The path to rehabilitate failing schools marked by many initiatives

Published: Dec. 14, 2021 at 4:32 PM EST|Updated: Dec. 14, 2021 at 7:57 PM EST
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CHARLESTON, S.C. (WCSC) - Over the last three years, the Charleston County School District has engaged the community in various capacities in an attempt to address the achievement gap and pave a path forward for the next generation.

The effort to address underperforming schools is currently be implemented as new proposals are also coming forward. While efforts extend much further back than 2018, here is a look at some of the more prominent initiatives – some of which have overlapping scopes and large costs.

Shared Future Project September 2018-January 2019

In 2018, a diverse group was formed to evaluate the current school district and what it could look like in 2035. Group members came from a wide range of age, racial, political and geographic backgrounds.

A series of meetings were conducted and a final report was delivered to the school board in January 2019. The report specifically did not include a series of specific recommendations, but rather four distinctive futures for the district. Since then, the Charleston Shared Future Group has made recommendations to the board, however it’s unclear if the project has generated any substantive changes.

The project cost at least $370,000 to conduct the group meetings. The majority of the money went to a third party called REOS Partners to lead the group.

Mission Critical February 2019-On Going

Shortly after the Shared Futures Project, the district began laying out a wide array of sweeping changes designed to reorganize the district with an emphasis on struggling schools.

The Mission Critical proposals also included a solicitation for partners to help turnaround low performing schools.

The Mission Critical proposals were pitches at a series of community meetings comprised of hand-picked groups. In November of 2019, the school board approved several major changes, including the closing or merging of schools and the identification of 15 schools that are either failing or are part of a failing feeder system. These schools would be identified as Accelerated Schools. However, many of the proposals have not been achieved yet.

The full cost of Mission Critical, its meetings and the potential cost of a third party to manage and organize the meetings is unknown. However, according to an audit of the budget presented on Dec. 13, 2021, the district has $43.6 million budgeted for Mission Critical in FY22 budget year.

Acceleration Schools November 2019-On Going

Coming out of the Mission Critical proposals, 15 schools were identified as needing an acceleration in performance. Those schools are:

Morningside Middle North Charleston Elementary Chicora Elementary Mary Ford Elementary (transitioned to Early Childhood Center) Edmund Burns Elementary (transitioned to Meeting Street) North Charleston High Hunley Park Elementary Memminger Elementary Sanders-Clyde Elementary Pepperhill Elementary Stono Park Elementary Mitchell Elementary W.B. Goodwin Elementary Simmons-Pinckney Middle Burke High

These Acceleration Schools are generally in areas of high poverty and struggle on state performance tests. As part of its designation, Acceleration Schools can request waivers from the state to circumvent certain regulations like length of day, teacher certification requirements and curriculum requirements.

North Charleston High School is the only school in the Lowcountry to request a waiver and become an Innovation School (NCHS School of Innovation Proposal - Accessible.pdf).

These schools were also targeted as potential partnership schools. Edmund Burns Elementary is one such example of a school that was approved to become a School of Choice. The public/private partnership is managed by Meeting Street Schools.

Costs for Acceleration Schools fluctuates, but predominantly comes down to training for teachers and administrators through two different organizations – the non-profit, Leading Educators and UVA. The district also funds extra work time for teachers. In total, the district estimates a yearly cost of about $3.5 million. Most of that money is coming from ESSER II.

Reimagine Schools Proposed December 13

The most recent attempt to bridge the academic achievement gap comes from the non-profit group Coastal Community Foundation. On Monday, the group presented a plan to create a series of community commissions that would effectively oversee turnaround initiatives in many of the same schools listed as Acceleration Schools. The scope is somewhat broader with an emphasis on feeder patterns and community control.

Read the full proposal here.

The schools identified in Reimagine Schools are:

District 4:

Elementary Schools: Chicora Elementary School and North Charleston Elementary School.

Middle School: Morningside Middle School, Jerry Zucker Middle School.

High School: North Charleston High School, Stall High School.

District 9:

Elementary Schools: Angel Oak Elementary, Frierson Elementary, Mt. Zion Elementary.

Middle School: Haut Gap Middle.

High School: St. John’s High School.

District 20:

Elementary Schools: Sanders Clyde Elementary School, James Simons Elementary School, Charleston Progressive Academy, and Mitchell Elementary School.

Middle School: Simmons Pinckney Middle School.

High School: Burke High School.

District 23:

Elementary Schools: Jane Edwards Elementary School, EB Ellington Elementary School and Minnie Hughes Elementary School.

Middle School: Baptist Hill Middle School.

High School: Baptist Hill High School.

Commissions would be encouraged to come up with education solutions that fit the needs of individuals school, which could go as far as creating more public/private partnerships to manage said schools. Changes would still need to the approval of the Charleston County School Board.

As part of the plan, CCF requested the board to set aside nearly $32 million to fund the initiatives the proposed by the commissions. The school board will take up the proposal on January 10.

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