Thursday, March 31, 2016

McGinley Thinks CCSD's Non-disparagement Clause Doesn't Apply to Her

Does it look bad that, while you were superintendent of a school district, it ran up most of a $18-million-dollar deficit? You betcha. Charleston County School District's ex-superintendent, she who has never made a mistake according to her supporters, has felt the burn. How else to explain Nancy McGinley's self-serving op-ed in a recent edition of the paper? 

It was all the school board's fault, doncha know?

The present CCSD school board has reacted to her shirking of responsibility--they want to know if McGinley negated the nondisparagement agreement she signed as she got her severance bonus. While she asserts that, "I know of few other school districts that have had as many vehicles in place for keeping the school board up to date and informed about the fiscal issues and challenges," the school board ponders what amount to 2,600 secret changes made to the 2014-15 budget after its approval. 

In fact, a lawyer needs to sort out whether staff behavior was illegal. For example, when someone (still unnamed) forgot to file on time with the IRS, that 2014 half-a-million dollar fine was secreted away in the budget marked "grades 4 through 8."

Board member Tom Ducker expanded the discussion to include exploration of unethical as well as criminal behavior. 

Some actions clearly were unethical. Criminal? 

Stay tuned.

Wednesday, March 30, 2016

CCSD's Deficit No Excuse for Closing Small Schools: Fight!

Charleston County needs a new organization to speak for its small schools; let's call it "Save Our Small Schools," or SOSS. Despite the present business model now erroneously applied to education, most common-sense people realize that not all aspects of education are measurable. Jane Edwards Elementary on Edisto Island is a case in point. Lincoln High School in McClellanville is another.

First and foremost, there's geography. Edisto is named an Island for a reason. As noted many times before, "closing Jane Edwards would mean closing an important hub in the tight-knit rural community." Important activities that keep students busy and out of trouble would disappear. These include "an island basketball league on a court out back" and a Young Naturalists group staffed by volunteers who reveal wonders of the students' natural surroundings. Also, grants have made possible a community garden at the school. Happy activities such as these would be swallowed up by long bus rides. As rural parents well know, the district's bus routes frequently leave even kindergartners to stand in the dark at ridiculously early hours and get home late. 

Perhaps the case for closing the school would make sense if this school were failing: it is not. In fact, the school does better on state report cards than most schools serving similar populations, including the one proposed as an alternative. SOSS.

Lincoln High School.
Lincoln High School supporters know intimately that their school has been on the CCSD chopping block for years. In 2015 they insisted that a new building be funded in the next round of sales tax recommendations and won at least a grudging possibility. While some CCSD high schools suffer from lack of interest in their communities, Lincoln has vibrant support. 

Image result for map of charleston county school districtEven so, it's about the GEOGRAPHY, stupid! Sometimes you wonder if those proposing busing students from this school to Wando have ever looked at a map.

Notice anything? It's a long haul down Highway 17 to Wando High School! 

Everyone can agree that Lincoln as presently constituted is too small to offer a reasonable smorgasbord of courses; however, the solution couldn't be simpler. CCSD needs to build a new Lincoln for about 500 students closer to Mt. Pleasant. Then the School Board should redraw attendance lines at the southern end of District 1. Mt. Pleasant creeps ever more quickly towards McClellanville. In 20 years or so, that end of Mt. Pleasant won't be so rural.

Sending Lincoln students to Wando, to put it in a word, stinks. These generally rural students would be thrown, sink or swim, into its affluent milieu. They would spend hours traveling by bus and stand even longer in the dark than those up US 17 already do.  

One positive aspect of American life used to be community. Today it's already disappeared in most of suburban life. Community is even more important in rural areas. CCSD should not destroy positive aspects of these two student environments. SOSS!

Tuesday, March 29, 2016

60 as the New 70 Reveals True Purpose of SC's Schools

If the state superintendent has her way, and she is garnering support from students, parents, and athletic directors, 60 will become the new 70 required to pass a course in South Carolina's schools. 

This change does not improve academics for our students; it merely puts window dressing on a disgrace. Why should all of South Carolina's schools be dumbed down to accommodate a few athletes whose grades fall between 60 and 69? The answer from SC's Superintendent of Educaton, Molly Spearman, is that SC's high standard of 70 to pass puts its athletes at a disadvantage to those of Georgia and North Carolina. So the goal of South Carolina's schools has become to get athletes into NCAA programs without having to attend junior college first.

The system as it is now is a sham. Ask yourself, if a high school graduate has difficulty with high school courses, how does he or she raise his or her grades by taking college courses. I think we know the answer.

No response I've seen has pointed out that NCAA eligibility is based on both grades and national test scores. Has the NCAA abandoned college readiness measures such as the SAT and ACT? If these students with low grades had higher test scores, the grades would become a non-issue.

More to the point, low-achieving students are practically pushed through the system that exists. Principals frown on teachers' having more than a couple of failures per class. Grading systems tell teachers to give students a minimum grade for the first quarter or semester so that the students will have a mathematical chance to pass the course. Teachers routinely figure out ways to avoid mathematical results of 68 or 69. It would be interesting to see a count of how many 68s or 69s appeared on Charleston County's report cards for the first semester. It won't be random.

Will students who made 60 in the first year of Spanish be as prepared for the second year as those who made 70? Logic says "no"; therefore, that deficit, though small, will dumb down the following course. Is that really what the majority of parents want of South Carolina's schools?

But wait--here's a plan:

South Carolina should drop its passing grade to 50. Then, SC athletes will have a big advantage over those from Georgia and North Carolina.

Makes just as much sense.

Monday, March 28, 2016

CCSD's Deceptive Practices on Stono Park Elementary

The Charleston County School District believes that Stono Park parents have short memories. Otherwise, why would the district now be claiming that a new building for the school was not in the list of projects which caused the "not-a-penny" sales tax to pass in November 2010.

Yet some memories are part of the public record. Here's what the reporter wrote in October 2010:
The following are the projects that likely would be completed if voters support a six-year, one-penny sales tax increase 
New schools: Harbor View Elementary, Memminger Elementary, James Simons Elementary, Buist Academy, Charleston Progressive Academy, Springfield Elementary, a career technology academy at Wando High, Chicora Elementary, St. Andrews School of Math and Science, Montessori Community School, Laing Middle, North Charleston Creative Arts Elementary, Stono Park Elementary and Jennie Moore Elementary.
Renovation: Murray-LaSaine Elementary, Angel Oak Elementary, James Island Charter High (new fine arts center and improvements to athletic fields), Azalea Drive bus lot, Pinehurst Elementary (the former Birney Middle campus), Rhett building at Burke High (for Lowcountry Tech) and high school athletic facilities.
Design plans: Dunston Elementary
How about bait-and-switch to get the needed votes from each area of the district? Of course, it says "likely." Did any Stono Park voters think it unlikely that a new school would appear?

The board earlier this month put off making a decision until September. So voters need to ask, why September?

According to reports, "district officials have said that money is currently available for a $9 million renovation at Stono Park, but not for a full rebuild. Many parents believe the district promised a full rebuild of the school when the 2010 penny sales tax ballot measure stated it would be spent on 'construction and equipping' of Stono Park." That's not the same as renovation, folks.

Imagine what the outcry would have been if CCSD had treated Buist Academy in this fashion. That's silly, of course--such handling of Buist parents never would have crossed its mind.

Don't forget--this uproar is entirely separate from the district's $18 million shortfall. Maybe someone needs to scrutinize how penny tax funds were spent.

Friday, March 25, 2016

Caution on CCSD's Punishment Statistics

Really, Paul Bowers encourages readers of "District Examines Punitive Policies" to believe the Charleston County School District allows racist punitive measures to predominate its policies. Let's hope he's not drunk the KoolAid left by Diette Courege, she who swallowed every word of CCSD propaganda and thanked McGinley for the experience! A few well-placed questions were certainly in order before the article hit the presses.

Jennifer Coker, previously principal at Daniel Jenkins Academy and West Ashley Middle School, enumerated statistics to a CCSD school board committee earlier this month that she had gathered during her three-month tenure as Interim Director of Alternative Programs. Coker seems convinced that "one size fits all" should be the future of discipline in Charleston County schools. She rails against the idea that assistant principals from 11 different middle schools do not follow the same policy when a student disrupts education. Her attitude assumes homogeneity across their student bodies that simply does not exist. She also assumes that responsibility for disciplinary measures should be removed from the hands of principals. Coker assumes that schools will improve if all codes of conduct are the same. Will they?

Bowers repeats Coker's statement that many district schools have used Positive Behavioral Interventions and Supports (PBIS) for more than a decade. PBIS was originally part of the Americans with Disabilities Act, meant for students at risk and those needing special education. Perhaps he was unable to ask Coker why particular unnamed schools implemented the system and what their results have been. Since Coker seems to believe that every elementary and middle school in CCSD should implement a variation of PBIS, statistics on its success in the last decade in those schools are just as important as the ones she uses.

In fact, Coker's presentation suffers from a lack of other relevant statistics. For example, she uses an 18-month period ending in December 2015 as a benchmark for both the 1000 criminal charges brought against students and for the 83% who were black. Why not a year? Why not five years? Historical data IS relevant. While these figures sound horrible, for all we know, they represent an improving picture! Wouldn't it be improved if PBIS has been a success?

The Charleston Area Justice Ministry comes late to the picture and thus has no possible way to make sense of Coker's analysis except through systemic racism. Here's another question: what happened to the 1000 criminal charges? Surely statistics on convictions are also relevant. 

Both PBIS and its more recent twin, Restorative Justice, have both adherents and detractors. Those interested in the argument might peruse the following blog post from Iowa:

From the school board's perspective, disciplinary policies should be evaluated on how they affect academics in the classroom. No one learns when the atmosphere is chaotic.

Thursday, March 24, 2016

CCSD's Schools Now Suffer from McGinley's Sham Oversight

Image result for the buck stops here meaning

The buck stops at ex-Superintendent Nancy McGinley's desk. She can try to obfuscate her inadequacy as a superintendent by blaming the Charleston County School Board for CCSD's financial woes, but in reality CCSD has been hoisted by her petard. Maybe the Broad Institute teaches her methods, or maybe the results of her tenure should rest squarely on her shoulders alone.

A flawed system holds Charleston County schools captive. While the election of school board members ostensibly results from independent efforts, nothing could be farther from the truth. McGinley knew her tenure depended on the willing cooperation of a school board meant to oversee her performance. Who can blame her for seeking out participants who would blindly support whatever she presented, those who had no knowledge with which to challenge her administration? 

For years the majority of board members has been a rubber stamp, a legal sham. Over the years when board members independent of her administration tried to investigate the facts or educate themselves on their jobs, both McGinley and her lackey reporters at our local rag heaped jeers and infamy upon their heads--Elizabeth Moffly and Elizabeth Kandrac come to mind as well as others now gone. The same treatment was doled out to constituent board members and the general public if anyone dared to question. Both Democrats and Republicans have taken to running de facto slates of candidates, while Arthur Ravenel's proposal that the board members run openly as Republicans or Democrats was met with derision. Too often the result has been self-selected individuals running without vetting by anyone--except the superintendent or the Chamber of Commerce.

Finally, unlike some other South Carolina school districts, the county delegation has no financial oversight over CCSD. Some of us have been trying for years to figure out what qualifications ex-chief financial officer Michael Bobby enjoyed. Check out his resume, and then explain to me how he was equipped to run a multi-million-dollar organization's finances. McGinley did not need to continue his tenure, nor did the board need to make him interim superintendent. Whose idea was that, anyway? And why has he not been held accountable for the sloppy and negligent practises that led directly to CCSD's present financial mess.


Wednesday, March 02, 2016

Firefly More Fly-By-Night in Hands of CCSD Staff

All I want to know about Firefly Digital's Smart Choice application is, how much did it cost? That's top secret.

Parents attempting to use this new application that supposedly makes applying to Charleston County's schools of choice easier have been gobsmacked this winter. Inability to complete applications on line and mysterious emails that the district had to disavow show that either the program cannot handle the needs of the district or that district employees managed to mess up the system because they had little training on how to set it up. 

Take your pick.

Everyone sympathizes with confused parents who are merely trying to do the best for their children, but we've reached a new low when admission to Buist is called a "golden ticket." Even with the new program, as one mother discovered, she still cannot discover where her son falls on its waiting list. 

Seems like old times.