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Reflections Of Lost Loved Ones And Losing Our School System
8/3/2016 10:55:54 AM

By Barney Blakeney 

First I need to say something about three of the people we lost over the past weekend - Mrs. Margaret Wade Lesesne, Wheeler Hughes and Rubin Mack Sr. - three wonderful people who made indelible marks where they stood in life.

Mrs. Lesesne will be missed tremendously by her family at Wesley UMC. As matriarch of the family that resided in Mount Pleasant, Mrs. Lesesne raised her children in that church and made a motherly mark on many others who grew up there. She died July 29.

Former Charleston police officer Rubin Mack also died July 29. At a time when black police officers held a precarious position in the community, Rubin Mack did his job in a way that commanded respect from the black community African American policemen were expected to keep in control as well as the white community in which they had to function effectively despite the sanctioned racism of the time. Mack was a good policeman and emerged as one of the department’s most effective investigators.

Wheeler Hughes died July 30. Mr. Hughes touched as many lives in this community perhaps as anyone. His career spanned more than three decades in the north area of Charleston County. He rose through the ranks from teaching to administration. In an era when highly capable black educators proliferated a segregated public education system that disenfranchised black students, Wheeler Hughes was among the cream that rose to the top of the profession.

I never had the privilege of getting really close to any of those dearly departed. I saw them from a short distance. But their influences reached so far, even without personal contact, they each touched me. I’m just one of the thousands they touched and influenced. Thinking of Mr. Hughes, I’m reminded how important it is that our community ensures our schools have the right people in place. At the segregated schools of the 1960s, Hughes rose to become a school administrator. Black principals had to be extraordinary people. They had to navigate a system in which they were marginalized and got inadequate resources, yet still were expected to create and maintain a quality learning environment.

In a conversation with a current black administrator, I got a picture of the games that still are played out in Charleston County public schools. Although there is some semblance of racial integration in today’s public schools, that picture still is black and white. Even after three decades of merging black and white students at a few schools, the same games still are played. There are more blacks in top positions and some in positions where previously there were none, but the games still are the same.

Administrators like Wheeler Hughes and Nathaniel Washington rose to the top in a system that placed them in positions based on their abilities. Certainly part of the criteria for recognition was based on who you knew as much as what you knew, but you had to know something. Today, the system is almost totally about who you know.

Charleston voters November 8 will go to the polls to elect five members to the county school board. More than likely those elections also will be based on who you know more than what you know. I talked with a county school board candidate last night who had no clue the school district has spent about $500,000 since 2013 paying teachers who didn’t have jobs. The candidate was surprised when I told her about the issue that surfaced last week.

Now how can you be a candidate for a position with an entity that wastes a half million dollars as it simultaneously struggles to overcome an $18 million budget shortfall and you not know about that issue? Equally as disturbing, one sitting school board member said he didn’t realize board members had responsibility in the issue when he ran for the school board. What I’m getting is that the roosters who strut all over the barnyard have no clue what the hens who are laying eggs are doing.

Running schools is difficult at best. It’s a thankless, often controversial task. So why would anybody want to run schools? Can you say $1 billion spent over a decade in construction and an annual $400,000 operating budget? Public schools are big money. Charleston County School District has the county’s largest annual budget. That’s a lot of money to play with - at every level.
I almost feel disrespectful talking about Mrs. Lesesne, Wheeler Hughes and Rubin Mack in the same column with the shysters who run our schools. Lesesne, Hughes and Mack were good people who cared about others. They reached out and touched someone not for what they got, but for what they wanted to give.

We should think about the caliber of Mrs. Lesesne, Wheeler Hughes and Rubin Mack when we go to the polls in November to elect new school board members.

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