Nonprofit promotes equal opportunity in Charleston Co. Schools

Published: Jul. 23, 2022 at 6:16 PM EDT|Updated: Jul. 24, 2022 at 1:05 PM EDT
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NORTH CHARLESTON, S.C. (WCSC) - A non-profit organization, Charleston RISE, says 51% of Charleston County School District students are reading below their grade level.

Charleston RISE’s mission is to empower parents to demand an excellent education for all Charleston students. The organization attended every CCSD school board meeting, studied student achievement data in grades 3 through 8 and knocked on thousands of doors to inform people about how the schools are doing.

Cheryl Cromwell, the deputy director of Charleston RISE, says she had struggles advocating for her son in the district and knew she could not be the only one.

“I know there were other parents out there who were just like me who needed that same opportunity,” Cromwell said. “So, the existence of Charleston RISE gives parents that network gives parents that outlet like me tonight only change the educational outcomes for their own children, but for other kids across the district.”

Kat Ponds, an alumnus of the organization and member of the alumni engagement team, says she decided to have a leadership role because of the alarming statistics.

“Let’s even the playing field so everybody can get an education because this is the future,” Ponds said. “This is our generation that’s coming up, that’s rising up, and if we don’t equip them at the third-grade level, you know, then there’s statistics that show that they won’t rise up to the opportunities that are presented themselves when they get older.

Charleston RISE says 70% of Hispanic or Latino children enrolled in CCSD are not reading at their current grade level by third grade. That percentage goes up to 80%, they say, for Black children.

Lisa Ruda, the executive director, says the reason for this is that the school district is failing them.

“The reason is not the child,” Ruda said. “The reason is not the parent. The reason is the school district is failing them. We all know our children come to school with a number of issues, and challenging times, that we didn’t see 20, 30 years ago. But it’s up to the school district to work with our students and their families where they are. Give them the absolute best teachers they can give them. Give them the best facilities and give them the best opportunity to reach their God-given potential.”

Charleston RISE says they want everyone to know that all nine seats in the school board are up for re-election this November, and they are currently looking for a permanent superintendent. They say there is more work to be done now than ever.

Five years ago, the organization enrolled 12 parents in their first fellowship class. This year, they are celebrating their fifth anniversary and have 252 parents who graduated and are passionate advocates for high-quality education.

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