Friday, September 28, 2007

What Schools Do Charleston's Achievement Scholars Attend?

It should come as no shock:

  • James Island Charter High School--one

  • Porter-Gaud School--two

  • Wando High School--two

  • Academic Magnet High School--four

students named as National Achievement Semifinalists in the National Merit Scholarship Competition.

Still, you have to wonder how the distribution would change if the elementary and middle schools in, say, District 4 (North Charleston), District 9 (Johns Island), and District 20 (downtown) had the resources of Buist Academy.

Food for thought.

Thursday, September 27, 2007

Buist Policies: Worth 1000 Words

At the Buist policy hearing this morning--Gregg Meyers finds his cell phone more interesting than the proceedings; Nancy "listens" to Marvin Stewart of the District 20 Constituent board.

Viewing local TV news broadcasts suggests the meeting was a farce, the CCSD board's simply going through the motions in response to a policy passed by the District 20 Board several months ago.

So what did happen? Nothing as usual--except eloquent defense of the right of District 20 schoolchildren to better opportunities. Why would Nancy and Gregg want to pay attention to that?

Monday, September 24, 2007

Buist Policy: Under the Radar?

Just in case you don't read CCSD's Media Line on a regular basis. The following announcement was posted September 24th.

Buist Admissions Policy Hearing
Thursday, September 27, 2007
10:00 a.m.
Contact: Portia Stoney 937-6316

CCSD Board will hold a Buist Admissions Policy Hearing in the CAO Conference Room at 75 Calhoun, Charleston

Sunday, September 23, 2007

Charter HS Rent Illegal: Even Meyers Agrees

Oops! Fuhgedaboudit.

In 2006 the S.C. State Legislature passed a law specifically for CCSD. It inadvertently (0r deliberately) insures that a charter school cannot be charged rent for using a public school building. Park Dougherty and friends can thank the citizens behind the chartering of Orange Grove Elementary for the favor. When CCSD was threatening to put THEM out of business and glowering at James Island Charter High School, our local representatives guaranteed that paying rent for their own buildings would not become an issue.

So what happened this summer with the Gang Who Couldn't Shoot Straight, a.k.a. the CCSD School Board?

Most likely Gregg Meyers drew up the invidious "incentives" plan on his own without consulting the school board's attorney. Embarrassing. Well, it was summer, after all. Or maybe Alice Paylor forgot all about the law until this brouhaha surfaced its memory. She still counsels that the law doesn't apply, but Meyers now disagrees.

Actually, we really don't know what Meyers thinks about its applicability; all we do know is what he's said to the P & C. However, once he has changed his mind, can anyone doubt that at least two more, if not three more, members of that majority vote on the Charter High School rent will change theirs also?

What we have here is much ill will created by a lapse in memory and judgment. So, what does each participant take away?

  • No one in the group behind the Charter High School for Math and Science should have illusions left that the CCSD school board is his or her friend;
  • Supporters of the CCSD "incentives" package have been left hanging by this bungle; and
  • The community at large may assume that the CCSD school board as presently composed doesn't know what it's doing.

Hmm. Could be worse.

Saturday, September 22, 2007

La-La Land: Darby on CCSD Charter Schools

Gregg Meyers, CCSD School Board member and former civil rights attorney, and the Reverend Joseph A. Darby, pastor of Morris Brown AME Church and vice-president of the Charleston Branch NAACP, have much in common.

First of all, both opine on the pages of the P &C practically at will, promulgating their lockstep views on CCSD. The question becomes, is this access obsequious deference, or is it veiled support?

Second, both are stuck in the sixties on race relations. Both believe that by default any group of people not controlled directly by CCSD or the NAACP must be racist. Sure, racism still exists, perhaps especially in their own minds.

In Saturday's P & C Darby denigrates the motives of a diverse group of parents and citizens behind the Charter School for Math and Science, presumably Lonnie Hamilton among them. One wonders what universe Darby inhabits these days when he makes the following (serious?) comment on the new charter school's use of the Rivers High School building:

"Charleston and South Carolina will be set back a half century to the days when education was separate and unequal and when those of the right color and the right social class had their way without question, and the descendants of those who protected segregation 50 years ago will have succeeded in promoting not diversity, but re-segregation."

  • Aren't we already there in District 20?
  • And on your watch, Rev. Darby?
  • Isn't District 20's education "separate and unequal"?
  • Don't "those of the right color and right social class have their way without question" where Buist Academy is concerned while ignoring Charleston Progressive, thanks to the likes of Gregg Meyers?
  • Where were you as Burke High School deteriorated to its present state, with students now lacking textbooks in core subjects?
The Rev. Darby knows perfectly well that, should he step inside any public school in District 20 (with the exception of Buist Academy!), he will experience re-segregated, or never-integrated, schools and classrooms.

So a charter high school's going to make that defacto segregation worse than it is now?

That's mathematically impossible.

Friday, September 21, 2007

Premiere or Premier? Superintendent's Transparency

Maybe the P & C's copy editor doesn't know how to spell. We hope that Superintendent McGinley does or, at least, knows the difference between "premier" meaning first and "premiere" meaning first performance. The "time has come for Charleston County schools to excel," her op-ed piece headlined Friday, but let's first excel in communication! I'd hate to think this a Freudian slip where the Superintendent inadvertently telegraphs her view of her job as a show performance.

McGinley first overstates baldly, "Charleston is among our nation's premiere [italics mine] communities, a place of unmatched beauty and opportunity." Why, even Gone with the Wind premiered in Atlanta. Seriously, many inhabitants will tell you that Charleston's opportunity is hardly "unmatched." Opportunity to do what? Make money? Find a job? You mean, people no longer say, "Go west, young man"? Instead, it's "Go to Charleston County. . . Ignore New York, Chicago, and Los Angeles if you're looking for opportunity!" Right.

Beauty--well, perhaps that is "unmatched," or at least in the eye of the beholder.

"This wonderful county is a destination of choice for people from all over the world," I can see them right now, sitting in Bangladesh and Haiti and South Korea, saying, 'Now, if we can just get to Charleston County. . .

"and our schools should also be destinations of choice for all who seek the best possible education for their children." One fact for sure is that's not the case now! Have you EVER met anyone who claims to have moved here for the public schools? What a hoot!

Yet, I'd like to think that those who know the county as the place where their families have lived for generations deserve schools that are more than a "destination of choice" for outsiders. Is that what this is all about?

"Now is the time for the Charleston County School District to become the high quality school system that this world-class community needs and deserves." Platitudes.

"In order for that to happen, we need to take some big steps, and we need to take them quickly. . . . With this reality in mind, as superintendent, I can make one of two choices: 1) Maintain the status quo and be satisfied with the modest gains we have made for the past four years;". . . Please, don't insult our intelligence with this wholly imaginary choice. . .

"or 2) Accept the responsibility to change the organization and implement a clear and reasoned plan in order to significantly improve our schools." "I choose the latter." This IS her job.

"It is time to make the philosophical and practical leap from "planning for excellence" to declaring that "excellence is our standard." More platitudes.

"Simply stated, we must organize our schools under a leadership structure built on expertise and experience, not geography or tradition." Oh, great. Talk about having a tin ear for her constituency--tell a bunch of Southerners to toss out tradition!

"Continuing to operate the way we always have in CCSD would be 'the path of least resistance,' However, in my view, it would also be educational malpractice and a disservice to our hardworking teachers, principals, and — most importantly — our students." I'm glad we can agree on something; however, so far it's seen as business as usual on your watch.

"My call for change is based on a clear and unwavering commitment to a singular goal: increasing student achievement. For all children, in all schools, I believe that the victory is in the classroom." More platitudes. But "singular"? Don't you mean "single"? There's nothing singular about the goal, Nancy. You look it up.

"To ensure that victory, I have made several concrete recommendations, beginning with identifying leaders who know what to do to support principals at each grade level. Historically, five associate superintendents supervised different geographic regions of the county and have had to juggle the varied challenges of elementary, middle and high schools. Under the new structure, the associate superintendents will supervise instead by grade levels — elementary, middle, or high schools." I won't bore you with the rest of this. You can always jump over to the P & C itself. Let's just point out that this is the plan that violated the Freedom of Information Act when discussed in secret session with the school board.

"Structural changes alone will not produce the improvements we need." So glad you realize that.

"Some learners simply need more time. To meet this need, I'm also proposing an extended-year initiative: Students in schools rated as "unsatisfactory" would attend 20 additional days of schools, for a total of 200 days per year." Has anyone explained how this will work for students whose achievement IS satisfactory that are stuck in those schools?

. . ."Extensive research confirms that extended-year initiatives are successful in helping students who have fallen behind by providing extra help and continuity to the educational experience." Sorry, this is like putting lipstick on a pig. This so-called "third semester" of 20 days, as announced, may indeed be effective, but it simply replaces that old entity called "summer school."

Here begin a series of ironic statements that need no commentary. You can supply your own.

  • I want to hear from you, and I need your help in making this happen.

  • Although change is always difficult, in the five days since my reorganization proposal became public, the reaction from our teachers, administrators and the public can be largely summarized as: 'Why haven't we thought of this sooner? It makes so much sense.

  • I also accept the responsibility to be transparent when proposing changes.

  • I welcome the opportunity to engage in public discussions. I would never have it any other way.

  • I look forward to hearing more from the public.

Thursday, September 20, 2007

McGinley:Deja Vu All Over Again

Welcome to Goodloe-Johnson redux.

New Superintendent McGinley did not promise change to get her position; in fact, she had to indicate that her tenure would be more of the same. If the days between August 21st, the first day of school, and September 21st, the first day of fall, are a leading indicator, she's holding true to that promise.

Let's look at the record.
  • Is CCSD still throwing everything but the kitchen sink in the path of the new Charter High School of Math and Science?
  • Are meetings being held in CCSD in violation of the Freedom of Information Act?
  • Has any progress been made on the details of the phantom "AP Academy" at Burke or the phantom "High-Tech High" at Rivers?
  • Has any progress been made on ending de facto segregation in District 20?
  • Does Fraser still have half a principal and multiple substitute teachers instead of permanent ones?
  • Has Charleston Progressive received any of the resources that would make it a true magnet school instead of a magnet in name only?
  • Is Buist Academy still hiding vacancies in its upper grades while a thousands-strong waiting list, well, waits?
  • Have the Superintendent and Bill Lewis surprised an unsuspecting District 20 with the planned destruction of two neighborhood schools?
  • Is the District now channeling resources that should have gone to CPA into a school it plans to destroy?
  • Has the overflow of disgruntled Buist applicants channeled by fiat into St. Andrews Elementary caused multiple ongoing problems and an overcrowded school?
  • Has the Superintendent allowed a free flow of conversation with any constituency in CCSD besides the school board?
  • Is CCSD still channeling dollars into non-profits that don't produce?
  • Is the Mayor still meddling in CCSD and claiming not to?

Apparently the one constant here is NO CHANGE.

No trust, either.

Sunday, September 16, 2007

Eyes on the Prize in This CCSD Fight

In one corner we have a school building that began life as Rivers High School, renovated previously at a cost of millions, sitting vacant, perhaps as an emblem of wasted taxpayer dollars.

In the other corner we have an avid group of racially-diverse parents and citizens anxious to bring true academic success to downtown Charleston in an integrated setting in the form of a charter high school in District 20.

And in the middle we have obstructionist Gregg Meyers and the majority of the CCSD school board--that would be Douglas, Cook, Jordan, and Hampton-Green, who suddenly must defend the indefensible action taken arrogantly in August. The Board is about to find out that just because you have a 5-4 majority does not mean that riding roughshod over the minority has no consequences.

Today's editorial staff of the P & C does a fairly creditable job of taking on Meyers's self-serving Letter to the Editor published on the same page, so I'm just going to point out the downside if CCSD doesn't do a 180 and allow a public school to use a public school building in the same manner as James Island Charter High School and Orange Grove Elementary. As I've said before, parents stymied in creating better schools as charter schools ultimately will turn their efforts to school vouchers. Can you blame them? To them, their children's education is not an intellectual exercise. Even now, as reported in the State, the prospects for school choice look better for the next legislative session.
In addition, as the P & C's editors so delicately put it, "Mr. Meyers also writes that he will try to return the question of the school's rent to the board's agenda." My! I'm sure it will take a herculean effort for him to gather his sycophants to agree, since they've been following his advice all along.

The editors also point out that, "When the rent issue was last considered, two board members were not physically present but participated in the discussion by telephone. This issue is a critical one to the school's future and deserves a full hearing and debate, which to his credit, Mr. Meyers recognizes and is working to accomplish." Well, he certainly didn't recognize it the FIRST time around!

Maybe they're playing to his ego so that he will cooperate, but notice that the editors did not NAME the board members who participated and VOTED by telephone--that would be Board Chairwoman Nancy Cook and MEYERS HIMSELF. Further, it doesn't take a crystal ball to know who designed the invidious rent policy in the first place and knew that it would come to a vote while he was absent.

Gregg Meyers can make all the nice noises about charter schools he wishes, but the reality is that he can't stand the idea of losing power--a sad example of a former Civil Rights lawyer stuck in the sixties. Apparently, he suspects any group that he doesn't personally control of ulterior motives.

And he's part of a system that has produced de facto segregation in virtually every District 20 school. He's the one whose motives should be suspect.

Saturday, September 15, 2007

Surprise? CCSD Board Violates FOIA

Whatever happened to transparency needed in CCSD to improve public trust? Unfortunately, Superintendent McGinley seems to believe secrecy is her friend.

For example, her "conversations" in the districts this fall turn out to be staged opportunities to answer questions from index cards carefully culled to showcase topics she wishes to address. Her meetings with constituent district boards, except for the one in District 20, have all broken the FOIA. In District 20 the constituent board refused to break it by meeting with her behind closed doors.

Now we learn that she and the school board again broke the FOIA by discussing the restructuring of associate superintendents' responsibilities for one and one-half hours in executive session--claiming they were going over "personnel matters."

Oh, Nancy, Nancy, you have such big plans to improve the district, but you still don't get it. Such incidents combined with your sudden announcement that Memminger and James Simons Schools will be destroyed (yes, that's the correct word) are going to be your downfall. Do you want to improve the district or not?

Thursday, September 13, 2007

Gilbreth's P & C Column Worth Reading

Just in case you didn't get this far into your P & C today, Dr. Gilbreth's column articulately sums up the battle now raging sub rosa between advocates of a new charter high school in District 20 and its adversaries in CCSD. The meeting referenced below (when representatives heard about the rent issue prior to the school board's vote) actually took place in Joe Riley's office. Park Dougherty's op-ed piece was published earlier this week. At last Monday night's CCSD Board meeting, Gregg Meyers proposed sending an email around so that the required four members could vote to bring the rent issue back for discussion--that at the request of Arthur Ravenel, Jr.

"Charter school should get fair chance of survival" by Edward M. Gilbreth (Thursday, September 13, 2007)

As I said in a column sometime last year, the idea spearheaded by Park Dougherty regarding the creation of a charter school for math and science on the peninsula is timely and appropriate. The quality of available public schooling in that part of the city is lousy, and everybody knows it is, including the African-Americans who speak out in favor of the charter.
Families have been abandoning public schools on the peninsula for years. Four of the five public schools serving downtown Charleston in 1970 have closed for want of suitable programs. One, in fact, was Rivers, the site of which would play a vital role for the proposed charter, as discussed below. The concept behind the charter is actually exciting parents (black and white) about sending their children to a public high school on the peninsula. This is based on a model developed by the charter executive committee, made up of 58 people, whose ideas may reverse a tide of discontent that has washed over the educational system for so many years.
The charter concept, as I understand it, would be under the aegis of the public school system, and fairly open its doors (room permitting) to all applicants in the absence of specific entrance requirements, yet enforce a certain GPA for students to remain enrolled.
Students might actually graduate with a bona-fide education, and not be among
the 1 in 5 who can't even identify the U.S. on a map of the world (if you believe the recent statistic presented to Miss South Carolina Teen USA and her infamous response).
Dougherty and his committee have labored mightily to get this show on the road and have encountered criticism, name-calling (including suggestions of racism) and the usual assortment of political roadblocks. On Aug. 13, however, the Charleston County School Board unanimously approved the charter and voted 8-1 to provide space at the old Rivers Middle School campus. It also voted 5-4 for terms that would place the charter utterly at the mercy of the school board, and therein the rubber meets the road because the majority of its members simply rubber-stamp the superintendent's recommendations — some of which are guaranteed to be deal breakers.
In other words, the school board giveth, and the school board taketh away.
Included in the superintendent's terms is a proposal that would permit annual rent of up to $327,000! How in the world can a fledgling venture like this possibly come up with that kind of cash? No other public school is charged more than $1 by the school district. And even if they were, how could 327 grand be remotely justified in this case when much of the Rivers campus simply lies fallow? Answer: It can't and it's not, and imposing such an outrageous fee would be tantamount to a death sentence — levied by county government, mind you — against thoughtful ideas that have met a lot more support (from what I can tell) than resistance.
OK. We've got a deal for you, says the school board. We will reduce the rent by 50 percent if 40 percent of the student population qualifies for free and reduced meals. Well, that sounds great, but $163,500 is still more than can be afforded, and, what's worse, the stipulation violates the spirit of the charter, which is being established so that any applicant has the same chance of being admitted as any other applicant.
Won't the above proposal create a conflict of interest and possibly generate discriminatory legal action?
A more sensitive issue involves sharing the Rivers campus with High Tech High (HTH). The executive committee representing the charter school agreed to share the campus with HTH last February in a deal that broke down as follows: 460 charter students and 280 HTH students. The charter school would have two-thirds of the building, and HTH would have the remaining one-third. Since last winter, the superintendent has authorized increasing HTH enrollment to 400 and relegating campus usage to one-half for each program.
So the rules keep changing, and so does the concept behind High Tech High. Originally billed as a career academy that might be installed in any high school, it now sounds like an NAACP-inspired vocational program. Which is fine, but the Friends of Burke have meanwhile begged for restoration of the vocational programs that were canceled by the school board years ago. So the question, therefore, is why wouldn't it make sense to restore Burke's programs and give the charter school control of Rivers? That was the most popular option among the 250 people who recently conferred, a choice that would give parents what they want and possibly reverse the exodus of children from downtown schools.
When the charter school executive committee found out about changes in the wind shortly before the school board vote, representatives approached the Superintendent and voiced displeasure. Yet the comments fell on deaf ears and
there was no negotiation. And that's the long and the short of where things stand now.
There's got to be a way around these issues and a way for the charter school to at least have a fair chance at survival. The peninsula deserves it and students who are willing to work deserve it. Perhaps with continued support, the impact of upcoming school board elections and ongoing negotiations, the charter school will finally get the terms it so desperately needs.
Edward M. Gilbreth is a Charleston physician. Reach him at Copyright © 1997 - 2007 Evening Post Publishing Co.

Wednesday, September 12, 2007

McGinley's Visit to District 20 Today

Here's hoping that information will be elicited on
  • the charter high school's status,

  • what's happening in the future at Burke (AP academy?? Academic Magnet rumors??),

  • the "tech" hi at Rivers (real??), and

  • this year's results of address verification at Buist. Oh, yes--

  • how about a full-time principal at Fraser,

  • what's happening to all the funds given to Memminger, and

  • what's being done to make Charleston Progressive a REAL magnet school.

Well, there's always hope!

Tuesday, September 11, 2007

On a Handshake? CSSD Board Needs It in Writing

When the CCSD School Board agreed to set up the five-year-old Sea Islands Youth Build program as a charter school this year, an approximately 10-student-per-year program became one for 75 students--in the same space. When questioned at the time by the Board, Renee Chewning, its director, assured them that suitable quarters for the enlarged school were available for 2007-08. Almost $100,000 had been given to the school prior to alarm bells going off at 75 Calhoun Street.

Despite her desire to help those most at risk for dropping out to become assets rather than liabilities to the community, Ms. Chewning simply had not done her homework. According to the pastor of the church building being used, notification of the potential sevenfold increase in students was never made, and he knows the facility is not large enough to hold it. No contract existed that assured Ms. Chewning that the facility could be used for so many students.

However, the Board (or the district employees informing it) did not do its "due diligence" either. It was quite ready to hand over approval with nothing more than an oral guarantee that the school had an adequate facility. Not for nothing was Ms. Chewning one of the public speakers at the board meeting several months ago urging the selection of McGinley for Superintendent. Now the school is facing an eviction notice from the church and possible closure, causing more disruption in the lives of students it was supposed to help.

Why? According to the P & C,

"Church visitors have been pelted with items students have thrown out of classroom windows, the yard has been trashed more than once, cigarette smoke hangs in the air, and church windows have been broken, [Pastor ]Warren [ of First Baptist Church of Johns Island] said.
Police have been called to the school three or four times, he said. Earlier this month, six students were arrested for fighting. Church employees and visitors should be safe on church property, but Warren said the school hasn't been able to assure him of that."

The school, whose "unconventional teaching methods with at-risk students who haven't been successful in traditional schools" were featured in August by the P & C, is having problems that could have been foreseen. Too much responsibility has been handed over to students not ready to handle it, judging from the results. Somehow in its plan to empower students, the school itself has failed to be safe for its students, teachers, and passersby.

Sometimes good intentions aren't enough.

Monday, September 10, 2007

The Teeth to Fight Truancy

Bob Fraser's Letter to the Editor that appeared in the P & C today, titled "Expect attendance," is well meant but misleading. Fraser describes his experiences as an "attendance supervisor" in Georgetown in 1970 as discouraging because of the attitudes of the parents involved. He was particularly affected by a truant's father's words: "'I don't have no education and he don't need one either.'"

Well, it is sad that the father quoted did not desire more for his son, but Fraser's point that back then "there [were] no teeth in the law and there are none today" is simply untrue. The "teeth" have been there ever since the school attendance law was passed.

As I said back in August on this website, "It's just that for the last 40 years, since South Carolina's compulsory school law was passed in 1967, districts have not enforced the truancy laws. No one has ever paid the $50 fine for not sending his or her child to school."

In 1970 "attendance supervisor" in Georgetown must have been a relatively new position. For the prior dozen years no one had been compelled to go to school. That idiotic policy, as I pointed out previously, was all about avoiding integration. Chickens come home to roost.

For all the hype about attendance that CCSD and Nancy McGinley have produced during the first few weeks of school, what has happened to the "teeth"?
Why do I think no one has paid that $50 fine YET?

Saturday, September 08, 2007

Whistle-Blower Writes Feds: CCSD Finally Acts

Maybe the P & C wants to make sure that readers always read to the end of their article. or maybe the real news is too embarrassing to put in today's headline, which merely states,

"County schools return $32,000 overcharge: Report on breakfasts served was overstated."

Who was not watching the store? The article throws lots of district-wide numbers at the reader but clearly boils down to this. During the 2006-07 school year at Stall High School until February a former food services director and two other CCSD employees committed fraud by sending in ridiculously higher numbers of breakfasts served in hopes of getting more pay in the following year.

CHARGES HAVE NOT BEEN PRESSED, NOR DO THESE CRIMINALS HAVE NAMES. Their full punishment, according to the article, is no longer being employed by CCSD! Well, after all, they were only planning to steal federal tax dollars.

According to Courrege,"The individuals responsible for oversight, Mark Cobb, the district's executive director of facility services, and Walter Campbell, the district's food services director, said they didn't find out about the discrepancy until May." So, the number jumped remarkably higher but no one in charge noticed or maybe cared. After all, what's the incentive to ask for FEWER dollars?

Claiming "an isolated incident," Cobb happily reports that "The food service budget still broke even, and the miscalculation didn't result in any other consequence to the district." Well, the budget should break even if it's reinbursed for the actual number served!

Of course, the district refuses to discuss why the three employees left, claiming "personnel matters" and, in response to this embarrassing problem, has hired another bureaucrat to do this part of Cobb's and Campbell's jobs.

To our UNSUNG HEROES list we should now add, along with Rudell Burch, wonder-worker former principal at Schroder Middle School, the name of Paul Nowosielski, cafeteria manager at Stall. When ignored by his supervisors after reporting the problem soon after being hired at Stall in February, he hoped patiently for action until the end of the school year and then wrote a "letter to the federal government." Campbell and Cobb can play CYA until the cows come home, but no one writes to the feds unless he's getting the run-around. They probably figured the extra money he would get THIS year, according to the crazy remuneration used by CCSD, would keep him quiet. Nowosielski is the one that points out that the system "gives people an incentive to falsify the numbers." It's also not clear if he kept his job after that.

Who invited him to the party?

Wouldn't you love to see the contents of that letter?

Does he still have a job at Stall or with the District?

Friday, September 07, 2007

Hollywood's Calling CCSD Middle Schools

Let's replicate Rudell S. Burch.

Who, you ask?

Seeing the P & C's article on last year's PACT scores for CCSD whetted my appetite for (the usual) missing information. Touting the remarkable improvements at R.D. Schroder Middle School in Hollywood, Courrege writes,

"One of the district's lowest-performing schools that showed strong improvement was unsatisfactory-rated Schroder Middle School in rural Hollywood. Greater percentages of students met state standards at every grade and in every subject area [italics mine], an accomplishment not common among schools where roughly 90 percent of the students live in poverty. The improvement was dramatic; the percentage of students meeting state standards in sixth grade social studies rose 22 percentage points to 72 percent.
"Schroder students' scores in science were strong, too, with 52 percent of sixth-graders meeting state standards compared with 36 percent last year. Sixth-grade science teacher Miriam Wright attributed the upswing to adding technology — an LCD projector — to her lessons. Although she taught the same information during the 2005-06 school year with an overhead projector, students were more interested in class last year, she said.
"In addition to technology, Wright created more long-term lesson plans and used the district's standardized curriculum, which gives examples of activities and strategies to teach classes, she said."

Great news, isn't it? Not only is it not common for schools with over 90% poverty, it was a non-achievement for any other school in CCSD.

I was curious why Courrege didn't have a quote from the principal who should get credit for facilitating this remarkable improvement. As every experienced teacher knows, the principal affects the climate for school achievement far more than any new LCD projector or standardized curriculum, although those may be helpful.

What I have discovered so far is that Schroder got a new principal (Cheryl Biss) in July, replacing Rudell Burch, who seems to have been principal solely for the 2006-07 school year. If my information is incorrect, I'm sure someone can correct me.

But, assuming the one-year tenure is correct, why the musical chairs? Clearly Burch is the one to be applauded, but where is he? Did he retire? Was he reassigned? Has he worked this magic in the past at any other schools?

You see, "long-term lesson plans," as mentioned by Ms. Wright, go a LONG way towards ensuring that standards will be met. Students won't be able to answer questions on the PACT if the class never gets to the material. Presumably at Schroder the "enforcer" of long-term lesson plans is the principal. Far be it from me to suggest that good teachers aren't important to the process, but for a middle school to rise in every grade AND in every subject area takes more than individual efforts of teachers. It also takes a fully-engaged principal and improved discipline.

Does McGinley plan to study Schroder to see how to apply that experience to other low-performing middle schools? Can we clone Mr. Burch?

Thursday, September 06, 2007

Not Just a River in Egypt

He's not an addict and has never been treated for mental or drug abuse problems.

Well, that's a relief! We were so worried about his drug rehab program! His appearances in court and postponed pleas were for a trendy vacation in Arizona? That explains everything--except why Ravenel's lawyer wasn't more careful briefing him about what to say or why the judge didn't call that lawyer on the carpet for lying to get a postponement.

It would be pitiful if it weren't so self-serving.

And, speaking of self-serving, what gives with the lame coverage of this story by the P &C? How often does a state treasurer campaign with cocaine parties? From the response of our local paper, you might almost get the idea that such events are pro forma. In fact, the editors seem to have a serious lack of curiosity regarding the whole sorry mess, much of which obviously happened locally.

I'm not much on conspiracy theories, but in that same vein, how could the judge who let Pasquale Pellicoro out on bail be so stupid as to not take his passport? Such actions are taken routinely, even for those holding U.S. passports.

Those of you expecting the return of this Italian citizen from Switzerland any time in the 21st century--well, my bridge in Brooklyn is still for sale.

County Council & State: What About City Council?

So the editors of the Post and Courier find it appropriate to criticize the state "competitive grants" program, as I have? They side with a lawsuit brought against it by a "citizens reform group," do they? [See today's editorial page.]

How about closer to home, editors? You've now editorialized about the Charleston County Council's handouts and the state's pork. What about funds given to charities and nonprofits that are hidden in the City Council's budget? They don't count?

Don't you wonder what the City-Council equivalents are of our state-tax dollars for "the Hilarity Festival, the Come-See-Me Festival, the Mighty Mo Festival, the Flopeye Fish Festival and Squealing on the Square"?

Let's not be hypocrites.

Tuesday, September 04, 2007

"Good Ol' Boy Network" Rides Again

Once upon a time in South Carolina, even within human memory, each county had one senator. That senator controlled EVERYTHING, including patronage, that went on in his (usually his) county as though he owned it and was consulted about EVERYTHING on the state level that might affect it. Funny thing, the names (and number of senators) may have changed to meet rulings of the U.S. Supreme Court, but the melody lingers on.

Lingers on in a STATE slush fund that a reader of Charleston Watch was saavy enough to post on this blog. [See article from the State posted under comments on my previous post and] for the gory details.] One of those deserving "charities" just happens to be Teach Charleston--you remember it? That's the New Teacher Project that found only 20 instead of 90-100 teachers (and whose contract with CCSD was recently terminated to avoid further blood loss) receiving $100,000 as promised. Your tax dollars at work, folks.

But, you know, it gets better, because Charleston Watch rightly points out that the CITY Council has never been criticized for its participation in this game, in fact, never received publicity or notice in the Post & Courier at all. The City Council's recipients are also an interesting bunch, some of which appear on the County Council's list AND the State list. [You can download the list from the previous website.] Always interesting on the state list is the money received by Chip Campsen's sister for Heritage Services. Or by Communities in Schools, recipient of largesse from both City ($10,000) and County ($3,000) Councils, run (I am told) by a close relative of Mayor Riley?

Why this deafening silence? Well, I can think of reasons, but they're all fairly cynical.

Here's the bottom line: On the city, county, and state level, thousands, tens of thousands, in fact, hundreds of thousands of earmarked funds are being donated to entities, some of whom are religious and some nonprofit, with few strings and less oversight, USING YOUR TAX DOLLARS in many cases TO PROVIDE LOCAL PORK.
It's the "we're all gentlemen here, so we can trust that the funds will be used for the good of the [fill in the blank--city, county, state]." You scratch my back, I'll scratch yours.

Let's think about the working poor, for a change. Should the tax dollars of those in the lowest tax bracket be used for festivals upstate or elsewhere?

You decide.

Sunday, September 02, 2007

Council's "Earmarks," or Are They Payoffs?

According to the P & C of August 31, the big winners from the Charleston County Council's slush fund derived from our tax dollars (those receiving $5,000 or more, no strings attached) are:
  • Crisis Ministries, $23,000;
  • American Red Cross, $15,250;
  • Evening of Prayer Ministries (food services), $14,000;
  • Pastors, Inc. (anti-drug program), $11,000;
  • Lowcountry Senior Center, $9,000;
  • Coastal Crisis Chaplaincy, $8,000;
  • Kecia E. Miller Foundation (free mammography screening), $7,000;
  • Lowcountry Crisis Pregnancy Center, $7,000;
  • SC Coalition for Black Voter Participation, $7,000;
  • Youth Empowerment Services, $7,000;
  • Lowcountry Food Bank, $6,750; YWCA of Greater Charleston, $5,500;
  • Center for Women, $5,000;
And those who got a "little something" of $1,000:

  • Boys and Girls Clubs of the Trident Area, $1,000;
  • Center for Heirs Property Preservation, $1,000;
  • Eastside Community Development Corp., $1,000;
  • New Horizons, $1,000;
  • North Charleston Community Interfaith Shelter, $1,000;
  • Palmetto Project, (health care access), $1,000;
  • Rein and Shine (equine assisted therapy), $1,000;
  • St. James South Santee Senior and Community Center, $1,000;
  • Vanderhorst Koinonia Ministries, (Road to Success Job Fair), $1,000

And those "in the middle"?

  • Daniel Joseph Jenkins Institute for Children, $4,750;
  • Dee Norton Lowcountry Children's Center, $4,000;
  • Independent Transportation Network, $4,000;
  • Trident Literacy Association, $4,000;
  • My Sister's House, $3,750;
  • Special Olympics, $3,500;
  • Father to Father Project, $3,250;
  • Lowcountry AIDS, $3,250;
  • Carolina Youth Development Center, $3,000;
  • Communities in Schools of the Charleston Area Inc., $3,000;
  • Emancipation Proclamation Association Inc. (student scholarships), $3,000;
  • Family Recovery Court, $3,000;
  • Hospice of Charleston, $3,000;
  • Metanoia Community Development Corp., $3,000;
  • Project Read, $2,500;
  • Bridge of Hope, $2,000;
  • Charleston Area Senior Citizen Services, $2,000;
  • Charleston County Children's Medical Homes Project, $2,000;
  • Charleston Development Academy Charter School, $2,000;
  • Clemson Extension Services, $2,000;
  • Florence Crittenton Program, $2,000;
  • Goodwill Development Center Sweetgrass Cultural Arts Festival, $2,000;
  • Humanities Foundation, $2,000;
  • Sustainability Institute (sustainable homes), $2,000;
  • Cannon Street YMCA, $2,000.

According to the same article, the state attorney general has said, "As a general rule, outside agencies that get public dollars should serve a substantial segment of the community and the public purpose should involve a governmental function. That rules out projects that benefit a particular group or neighborhood. The attorney general also has cautioned that any contribution to a religious group for social services such as feeding programs must be on a contract basis."

Congratulations to the three Council members who refused to go along with this charade of giving tax dollars to nonprofits in exchange for support--Thurmond, Bostic, and Schweers.

No one questions that some of those on the list are quite deserving. Others are mysterious. Mainly, it's the method of delivery that's disturbing.

A Cartoon I Can't Resist Re-Publishing

In case you don't regularly read the comics!

Saturday, September 01, 2007

CCSD Professional? Get a CFO Who's Qualified

Tenisha Waldo of the P & C quoted Nancy Cook, CCSD board chairwoman as saying of Don Kennedy's departure for the Seattle schools, "'This is our third person [Goodloe-Johnson] has raided. It's just not professional, in my opinion. That's why we're so disappointed.'"

Who's not professional? Maybe Nancy Cook, who hoped that a "lucrative counteroffer" would keep Kennedy in Charleston. CCSD was prepared to beef up the salary of a chief financial officer who does not have the qualifications to do the job in the first place? Kennedy sensibly took the Seattle offer, which as far as I can determine is NOT as chief financial officer.

Maybe someone can set me straight. Apart from soliciting what could be considered kickbacks from district contractors (a long-standing practice he did not end when hired in 2004), his obfuscation about the budget during CCSD school board meetings seemed to be Kennedy's most outstanding quality. He may very well be, as McGinley asserts in the CCSD press release, "a man of great honor and integrity," but what was it in his background that qualified him to oversee CCSD's millions in expenditures?

  • Does he hold an MBA?

  • Is he an accountant?

  • Does he have any specialized financial training beyond undergraduate courses at Newberry College?

  • Prior to joining CCSD, did he have any experience beyond being in the Air Force and working in the comptrollers' offices at two defense-industry organizations?

While McGinley reviews the "job description," let's hope she adds more sophisticated knowledge to the requirements in her "nationwide search."

In the P & C, using the district's press release as a "prepared statement," Waldo quotes McGinley in calling Kennedy"'a man of great honor and integrity.'" However, she must have tired of rewriting the release. Paraphrasing poorly and quoting word-for-word from CCSD's release she wrote, "Kennedy plans to leave in about eight weeks and will use that time to ensure that all operations will run smoothly after his departure."

The original actually went, "Kennedy will leave the District in approximately 8 weeks, using the time to ensure that all operations will run smoothly after his departure." Plagiarized sentence structure and wording.

Since Kennedy is quoted directly after that sentence, the reader assumes the information came from him; it didn't, unless he's memorized the press release formula.

The rule for plagiarized wording is three words in a row from the original source. You don't need to graduate with a degree in journalism to know that.