Charleston Co. superintendent delivers ‘State of the Schools’ address

The Charleston County School District presented its “State of the Schools” address from the Charleston County School of the Arts Wednesday morning.
Published: May. 24, 2023 at 8:50 AM EDT|Updated: May. 24, 2023 at 11:21 PM EDT
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NORTH CHARLESTON, S.C. (WCSC) - The Charleston County School District presented its “State of the Schools” address from the Charleston County School of the Arts Wednesday morning.

Superintendent Don Kennedy told the audience Wednesday morning that he believes that for children to reach their dreams, the community needs to create the “Pre-K to 12 Ecosystem” to support them.

He said the latest data shows that since the fall of 2020, the number of kindergarteners who are ready to learn once they enter school improved from 42.9% to 53.1% this last fall.

“We’ve expanded early childhood learning to make sure we address those needs,” he said.

He also cited growth and performance increases in K-5 grade, rising 24.1 percentage points from the fall of 2022 to the spring of 2023.

“Even in sixth grade where we see locally and across the country there’s a dip from fall to spring, we had a 6.9 percentage point growth in sixth-grade reading, so we had the same progress in the middle schools in reading and similar progress in math,” Kennedy said. “And then with high schools, last year, we had a 10.3 percentage point increase in the percentage of students that are passing.”

He also said early data that has not yet come out is already showing signs of progress.

He acknowledged concern about the district’s instructional practices based on what he described as a tendency for kindergarteners’ test scores to drop within two to three years after entering school.

“Earlier this year, we invested $3.6 million in the science of reading to train our elementary staff to make sure we can address the instructional practices,” he said.

‘Great indicators, but still a way to go’

Kennedy looked back at the history of education in South Carolina and how the Charleston County School District has fared. He said the state enacted the first sales tax program around 1950 that raised funds to create “equalization” schools.

“This was to create schools for African American students so we can ensure that segregation was still the way we were educating children. And that lasted until about the mid-1960s,” he said.

But even after desegregation, there was a system of de facto segregation he says we still live under today, including socio-economic isolation. By a decade ago, Kennedy said the district had seen steady academic growth thanks to a common curriculum. He credited an interfaith roundtable and faith leaders for taking part in supporting the K-12 Ecosystem.

But since 2013, he pointed to two “disruptions” in the system.

“One, we had a change in leadership,” he said. “Those structures and systems that were in place that led to student growth were, for the most part, dismantled. And because of that, we started to see a decline in student academic achievement and that decline continued up until the pandemic. And we all know what happened during the pandemic, the challenges that the students had.”

But he said one thing district leaders did learn during the pandemic was that they needed to make sure they had “a better focus” on how they addressed engagement with parents. That involved setting up teams to go out into the neighborhoods and knocking on doors to speak directly with parents.

“And because we decided to proactively engage with the parents, then we saw gains and we saw kids being enrolled in these learning pods,” he said.

Kennedy said the district created a collaborative principle program that brought in family engagement specialists to spend their time working in homes, meeting with parents to better understand family needs and connecting with the leaders to make sure those support systems get created.

“So, if over the course of decades, we do not attend to the needs of our children, the human toll can be heartbreaking,” he said.