Wednesday, January 30, 2008

Port of Charleston Slowly Slips Down the Slope

As noticed by FITSNews, another sad sign for the Port of Charleston. I'm sure many of those from off could care less what happens to the Port; little do they realize how much it affects Charleston's economy.


. . . according to this morning’s edition of the Charleston Post and Courier, the once-proud Port of Charleston is slipping even further behind its competitors … again. From the P&C story:

The Port of Charleston reported a double-digit drop in container volume in 2007, but it will likely hang on to its position as the fourth-busiest East Coast port.

The port handled the equivalent of 1.75 million 20-foot-long containers in the last calendar year, down 11 percent from 2006, according to the State Ports Authority.

Four years ago the Port of Charleston was the fourth-largest in the nation, not the East Coast, but South Carolina’s insistence on maintaining a communist “total state control” model for port expansion and its failure to aggressively pursue public-private partnerships (like our competitors in Virginia, Florida, Alabama and several other states) has caused our state to squander its most valuable competitive asset.

Ports Authority board members Campbell, Bill Stern and Harry Butler bear the lion’s share of the blame for this disaster (they cast the deciding votes back in 2005 against free market expansion), but Gov. Mark Sanford deserves his fair share of criticism as well for failing to get rid of these three nimrods years ago.

Tuesday, January 29, 2008

Kandrac's Running for CCSD N. Charleston Seat

According to Live 5 News, Elizabeth Kandrac has already picked up her papers to run for CCSD school board's next electionl
Elizabeth Kandrac Announces She'll Run For Charleston Co. School Board

Katie Crawford, Live 5 News

A teacher who won her fight against the Charleston County School District now wants to be on its board. Speaking exclusively to Live Five News, former Brentwood Middle School teacher Elizabeth Kandrac says she's confident a second victory is in her future.

“I officially am announcing that I am running for the North Charleston seat on the Charleston County School Board,” said Elizabeth Kandrac.

Kandrac wants to go from the court room to the board room, making it clear she's not looking to move out of the spotlight.

“I would like the teachers to know they can teach in the classroom, and the children to know they can learn in the classroom in a safe environment with no disadvantages and no discipline problems,” added Kandrac.

Back in 2006, a court ruled in Kandrac's favor against the Charleston County School District. She claimed she worked with students in a racially hostile environment at Brentwood Middle School.

“When people hear your name, Elizabeth Kandrac, what do you want them to think?”

“A champion for the cause, for the students, the teachers, the families in the community,” said Kandrac.

Of the three North Charleston seats on the County School Board, two of them will be up for the taking this November, and Kandrac feels confident she'll be able to win one of them.

And she's not wasting any time, even going to the Charleston County Election Commission to pick up her paperwork. If she gets enough support, she'll be running against incumbents Nancy Cook and Hillery Douglas, providing they also decide to run again.

“There are many people who support me and many people would like to see me on the school board,” said Kandrac.

“Oh well, she's doing this for personal reasons?”

“Not true. Personal reasons, if you want to call a personal reason my great desire to better the school and the children's lives and the teacher's lives, then it is a personal reason,” said Kandrac.

Kandrac tried to run in 2004, but she didn't have enough signatures to back her. The Election Commission says you have to have 500 signatures of registered voters in order to run for the school board. The deadline for filing is July 15th.

School Reform? Off with Their Heads

Interested in ways to shake up a school system that is failing? Wondering what recommendations for firing of administrators and teachers from failing schools in CCSD McGinley is contemplating?

You may wish to take a gander at another education blog's take on what's happening in Chicago. See Right on the Left Coast's Firing Teachers At Underperforming Schools
for an interesting discussion of accountability and musical chairs in a school system with problems.

Monday, January 28, 2008

Finally, Some Respect: Misleading Headline

"States Fight Teacher Abuse" announced the headline above the fold in Monday's P & C.

Most teachers reading that headline must have had the same reaction as my cohorts and I: thank goodness, someone has finally realized how abused many teachers are in this country and is prepared to address the verbal and physical abuse that makes the lives of some dedicated teachers miserable and causes many to leave the profession entirely.

How silly of us! It was about strengthening punishments for teacher-student sexual misconduct. Not that there's anything wrong with that.

Sunday, January 27, 2008

Dumb and Dumber: Graduate at 16

Would someone please throw Gov. Sanford a lifeline? He's gone off the deep end again.

Beyond the occasional genius, usually a genius at math, no teenager needs to enter college early. So when I saw the headline in Sunday's P & C, Educators split on cash for early grads,
I cringed. Apparently it's not enough for Sanford that today's colleges and universities have multiple remedial classes for students who can't handle college-level curriculum, now he wants South Carolina to encourage students who are not mature enough to handle the peer pressures of college life to march happily off to Columbia or Greenville or wherever, out of sight of parental control, straight into the arms of the anything-goes cultures that roam our campuses looking for victims.

What is he thinking? Probably not much. Then, Superintendent Rex chimes in to agree, proving that brain cells have not been put to work: "Jim Rex, a Democrat, said he's on board with the governor's idea as long as minor questions are addressed, such the impact on the state's on-time graduation rate. "'On the surface, I really like it,' Rex said. 'I think the concept is a good one.'"

What a self-serving statement! "Surface" is right. Does it occur to anyone else that Rex knows nothing about education? I had seen rumors that he views the post as a stepping-stone to running for governor. Now I believe them.

CCSD Superintendent McGinley was mainly concerned with district's finances: [her] main concern . . . was whether the college scholarship money would come out of the kindergarten through 12th-grade budget." Well, that's where her priorities lie.

To give the devil his due, so to speak, at least CCSD's Janet Rose made noises about the effects of such a goal on the students themselves, saying "it's not in kids' best interest to leave high school early." And "Berkeley Assistant Superintendent for Learning Services Mike Turner said district principals are unanimous in their opposition."

Well, duh.

And the incentive to make a choice that could haunt both student and parents for the rest of their lives? A mere drop in the bucket in the sea of college expenses--either $1000 or $2000. Does Sanford think our colleges and universities still act in loco parentis? Or that all of these younger students will live at home with parents? Or that students who are mentally advanced are always more emotionally mature?

What planet is he on?

CCSD's New Charter High School Administration

Looking good, at least from my vantage point. Parents of children whose names were drawn in CCSMS's lottery should be reassured by the quality and experience of those in positions filled so far. And they didn't need to go out of state to find a principal. CCSD take note.

According to a recent press release,
The Charleston Public Charter School for Math and Science (CCSMS) proudly announces the hiring of our principal, Peter O. Smyth. Mr. Smyth brings to CCSMS nearly 30 years of extensive experience of engaging students in the classroom and in developing curriculum and faculty as an administrator. Mr. Smyth will direct Charleston's new public charter school where he will lead the teaching of mathematics and science with an emphasis on problem solving, technology, and connections across the curriculum.


He has an undergraduate degree in biology from The University of the South, Sewanee, Tennessee and a master's degree from The Citadel in Mathematics. He has also taught graduate level courses in Education for The Citadel.

Dr. Elizabeth Jennings has been hired to coordinate hiring of faculty and curriculum development. [. . .] She has experience partnering and organizing professional development with Washington DC's Public Charter Schools. Mary Carmichael has been hired to oversee the administrative and financial needs of the school. Mrs. Carmichael has over 15 years of non-profit management experience with a focus on programs strengthening families and communities.

CCSMS will begin the faculty search February 1, 2008.

Saturday, January 26, 2008

Maybe Toal Got Her Training on a School Board

Here in Charleston County we deal with a school system that must be a laughing-stock to upstate districts like Greenville. Now, thanks to our state's Supreme Court Chief Justice, we can be the laughing-stock to all the Bars (and maybe bars also) across the United States of America.

If Jean Toal believes her own words as reported in Saturday's P & C, she should be named "Most Naive Chief Justice" in America. See Toal defends bar exam decision, where she lays out the supposedly-difficult choices before a state Bar meeting. At least a few flunkies and toadies attended, one quoted as saying, '"I think the court is above reproach on the whole thing.'"

Let's see, I think I put my bridge for sale around here somewhere. . . .

But, best of all, I can't resist copying some comments on the P & C's on-line edition. This person needs a blog! Who could say it better?

Joab Dowling, the late Beaufort attorney, one asked me "What do you say to a judge who tells you to JUMP?"
"How high?" I suggested.
"No, the correct answer is 'May I come down now'" said Mr. Dowling.
Perhaps the assembled attorneys of the Bar can suspend their disbelief and the laws of gravity for Jean Toal but for the rest of us it would require a leap of faith to accept Toal's tale as opposed to what we see with our own lying eyes. I would have to forget that in 1987, when I took the bar, a member of the Supreme Court managed to penetrate the sacred and mystical rites of their alleged anonymous numbering system to give the precious child of a powerful state grandee a gentle nudge into the passing lane that was rivaled only by the force of the chief justice's automobile collisions. Perhaps the scales will fall from our eyes when we gaze upon the student body of the law school and not notice that the darling little acorns of many oaks in the South Carolina political forest managed to not only land close to the big trees but whipped the law of averages and all managed to find sunny spots in that inpenetrable wood. And for the average citizen who has encountered the poobahs and plentipotentates of the South Carolina system of justice you have to be drunk not to believe that our court system is the result of a failed experiment of inbreeding with the last dying gasp of what deToqueville called the last vestige of aristocracy in America.
The only proper response to Chief Justice Toal is "Ha ha ha ha ho ho ho chortle chortle chortle."

Friday, January 25, 2008

$24 Million for What, Hillery?

Is anyone else as tired as I am of the obstructionist ways of CCSD Board of Trustees Chairman Hillery Douglas? Friday's P & C provides yet another example of his smug, you-can't-touch-me-but-I-don't-support-charter-schools-I-can't-control remarks. See Bill would bar district rent charges for charter schools].

Apart from the question of a public [charter] school's paying rent to use a public school building, Douglas is quoted as asking,
whether the district should pay for an upgrade to a district building [that's a building owned by the public, Hillery] that a charter school wanted to use. That's what's happening in Charleston: The school district has agreed to let the math and science charter school use the former Rivers Middle School building, but making the building safe for students is going to require $24 million. Decisions about such situations should be left to school districts and charter schools, Douglas said.
Douglas would have us believe that giving space in CCSD buildings to charter schools [note--not controlled by Douglas and his ilk] will cost the district MILLIONS of dollars it otherwise would not need to spend. How disingenuous is that?

Charter school organizer Park Dougherty hits the nail on the head:
"there's always another way to attempt to block us." The point of contention involving the math and science school has shifted from rent to the "alleged needs" of the building, he said.
Because, new legislative bill or not, the rent issue is dead on arrival. Even Gregg Meyers is ready to throw in the towel on that one.

Twenty-four million dollars to renovate Rivers? "Alleged" is right. Maybe just a few of us remember that it wasn't so long ago that the district was using that building? That, when first approached by the Charter High School, the district's own estimates of making it usable again were less than half what Bill Lewis claims is needed now.

Where are the brakes on this out-of-control spending on brick and mortar? Only the very gullible--and those with a financial interest--believe that the Rivers building isn't "safe" without these millions. If Lewis announces in February or March that the costs have escalated to $50 million for renovations, who's going to call him to account? Not Douglas, obviously.

Wednesday, January 23, 2008

SC Schools Are Second in Something

I'm not sure the SC Department of Education should be proud of this latest statistic. Doesn't it suggest that South Carolina's public school students are among the poorest in the nation?

South Carolina school breakfast participation rates rank second in the nation, state’s efforts commended

Participation by South Carolina students in the school breakfast program last year was 101 percent, and the ratio of serving free and reduced price students at lunch and breakfast was the second highest in the nation, according to a report by the Food Research and Action Center. The School Breakfast Scorecard 2007 gives data for all states and highlights successful strategies.

The rest of the press release can be found on the SC Department of Education website.

Tuesday, January 22, 2008

Do the Math

North Charleston experienced its fourth murder in 21 days on the night of January 21st. At this rate, the city will see 70 murders in 2008.

Last year's total was less than 30.

What's the reason--gangs? turf wars? drug deals? Whatever it is, this is not an encouraging start to the new year.

Why not call this a "gang"? Saturday's P & C:

North Charleston police have charged two more teenagers in Monday's slaying of 18-year-old Adolphus Simmons, and they said there could be additional arrests.

On Friday, a 15-year-old boy and Jackuez Witherspoon, 19, were arrested and charged with accessory after the fact of murder, said Spencer Pryor, North Charleston police public information officer. Another 15-year-old boy was arrested earlier this week and charged with Simmons' murder.


"Police are not releasing any further details at this time, because the case remains under investigation, and additional arrests are possible," Pryor said.

Witherspoon, two 15-year-olds and two other adults are listed as suspects on a police report about a Jan. 7 incident at Simmons' apartment. Someone kicked in the front door to the home about 5 p.m. when no one was home. Earrings and CDs were taken, the report showed.

Simmons' mother, Felicia Moultrie, said the people who broke in were looking for her son.

Saturday, January 19, 2008

CCSD's Pretend Residency Politics

CCSD labors mightily and brings forth . . . a mouse.

Saturday's P & C reveals the results of its new policy on enforcing attendance zones. [See Board allows 6 outside zone to stay at school].

Whom should we feel sorrier for: Nancy Cook, who voted to enforce the residency policy approved on her watch and was voted down 8 to 1 by the rest of the CCSD board members; or the St. Andrews District 10 constituent board, which naively assumed that enforcing that policy was what it was expected to do? Perhaps its members have now discovered they have more in common with the District 20 constituent board than once they thought!

According to the constituent board's chairman, Russell Johnson, "no one on the constituent board wanted to move children mid-year, but they were trying to uphold the county board's rules."

'I'm not real fond of (the county board) making rules that they don't enforce themselves,' Johnson said. 'What is the point of the residency verification if they are not going to enforce the results?'"[italics mine]

Exactly. So the plan is, drag your feet verifying addresses for the first semester; then allow the miscreants to keep the children where they should not be because they've been in the school for a semester. I'm not talking about hardship cases here, but it's hard to believe that all six exceptions fall into that category. Let the parents explain to Johnny Joe why he has to change schools mid-year. It reminds me of the criminal who murders his parents and then begs for mercy because he's an orphan.

If CCSD is not willing to enforce its attendance zone policy now, there is no reason to believe it will do so in the future. The school board passed this policy to placate those who believe (and still do) that the lists for Buist Academy have been "cooked" and bypassed for favored children of the well-connected. Nothing has changed at Buist with this policy. Community concerns have not been answered. Only St. Andrews was impacted by Goodloe-Johnson's assigning multiple unhappy Buist applicants to the school as a sop. The uproar began when the school became overcrowded and added mobile classrooms as a result.

At Buist, which claims to be the only magnet school to have completed the process of verification, the process was never truly started. No enrollees were checked to see which of the four lists they were supposed to be fulfilling. Does anyone believe that all of them actually live in Charleston County? Why should anyone when downtown addresses have been proved false in the past and NOTHING happened?

Gepford should not allow himself to be used as a figurehead for this ethically-challenged group, not if he has any self-respect.

[By the way, is this the same Doug Gepford who is a supporter of Charleston Collegiate School?]

P & C Discovers the Education Blob!

Only 20 years! That's all it took for the P & C to read the entrails of the "education blob." That sobriquet, coined by then-Secretary of Education William J. Bennett, describes non-profit organizations feeding at the public trough in the name of advancing education.

Saturday's paper finally provides coverage of the finances of Heritage Services, showing how (as I have stated previously in this blog) non-profit does not mean "non-profitable" to those involved. [SeeSex-ed nonprofit banks heavily on public funds ]

There's politics involved? Gasp!

Whether you are against abstinence-based sex education or not is immaterial here. What everyone can agree upon is that public funding of non-profits (and even for-profits) needs to have more oversight and transparency. Those who pay attention to CCSD's administration can easily rattle off the call letters of many--CEN, CEP, NTP, etc.--that remain shrouded in mystery as to effectiveness per dollar spent. Why do I suspect that Heritage is not alone in its important political connections, family business salaries, and lack of accountability to the taxpayers?

Maybe because I didn't fall of the turnip truck yesterday?

Wednesday, January 16, 2008

Reality Check: $14 Million Elephant in the Room

Does anyone with an office in the Taj Mahal EVER admit a mistake?

If the results of CCSD's hiring of Community Education Partners (CEP) also portend the results of Superintendent McGinley's newer plans, we're in real trouble here. The P & C 's article Tuesday regarding Murray Hill Academy was as polite as it could possibly have been, given the circumstances of this major fiasco. Probably CCSD school board members at Monday's meeting also veiled their comments.

It's time for a reality check here.
  1. Would CCSD have hired CEP if then-Chief Academic Officer McGinley had not recommended they do so (probably at the urging of her Broad Foundation helpers)? NO
  2. Did McGinley assume that Charleston's problems were analogous to Philadelphia's? YES
  3. Did CCSD spend $5 million to "warehouse" perhaps a total of 600 students over a period of 2 and 1/2 years? WOW
  4. For this princely sum, did CEP ever provide an effective principal and enough certified teachers for students to get credits? NO
  5. Did McGinley negotiate a contract with CEP that required students to attend for 180 days but now claim that is too long to be effective for CCSD's students? YES
  6. Did the building never reach capacity because CCSD didn't assign enough students? YES
  7. Was the $9 million building built specifically for CEP according to its specifications? WHAT FORESIGHT
  8. Did CCSD assign fewer than 70 students to that new $9 million building this fall? YES
  9. Is McGinley suggesting rooms in this specially-built school be used for office space? YES
  10. That would be because the Taj Mahal has grown too small for all its bureaucrats or because it is falling apart? WHO KNOWS?
This list could be longer, but what would be the point? According to McGinley, "Charleston has been fortunate to have the company run Murray Hill." What does she think would happen if she admitted a mistake? Would the sky fall? Or would community members begin to be more confident that she's leveling with them?

More importantly, how can we hold CCSD more responsible for spending in the future? Just think of all those lovely building and renovation projects Bill Lewis has on the table and his escalating estimates for the renovation of the old Rivers High School building. Is anyone watching the store?

Tuesday, January 15, 2008

Fix Dropout Rate? Start with Preschool

Most of us read with interest CCSD's latest attempt to address the dropout rate among African-American males [see Retreat's goal: Help black male students in the P & C's Sunday edition]. The actual rate is a secret (if anyone actually knows, which I doubt), but if the overall dropout rate hovers around a horrible 50%, can we assume that for black males it is close to 75%?

The participants recommended several ideas that Randy Bynum, Chief Academic Officer, promised to take to CCSD for possible implementation, obfuscation, and/or the circular file. However, the remarks made by Lee Gaillard, interim principal at Murray Hill and former Burke High principal and coach, made the most sense. Among other comments, Gaillard suggested that
"the community needs more dialogue and follow-up on this issue"; that he "remembers intense local discussions in 1975 about violence in schools that ended after a few years, and now it's 2008 and the same problems still exist"; and that [too?] "much of the discussion focused on middle and high school students, and he'd like to see more talk about what could be done for preschool and elementary-aged students."

So it was with interest that I read this column in today's Washington Post. Note the comments about what [statistically] has worked. CCSD must seriously keep track of the effects of its various programs. Too often "fixes" have not been shown to produce the desired results.

Dropout Solutions That Work

By Jay Mathews
Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, January 15, 2008; 10:08 AM

I am starting this column with a chart, something journalists are never supposed to do. I found it on page 179 of a new book with one of those titles, "The Price We Pay: Economic and Social Consequences of Inadequate Education," that scholars consider necessary but discourages readers. I beg you to stay with me, because this particular chart is surprising and important (I have changed the format slightly to make it easier to absorb).

Table 9-1. Interventions that Demonstrably Raise the High School Graduation Rate

(Intervention -- Extra high school graduates if intervention is given to 100 students)

1. Perry Preschool Program (1.8 years of a center-based program for 2.5 hours per weekday, child-teacher ratio of 5:1; home visits; group meetings of parents.) 19 extra graduates.

2. First Things First (Comprehensive school reform based on small learning communities with dedicated teachers, family advocates and instructional improvement efforts.) 16 extra graduates.

3. Chicago Child-Parent Center program (Center-based preschool program: parental involvement, outreach and health/nutrition services. Based in public schools.) 11 extra graduates.

4. Project STAR: class size reduction (4 years of schooling in grades K-3 with class size reduced from 25 to 15.) 11 extra graduates.

5. Teacher salary increase (10 percent increase, K-12) 5 extra graduates.

This list is the work of Clive R. Belfield of Queens College of the City University of New York and Henry M. Levin of Teachers College at Columbia University, editors of the book and authors of the chapter in which the chart appears. Belfield and Levin are among the best of the economists who are doing some of the most promising research on how to fix schools.

Dropouts are probably the biggest and least soluble problem in high school. About 30 percent of ninth graders don't finish high school in four years nationally. That figure rises to 50 percent in our poorest neighborhoods. Few school systems are doing much about it, in part because there is so little information on what should be done.

Yet the five programs listed in the chart do work, based on solid research, Belfield and Levin say. The bad news is those were the only programs of proven value they could find after examining hundreds of articles and reports. They wanted programs whose results had been rigorously evaluated and had proven to produce significant increases in graduation rates. They found, instead, "few experimental designs with random assignment, few quasi-experimental studies with strong design to ensure equivalent groups for comparison, and few rigorous statistical and econometric methods to identify effects of interventions." [italics mine]

Notice something else: Only one of these five programs is something that high school educators can do, even though they are the people getting most of the blame for our high dropout rates. Some critics say I should not be putting high schools with high dropout rates but superior college preparation programs on my lists of best schools. The chart buttresses my view that the fine educators in those schools deserve a break on this issue, since most of the effective anti-dropout programs start long before students reach high school.

Each of the five solutions identified by Belfield and Levin is interesting. All should be on the top of every presidential candidate's agenda, and indeed many of them are, at least in a general way. The first and third most effective methods are preschool programs, something many candidates support. The Perry Preschool Program began in Michigan 40 years ago. It has the rare advantage of data on its participants' subsequent lives that extends to the present day. The Chicago Child-Parent Center program had a similar long-term focus, following its participants up to age 20.

Some presidential candidates also support reducing class size, which is what Project STAR in Tennessee, the fourth-ranked program, did. Some candidates call for raising teacher salaries, the effects of which were revealed by the fifth-ranked study, by Susanna Loeb and Marianne E. Page.

But the one effective high school program, breaking dysfunctional urban schools into small learning communities, is not discussed very often on the campaign trail. That program, First Things First, was carried out in Kansas City, Kan. It was part of a national switch to smaller high schools that is drawing a great deal of support, including millions of dollars from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation.

Belfield and Levin spend much of their chapter calculating which of the five methods was most cost effective. First Things First won that race, with benefits 3.54 times greater than its cost. Next in line were the Chicago Parent-Child Centers (benefits 3.09 times greater than costs), the teacher salary increase (2.55) , the Perry Preschool Program (2.31) and the class size reduction (1.46).

These are the estimates of two economists crunching their numbers on computers, not the real life experience of teachers, parents, students and taxpayers taking these ideas and using them in their own communities. Their situations are likely to be different from those of the schools covered in these studies. Belfield and Levin point out that there may be other good programs that reduce dropouts, but the research on them is not good enough yet. This is a start. Where we go next depends on how serious we are about solving one of our worst social problems.

Monday, January 14, 2008

Seattle's Planning to Plan: Familiar?

Some of you may get a kick from this posting on Save Seattle's Schools [Various Topics]
on January 13th:

6. Planned Planning. There are a lot of plans floating around, but I've noticed that nearly all of the plans are not action plans, but plans for making plans. These include the Entry Plan, the Strategic Framework, the plan to use McKinsey & Company, the Strategic Framework they will write, the new Facilities Master Plan, the Southeast Initiative, the plan for writing a new Assignment Plan complete with a plan to do wholesale revision of program placement. None of these are, themselves, action plans. For all of this planning, I see very little action planning – let alone planned action.

7. Unplanned Action. Meanwhile, most of the action that I see the District doing is actually unplanned. These include the decision to surplus M L King (with no plan for the property), the decision to semi-merge Denny and Sealth (with no academic plan).

8. Planned Confusion. I can no longer keep track of all of the Superintendent's plans. Is she still moving forward with her Entry Plan or has it been scrapped? I think it has been scrapped. I think the plan to reconfigure APP has been scrapped, but how will it constrain the New Assignment Plan if APP can't be moved? Will the District continue to follow the Strategic Framework or has it been scrapped? The Superintendent praises it on her web page, but McKinsey and Company are going to help her replace it. Are all plans on hold until we hear from the McKinsey and Company consultants? When we have their plan will we stick to it? Do we still plan to change the Student Assignment Plan or will that plan be pushed out yet another year?

Sunday, January 13, 2008

Charter High School: Good News

The following information was sent out by the Charter High School committee on January 10th. Attend if you can to see how a lottery can be done transparently!
As of today, the Charleston Charter School for Math & Science (CCSMS)
has received more applications than the seats available in every
grade: 6, 7, 8 and 9. Currently, the total is 289 applications for
180 seats as follows: 123 for 40 seats in grade 6, 46 for 40 seats in
grade 7, 38 for 20 seats in grade 8 and 82 for 80 seats in grade 9.

At 3 p.m. on Tuesday, January 15, in the auditorium of the Main
Library, there will be a public lottery to determine which applicants
will be invited to attend Charleston's newest public school.

Applications are still being accepted and will be placed on the waiting
list. Based on the numbers cited above, more applications to grades 7
and 9 are highly encouraged, because the waiting list in those grades
will be very short.

Does CCSD Want Community Support or Not?

Raising eyebrows in parts of CCSD, especially in beleaguered downtown District 20, Superintendent McGinley's plan for selecting members of NPTs (Neighborhood Planning Teams) for restructuring schools indicates the usual bunker mentality. It's all about control of the process. McGinley wants to ensure that neighborhoods don't have too much power in the process. The proposed plan includes 9 of the 13 NPT members being selected by the principal alone.

Reprinted below is a letter expressing neighborhood concerns sent last week from a District 20 constituent to a CCSD School Board member:

Many downtown residents, parents of children currently in public schools and many others working for successful school alternatives downtown want to cooperate with Dr. McGinley through her plan. Unless the District 20 Constituent Board is put in a position to screen and select the members of the NPT, the plan will fail. Many of us are willing to try the plan, but we can only trust the constituent board to make sure the people involved represent the community and not just CCSD.
Many of us fear that there is no guarantee that principals or other CCSD employees will be motivated to draw any of these people on the 12-14 member NPTs from a broad pool of willing volunteers. Appointees should include those who live and know the community, and have proven themselves to be committed and passionate about raising the standards of every downtown school. In the current plan there is no assurance that the NPTs as proposed will accommodate any volunteers or people who simply express a desire to lend their local NPT some sort of special talent or experience.
Based on what we know about how CCSD has handled public participation in the recent past and what we are hearing from other meetings with the Superintendent about this plan, there is a strong belief among us downtown that the NPTs will not be allowed to freely consider all possibilities in spite of what Dr. McGinley has said. By allowing the constituent board to have the final say, it would ensure that the process is public and above board. The process from beginning to end will also be managed by a public body that is closely connected to the downtown community at large. Otherwise any outcome may be seen as rigged in advance. Individual NPTs in some cases will never be encouraged to get off the ground unless some public group like the constituent board is reporting on their progress.
If the county board considers approving this plan, please suggest to your fellow board members, at least in the case of District 20 where several very viable and active parent groups now exist, the constituent board should be screening and appointing the members of the NPTs. Who best but our neighbors to stay behind them until they complete their job?
Worse than that, however, is the "bait and switch" plan for restructuring Burke. After originally being included in school choice meetings, members of Burke's School Improvement Committee have been informed that Burke will not have an NPT nor the money that goes with the program ($6000). The latest ploy is that the so-called "AP Academy" will serve as the NPT for Burke.

Does McGinley want her plan to be successful or not?

Friday, January 11, 2008

CCSD: You Thought We Were Going to Follow Our Policy?

Clearly what CCSD needs is a Chief Obfuscation Officer, such as the one suggested for the New York City Schools [See DOE Announces New Administrative Positions]. Then slip-ups like the one below wouldn't occur.

Board trips over policy on expenses
By Diette Courrégé
The Post and Courier
Friday, January 11, 2008

Charleston County School Board members haven't followed their policy to publish their expenditures and share what they learned with their colleagues.

The school board approved a policy that requires it to publish the yearly expenditures for its members each August, but the board failed to do that last year. The Post and Courier began asking for that information in early October and submitted a Freedom of Information Act request for it in late November. The district supplied the information in early December and provided more details later that month.

Board member Gregg Meyers said it was inappropriate that a Freedom of Information Act request was needed and that the information should have been available in August. He said he planned to let the superintendent know the district should follow the board's policy.

School board Vice Chairwoman Nancy Cook was chair of the board until November. She said she forgot the board was supposed to make this information public, and district officials should have reminded the board about this. The board doesn't have anything to hide, but this disclosure wasn't on her radar, she said.

"They should've been on top of that," she said.

School Superintendent Nancy McGinley said she wasn't aware of the policy's requirement until recently, and the responsibility to ensure such a report was generated would have fallen under the chief financial officer. She said that she relies on the heads of district departments to follow policies and that this issue wasn't brought to her attention. [Note: And the chief financial officer said, what?]

Job description for this new CCSD official could be modeled after the one [satirically] proposed by New York parents:

"Chief Obfuscation Officer: Heads the PR Department division responsible for explaining all DOE restructuring issues to the public."

Add to this administrative position the responsibility for explaining the School Board's arcane financial decisions and unequal treatment of District 20 and North Charleston, and I think we've got a winner.

Monday, January 07, 2008

CCSD Rearranging Deck Chairs Again

Notable for what it isn't--an inspired response to the requirements "of the new Education and Economic Development Act, which requires school districts to offer clusters of courses in career areas such as health, business and engineering." Oh, it may very well meet bureaucratic needs to fulfill the letter of the law, and it may even be the best CCSD can do at the moment, given its propensity to treat career courses like the poor stepchild of the school system. The latter is the problem.

I checked the CCSD website to see if further explanation (beyond Monday's P & C article) had been posted, but to no avail, so I am left to speculate on what the accompanying chart really means, i.e., what is NOT included in the shuffling of the deck chairs. [double-click on the image if you wish to read the chart].
  • Students are being given nine days' notice to decide if they wish to transfer to another school for an elective? Will they or their parents fully understand what the elective provides in the way of career advancement?
  • No bus transportation? Why not? So those who don't have access to a car can't transfer? According to the article, the state is providing funds for transportation.
  • Why are Advanced Placement and International Baccalaureate included on the chart at all? When did AP become Interdisciplinary Studies? Not. These are not career courses!
  • Do the three zones extend to this so-called Interdisciplinary Studies? Hard to tell on the chart, but if they do, that means that students in North Charleston have no hope of AP unless they make it into the Academic Magnet.
  • In fact, thanks to the "zones," students in the north area generally get the short end of the stick. Just look at the school ["engineering, etc."] offered to students at Stall and North Charleston. And they can't transfer to Wando because . . . ?
  • Does Burke offer AP? If so, what?
  • The label of "Schools" is grandiose, although I suspect generated by the new law. "School of Arts and Humanities"? This is a career cluster? You tell me--what is "education and training" in this "school"?
  • Please note the wide open spaces under "School of engineering, industrial, and manufacturing technologies," especially in the areas of "manufacturing" and "architecture and construction." Isn't this area generally what people mean by career electives?
  • And, then, under the "School of health, human and public services," just out of curiosity, what course prepares high school students for a career in government and public administration?
  • In fact, looking at the whole chart, isn't that the problem: what are these "career" courses? Do they, in fact, prepare students for careers in those fields, or they serve as less academic "fill-ins" for students who have weak academic skills [you know, sort of like the "underwater basketweaving" course we all joked about in college--whatever it's actual name was].
The New York public school system has warehouses [I use the word advisedly] full of students in so-called career schools whose offerings have little to do with careers and more to do with pushing students through to diplomas. Let's hope that these "schools" don't portend the same fate.

Saturday, January 05, 2008

CCSD's Vocational Partership: Read Between the Lines

Waaah! We don't have the proper classrooms to offer career classes at our high schools! But to make up for it, we're thinking creatively about the needs of students in the second half of the 21st century!

That, in its essence, is the response of Bob Olson, CCSD bureaucrat, to a successful partnership between West Ashley and Garrett Academy coddled to completion by a dedicated guidance counselor on his vacation last summer. In the program 19 West Ashley students manage to take career electives at Garrett.

The headlines are about its success [see Career school partnership sparkles]. However, towards the end of the article, we learn what that success means to current CCSD students.

If not for the dedication of a guidance counselor and officials at West Ashley, even this pilot program wouldn't have gotten off the ground.

According to Epstein (the WA guidance counselor),
"West Ashley is the only high school in the district that has made this agreement with Garrett a reality, and . . . it's not because downtown district officials were pushing to make it happen." [Note: I hope Epstein's job is secure!]

Instead, CCSD is pushing for pie in the sky, by and by.

"Olson said officials don't have any concrete plans to grow the partnership but said they are looking at other ways to create more options and choices for students." [Nameless officials? Other ways for next year? Don't hold your breath.]

CCSD never imagined that a need would arise for career courses in its other high schools.

"Some of the trade programs need specific types of buildings and can't be housed in traditional classrooms." [Duh. How old are West Ashley, Burke, and Wando High Schools? Did the buildings they replaced have any suitable classrooms? Was the subject even on CCSD's radar screen when these new buildings were planned? Have communities asked for such programs in the past? Yes.]

Where are plans to add programs that don't need specialized settings?

According to Olson, "[nameless] officials are evaluating schools' course offerings, buildings and the community's needs to see what needs to be done in the future." [Ah, yes, the future.]

How about NOW?

Friday, January 04, 2008

Don't Just Talk the Talk, Rep. Clyburn!

Well, here it is again--the need for public charter schools to use public school space.

According to Friday's P & C, "On the first anniversary of becoming the third-highest ranking member of Congress, House Majority Whip Jim Clyburn . . . stop[ped] at Charleston Development Academy Charter School on the peninsula, where he emphasized that school choice is an innovative learning method that must be embraced."

I've blogged before about CDA and its success [see Gadsden Green's Heroes ]
Notably, the school's principal,Cecelia Gordon Rogers did not miss the opportunity to ask for expansion, saying,"'We have outgrown our building here. Give us a little space.'"

South Carolina is one of the few states that does not provide public school space by law for public charter schools. This issue will only grow in urgency as more charter groups provide more choices.

If public charter schools do not receive public space, their long-term success will always be an issue. Only those charter groups that have several "Mr. Moneybags" on board will be able to thrive. Is that what Rep. Clyburn foresees? Will it continue to be necessary to settle the issue with expensive lawsuits? Let's hope not.

Thursday, January 03, 2008

Charter School Lottery? Set an Example for Buist

Today's P & C brings the welcome news that applications to the new Charter School for Math and Science are so abundant that the school will use a lottery for at least two of its grades. [See Math, science school to fill seats with lottery ]

This is the chance to show the transparency to the public that the lottery at Buist lacks. Let's hope the school's organizers keep that well in mind when their lottery is set up.

On a less optimistic note, let's also hope that they are doing more than "negotiating with the school district over whether the school should be charged rent to use the Rivers building permanently." Surely Park Dougherty and friends were not so naive as to think that the State Board of Education would voluntarily rescue them from that controversy. They need to show local politicians on which side their bread is buttered AND exhaust all legal means.

Someday soon, the great state of South Carolina will provide public school building space to charter schools in the same way as other states do. Let's hope won't be too late for this one to succeed.

Tuesday, January 01, 2008

Do You Believe in Coincidences? Dicenzo's Demise

As I pointed out in December in CCSD's Musical Chairs with Principals,

maybe it's just a coincidence that the first head to roll in McGinley's plan to shuffle principals once more belongs to the wife of a principal of a charter school.

Anne DiCenzo [fired principal of Mitchell Elementary]'s letter in her own defense that appears in Tuesday's P & C reveals why people simply do not trust what CCSD officials say. The abrupt removal of a principal just before the Christmas holidays suggests that somehow DiCenzo was ineffective. Well, as the letter states, if she was, her evaluations didn't reflect it.

In her own words,

Principal responds

For the past seven and a half years I have been the instructional leader (principal) at Mitchell Elementary School. I have been removed from Mitchell because I was an ineffective instructional leader. As the leader of the school, I am evaluated yearly. All of my ratings have been high.

In the 2006-2007 school year, all below average and unsatisfactory schools had to complete a plan for school growth for the six core strategies of the Plan for Excellence. The ratings are zero to five, with five being the highest. I scored between 4.83 and 5 in all strategies.

I also instituted new programs this year to help students and staff increase achievement. I hired two teacher interventionists to help with small-group instruction at the upper-grade levels. I hired two reading recovery/interventionist teachers for the lower-grade levels, and I hired a prevention specialist to minimize disruptions in the classroom.

Our PACT scores should increase this year, according to our winter MAP scores, which are the district's benchmark test. The MAP scores showed a vast improvement and indicated that the new programs were successful.

PACT scores reflect only a few days out of the school year and are only a snapshot of a part of the school. I am proud to say the teachers and staff at Mitchell are there for the students and go above and beyond every day. We do things for students that are not measured on a test. Mitchell is a family community. I will miss my family very much.

Anne DiCenzo

In other words, what more could she have done? What warnings did she have to improve?

It's politics, folks, CYA that uses principals as pawns. Superintendent McGinley has to look like she's creating progress, so musical principals is the current answer.

We can expect more of the same.