Meeting Street Schools performing near the bottom of Charleston schools

Of the 50 elementary schools given report card ratings in Charleston County, Meeting Street Schools is one of just 6 to receive a rating of “unsatisfactory.”
Published: Dec. 2, 2022 at 12:50 PM EST|Updated: Dec. 5, 2022 at 9:29 PM EST
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CHARLESTON, S.C. (WCSC) - Of the 50 elementary schools given report card ratings in Charleston County, Meeting Street Schools is one of just 6 to receive a rating of “unsatisfactory.”

The schools scored 30 out 100 points in the last year, making it tied for the third-lowest score in the district.

“I think that the rating explains itself. It’s unsatisfactory that kids cannot read on grade level and there’s work to be done,” Meeting Street Schools’ Chief School Officer Jamie Downs said. “None of that was news to us. We have been looking at data all year. . . This is a brand-new team sitting in front of you and that data is part of the reason that we’re sitting here.”

The unique public-private partnership with the non-profit is aimed at accelerating learning in struggling North Charleston communities. The partnership between the Charleston County School District and Meeting Street Schools started in 2014 with the non-profit taking educational control of Brentwood. In 2018 they added Burns. Both remain public schools, funded by taxpayer dollars and backed by billionaire philanthropists like Ben Navaro who founded Meeting Street Schools in 2008.

The arrangement allows the schools to provide more resources to students and teachers in an effort to address some of the most at-need areas of the state. The greater flexibility means Meeting Street Schools can have two teachers in a classroom, extended hours and flexible curriculums.

The pandemic drove scores down across the board, but unlike the Charleston County School District as a whole, which saw scores rebound this year from pre-pandemic levels, Meeting Street scores appear to be dipping further from pre-pandemic baselines.

“I think that what you can say is that there’s been a lot of learning loss because of COVID. And that’s what the data tells us.” Downs said. “If you look at our results last year, there was significant growth - years of growth. So we’re actually ahead of schedule in terms of where we’re trying to get with our students. Does that meet our bar proficiency? Absolutely not.”

In almost every criterion, Meeting Street Schools fell below both district and state performance. Just 23.2 percent of students met reading and writing standards compared to 53.3 percent of students district-wide. In math, 18.1 percent of students met the standards compared to 49.2 percent of students district-wide.

“Research tells you that the only way to grow student proficiency is growth over time. Our goal is that our kids are averaging more than one year of growth every single year. And if they do that, that will help our students close that achievement gap,” Downs said.

While several other schools have similar drops in scores, others have seen significant gains. At Morningside Middle School, for example, 18.6% of students met or exceeded expectations in English in 2022, up from 10.6% in 2019.

Carol Tempel has a lifetime of experience in education, first working as a teacher in Charleston, moving through the system landing roles in administration and eventually earning her doctorate in education. She has spent the back half of her career working with curriculums and turnaround efforts in failing schools as an education consultant and won election to the Charleston County School board in November. She says the scores show the Meeting Street private-public partnership has not worked.

“I think the Meeting Street Model had a lot of potential to work but obviously with the last report card it has not worked,” Tempel said. “We have been looking at the data, as much as we could get the data, and we could see that the Meeting Street Schools was not doing any better than other schools and we have examples of schools in the public school system that are doing better.”

Tempel says one of the issues with evaluating the schools is the lack of transparency, given the nature of the private non-profit running them. In January, the school board discarded the Reimagine Schools proposal that would have brought more public-private partnerships to turn around struggling schools. Tempel says, ultimately, this boils down to money.

“I think that model is something that is being designed to channel public funds into private enterprise and I think that undermines our public schools,” Tempel said. “We know what turnaround models work and we have examples going on in the school district.”

It’s not all bad for Meeting Street Schools. Downs points to growth data that suggests while students are entering school significantly unprepared for their grade levels, they’re making up ground. Last year, for example, 72 percent of elementary students at Burns met math growth targets. Comparatively, similar North Charleston schools mostly failed to reach 50 percent.

“We measure where they come in, and we measure where they end in the year. And so what we’ve seen from our students is that when we measure them in the fall, and then we measured them in the spring [there is] over a year’s growth,” Downs said. “Does that mean that they’re proficient in our grade level? No, because it’s no secret to anybody, that the students of North Charleston are coming in with gaps. It’s our job to close them.”

Meeting Street middle school students are also doing better than the elementary school performance, achieving the rating of “Average” with a score of 43. Downs says this further highlights just how far behind students are when they enter the system and how much they’ve improved as they progress through the grades.

All of the lowest-performing schools have the additional challenge of dealing with some of the highest rates of poverty in the district. At Meeting Street Schools, 89 percent of students are considered students in poverty.

Tempel says poverty is one of the biggest indicators of student success and dealing with it requires a community effort.

“The community has to really advocate for full funding of our public schools because we are not fully funding out schools. I would like to see them stop diverting funds to private schools and voucher programs,” Tempel said. “We need to strengthen the school improvement counsels because that’s an opportunity for parents and teachers and the community to work together.”

The six lowest-performing schools in CCSD all have poverty rates above 65 percent.

SchoolRatingOverall ScorePoverty Rate
Chicora ElementaryUnsatisfactory32/10094
Edith L. Frierson ElementaryUnsatisfactory32/10065
Meeting Street ElementaryUnsatisfactory30/10089
Pinehurst ElementaryUnsatisfactory30/10078
Mitchell ElementaryUnsatisfactory26/10095
North Charleston Creative Arts ElementaryUnsatisfactory23/10067