CHARLESTON COUNTY, S.C. (WCSC) - The Charleston County School District board is only one vote away from categorizing 15 low-performing schools as “acceleration schools.”
The district’s goal is to accelerate the rate of academic growth at these schools which were all chosen based on the 2018 or 2019 SC Ready school report card rating.
If approved at Monday’s school board meeting, it will lay the groundwork for possible future changes at those 15 schools, including bringing in companies that would implement new programs or massive changes. Those changes would need more approvals before becoming official.
The plan, if approved, would also give the leader of the school the opportunity to apply for state policy waivers.
“It’ll be different for different schools," CCSD board member Kate Darby said. “[An elementary school might] say, ‘Right now, state law requires that we cannot start school until the third Monday in August.' Well, an elementary school might say, ‘That’s not working for our population. We want to start school August first or something like that.’”
The waivers will be chosen by the leader of the schools, the school board would then have to approve, and then they’d send those for final approval to the state’s board of education.
“We’re in no way giving away our schools to some other entity, and I’ve seen a lot of that on social media and heard that concern. That’s not what’s happening," Darby said. "It’s just saying we want strong leaders in those schools and there may be partnerships [and] there may not be. We do want to take advantage of the state giving us this opportunity to apply for waivers, again for things that would really help students.”
Those “strong leaders” may not be the principals who are currently at those schools though. According to Darby, that doesn’t mean the principals would lose their job, but it may mean new leaders could be brought in.
The 15 schools that are being considered to become acceleration schools are: Morningside Middle, North Charleston Elementary, Chicora Elementary, Mary Ford Elementary (proposed to become an Early Childhood Center), Edmund Burns Elementary (transitioning to a Meeting Street School), North Charleston High, Hunley Park Elementary, Memminger Elementary, Sanders-Clyde Elementary, Peppperhill Elementary, Stono Park Elementary, Mitchell Elementary, W. B. Goodwin Elementary, Simmons-Pinckney Middle, and Burke High.
“Our goal is that we want, no matter where you live in Charleston County, you can send your child to your neighborhood school and you’ll feel like you hit the jackpot. That that’s the best opportunity for them," Darby said.
The final vote on making the 15 schools acceleration schools could happen at the board’s meeting on Monday.
However, just nine of those 15 schools are targets for the proposed partnerships and only five proposed plans are being considered next week.
One of the companies vying for the partnership opportunity is based in Charleston and is pitching a plan for Chicora Elementary School.
Metanoia Community Development Corporation wants to partner with Charleston County School District to renovate and redesign the facility into an early childhood development center.
The company’s application said research has shown that preparing kids for kindergarten can pay off for students from first grade to their high school graduation.
The facility would serve just under 100 students from six weeks through 4 years of age, according to the application.
Other proposals are less specific, like the application from Phalen Leadership Academie. The company has worked as a “turnaround operator” in 20 schools across the country over the last seven years.
According to the proposal, its data-driven model would improve state test scores each year.
The application also focuses on teacher retention and recruitment, but the company does not promise to keep all the current educators.
The company’s goal is to retain over 80 percent of the teachers in the schools it partners with.
Another local company vying for the partnership is called InterMediate, LLC. During several workshops, the company worked with some Title I teachers to combat challenges that can lead to teachers leaving the schools that need them most, according to the application.
Its plan would involve what the company calls a “practitioner.” That person would work with each of the nine schools considered “the most in need of assistance” for a customized approach.
Noble Education Initiative is another company vying for a partnership opportunity with CCSD.
It was established in 2017 and is focused on “social and emotional learning.”
The company’s curriculum is mapped into seven to nine instructional units in grades K through 8 and eight to nine instructional units in grades 9 through 12.
It’s been operating in at least three schools in Indiana with some notable improvements to academic achievement.
However, the most extensive application comes from Distinctive Schools. The company has nine years of experience turning around schools.
Its curriculum involves student-centered, personalized learning opportunities, learner profiles that the company says can strengthen the relationship between students and teachers and competency-based progression.
The company is based out of Chicago.
CCSD officials said these companies would not be taking over the school, but instead, working in partnership with the district to make improvements. Any decisions or changes would have to be approved by the school board.