school year.
Does that sound like retribution to you? Serve out the year getting full salaries? 

Will the district give them good recommendations as well? A golden handshake?

Monday, May 09, 2016

Closing Lincoln Shuts Down CCSD's Self-Created Mess

See, I sometimes can agree with Dot Scott and the NAACP, believe it or not.

Residents of the McClellanville area whose children will spend hours on buses traveling to and from an overcrowded Wando High School will get pie-in-the-sky-by-and-by after all of their community cohesion has disappeared. You see, the Charleston County School District is in the process of buying land in Awendaw to build a new high school for the northern part of the district at some yet-to-be-determined future time, if all goes according to plan, of course. 2035? That sounds about right.

While the district lavished every asset known to man on Wando High School, beginning with a new campus a decade ago, what did it provide for Lincoln? Using the excuse that the school didn't have enough students to justify upgrades, the district left the following mess to fester:
There are so few students at Lincoln that the district has struggled to justify any major investments there. The school [opened in 1954], a series of separate buildings attached by breezeways, has no central air conditioning. The science classrooms have no heating, forcing students to wear jackets in class and teachers to bring in space heaters. Physical education and health classes are taught in a converted electrical closet. An open sewage pond sits in the back of the school near the unused baseball field.
Lincoln didn’t have Wi-Fi until a few years ago.
Which came first, the chicken or the egg? 
Nearly 80 students who live in Lincoln’s attendance zone go to school elsewhere in the district; most of them — 74 percent — are white and half opted for Wando High School in Mount Pleasant.
I can't imagine why. Maybe the parents don't like open sewage ponds?

What if the district had actually upgraded the campus over the last couple of decades while it was building expensive new high schools in other parts of the district? Is it possible that the majority of those 80 students would be at Lincoln instead? Is it possible that more families might have moved into the area? What held CCSD back? Costs? 

Spare me.

Friday, May 06, 2016

"Migrant"? "Denied"? What Part of Post & Courier Headline Is True?

The lead headline on Tuesday's front page screams, 

"Migrant Youths Denied School in U.S."

Question 1: does the headline writer/editor know the difference between migrant and immigrant?

Question 2: why the important placement of a story that does not involve the State of South Carolina?

Question 3: do the AP reporters understand that schools actually have laws that they follow regarding whom they can admit? 

Nothing about this non-story belonged on the front page of the paper. It's not even clear why it appeared in this paper at all. Schools have rules about admitting students who cannot graduate before reaching 20. Schools have rules about transcripts. Even the spokesman for an organization that has the biggest axe to grind in this matter--S.C. Legal Services here in Charleston--admitted that he knew of no "clients dealing with such a situation."

Get a grip while you still have a readership left!

Thursday, May 05, 2016

CCSD's Halevi on Target with Criticism of "Journalism"

When did the Post and Courier decide it wanted to become the next National Enquirer

Recent headlines show a certain desperation over sales. What else could have possessed the local rag to put a minor dress code flap on the front page with a one-sided attack on one of the Charleston County School District's finest administrators? (and how often do I praise administrators?)

Fortunately, Andrew Halevi, program director of the Septima Clark Academy, a district school for potential dropouts, not only has his supporters but also admirably defends himself in this week's Letter to the Editor. 

As Halevi cogently points out, "Sadly, the Post and Courier contributes to the challenges educators face by failing to follow basic principles of journalism when covering complex issues at Charleston area schools."


My favorite point:
3) Provide context. Journalism involves more than the regurgitation of a press release. It should involve background that helps the reader make an independent judgment.
For this miracle to happen, of course, the reporter needs knowledge of the county and the district, not the learning-on-the-job adulation so frequently shown to those in authority.

The sarcastic jibe at the Pulitzer could make your day.

See http://www.postandcourier.com/20160504/160509757/letter-report-fairly-on-schools

Tuesday, May 03, 2016

CCSD's Pattison's No More?

Should a severely disabled child be able to read simple words? If your answer is that it doesn't matter, you can stop reading now. 

However, if you find that important, it's time to pressure the Charleston County School District to make sure it happens in the future.

Why does it seem that the most disadvantaged students will bear the brunt of years of mismanagement in CCSD? Because they are. 

Perhaps some would say this is by design and racist, but it's not. The district's bind is how to cut costs without hurting educational outcomes. Thus, despite its effects on the community, the closing of Lincoln High is justified by school board members who correctly point out the advantages of Wando's offerings, even as they ignore other disadvantages.

Such is not the case with Pattison's Academy for Comprehensive Education (PACE). The nearly six-year-old charter school's successes pale before the district's ongoing fiscal crisis. Now the school board has revoked its charter and will take over its operations. Despite promises to keep the level of operations at its intense level, logic says that the district will necessarily cut expenditures--why else take it over? 

As with Lincoln High, county residents should ask for guarantees that the district will look out for the most disabled. A need existed and PACE stepped in. CCSD's programs did not work well for these children in the past.  Are they going to improve now?

Monday, May 02, 2016

CCSD: Build New High School Closer to Closed Lincoln High

No doubt many Charleston County residents think of McClellanville as middle-of-nowhere South Carolina, but for those who have sent their children to Lincoln High School for generations, nothing could be further than the truth. Community facilities such as these keep communities together. If the administration of the Taj Mahal in downtown Charleston closes the school, much more will be lost than gained.

That said, Superintendent Postlewait would be well advised to have a plan to show such communities how CCSD will ameliorate the effects. 

A new high school at the old Wando campus is NOT a solution. 

There is one.

Sell the land occupied by the old Wando high school to developers--it's prime real estate and worth plenty.

Take the proceeds and purchase a tract of land halfway between McClellanville and Mt.Pleasant.

Take the surplus from buying that cheaper land and apply it to building a new high school that literally "reaches out" to these dispossessed families.

These efforts should make the dreary hours spent being bused into monster Wando and learning in trailers more bearable for those involved. Positive side effects would include more spread out traffic and more classroom space as Mt. Pleasant grows up Highway 17.