CHARLESTON, S.C. (WCSC) - In an interview this week, Charleston County School Superintendent Gerrita Postlewait said she wanted to clarify plans to turn around the lowest-performing schools in the school district.
She does not, she said, plan to turn schools over to private companies for full management, or to create additional charter schools.
CCSD currently has more than 80 schools and 49,000 students, according to its most recent state report card. Fifteen schools have been identified as the lowest-performing in the district, consistently at the bottom; some even qualify for the state department of education to take them over.
Postlewait says despite years of everyone trying, the students in those schools just aren’t getting what they need to succeed.
"We cannot simply tell people, 'We’re going to try our best.' There’s no try. There’s do or not do," Dr. Postlewait said. "It is darned uncomfortable. We’ve upset just about everybody. It would have been easy not to do anything, and there were very few people complaining."
But the lack of performance- and the lost opportunities in the schools in question- were more than unacceptable, she said.
“It’s unconscionable. It’s unconscionable for those of us who have agreed to see that every child in Charleston County exits our system with more opportunities than they had when they entered it.”
The 15 schools involved in this initiative are dubbed “Acceleration Schools.”
The idea is to accelerate learning for students who’ve fallen dangerously behind. Postlewait said a student who enters first grade a year behind will require 20% faster growth than all the other children to make up that one year by the end of fifth grade.
Some of the confusion over the plans may be because over the years, similar groupings of under-performing schools have been called Innovation schools, Opportunity Schools and, as recently as a September board meeting, Public/Prviate Partnership Schools.
That last phrase in particular prompted alarm over the last couple of months. Parents, community activists and some school board members have raised concerns that allowing private companies to take over schools risks transparency and accountability.
They're worried about how funding would work and have questioned the motive of companies who get involved in such efforts.
Even local legislators wrote a letter urging the district to slow down its changes and asked for a meeting, which is happening Friday, Dec. 13 at 10 a.m.
“These aren’t takeover kinds of partnerships,” Postlwait insisted. “There’s this huge misunderstanding and myth that the partnership schools or these Acceleration Schools are going to be run by someone else. They’re not. Out of the 15 schools, I will be surprised if two of them even end up partnering with anyone else. We have a lot of steps to be taken before we get to that place.”
In August, CCSD posted a “Solicitation for Interest” to see who might want to partner with Acceleration Schools. The community backlash has been swift, many upset at the idea of an entity taking over a school; some felt the district was just washing its hands of the students who need them most.
“The Solicitation for Interest was very clear in specifying [an entity chosen as a partner] has to be a non-profit. Our board is not interested in helping any entity profit off the backs of our children,” Postlewait said. “We’d like to dispel the myth that this is going to be some sort of private school zone. That simply isn’t the case. We hope to retain 100% of our educators, we certainly will offer all of them contracts assuming their evaluations are satisfactory. We can’t afford to lose one educator.”
New plans could mean moving staff around to different schools, she said. But her intent is for those changes to be on a "minor scale."
CCSD received nine proposals in its first wave of applications. Postlewait said one entity has made it partway through the vetting process.
That will be presented to the board Monday. The second wave of applications was due this week.
Live 5 has requested the total number of applications and copies of the proposals submitted.
We know Orange Grove Charter school is one of them, and asked the superintendent why the plans were developing with such urgency.
"The urgency is driven by many community members who over the last two years have said this district has developed plan after plan, and had study after study, and we don’t see significant change occurring," she said. "This board – majority – decided to take the bull by the horns."
She said the board would ultimately set a timeline and that it might take two to three years to establish partners and/or new methods in Acceleration Schools.
“I realize this is a very difficult time for everyone,” she said. “We need to get through this time of change and then implement with care and communicate well. Always keep our eye on that three year goal of having people look back and say- that was really difficult. But it was worth it.”