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Board Members Advise Parents To Pay Attention, Be Engaged During 2016 School Year
8/17/2016 4:07:31 PM

By Barney Blakeney

Charleston County School District got off to an enthusiastic start Monday as students reported for the first day of school. And while some students faced the start of school with the anticipation of seeing old friends and favorite teachers, others sullenly lamented the end of summer vacation. Several county school board members took a few minutes to share their outlook for the upcoming school year.

North Area representative Rev. Chris Collins is seeking a third term on the board. He’s the board’s senior member with eight years service. Collins said going into the 2016-17 school year he is concerned about a recurring issue; that of teacher vacancies.

With over 37,000 teachers in the district, the number of vacancies fluctuates annually. But more important than the number of vacancies that usually hover around 300, Collins said he’s concerned about the quality of teachers. Especially those at the district’s academically struggling schools. The turnover rate at struggling schools can be as high as 20 percent every year. That translates to a revolving door of new inexperienced teachers at the district’s most challenging schools, Collins said.

Compounding the impact of vacancies and inexperienced teachers at those schools, which usually are predominantly black, Collins said is a shortage of black teachers and administrators who represent only about 15 percent of the district’s teachers and administrators. He thinks the district has to more seriously commit to recruiting teachers and administrators who look like half its student population.

Collins said student transportation issues also have been historic in the district. School attendance will trigger some of those issues, he said. For example, former Lincoln High students will be bussed to Wando High this year. For some students that means a two-hour commute, he said. And for those students participating in extracurricular activities, playing sports could mean arriving home from school at 9 p.m.

Sea islands representative Rev. Eric Mack said one focus during the 2016 must be on closing the academic achievement gap between black students and other students. Several initiatives will enhance the education experience for black students such as accountability and student readiness. Also dual credits and his proposal to allow students to simultaneously earn a high school diploma and associate degree may offer advantages to students. But closing the education gap makes all that possible, he said.

Mack said the 2016 school year also must see more parents involved in PTAs and School Improvement Councils. More clearly defined roles for school resource officers and the student code of conduct should impact discipline, he added.

West Ashley representative Michael Miller, who is seeking a second term on the county board, agreed parents must be more engaged in 2016-17. Healthy relationships with teachers and administrators always produces a plus for students, he said. With changes in the district’s grading system, parents need to stay on top of their children’s reading scores, Miller said. He suggests parents communicate with teachers weekly.

CCSD has more charter schools than any other district in the state, Miller said. That means excellent opportunities for school choice, but it also threatens the strength of community schools. Above all during the 2016-17 school year, parents need to pay attention, Miller said.

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