In 2014 when football players at the Academic Magnet High School, Charleston County School District’s highest performing high school, conducted racially tinged rituals after games with predominantly black schools, the lack of racial diversity at the school touched off a firestorm of controversy. Though the storm has calmed, concerns about the conditions which created it continues.
In 2014 only 16 of the school’s 644 students were black. Last year 15 of its 642 students were black. The incoming freshman class at Academic Magnet High will include only three black students. Jerod Bishop, who runs CCSD’s Diversity & Inclusions Initiatives office, said racial diversity at Academic Magnet High, the district’s 26 other magnet schools, its charter schools and community schools – about 80 schools total – is an issue the district is facing head on.
In Charleston County School District where about half its 45,000 students are black, racial diversity is a historic challenge. And while there are some factors that contribute to racial diversity which can’t be controlled by the district, the administration is doing all it can, looking at all the issues and bringing those issues to the forefront to insure it’s doing the right thing by students, Bishop said.
The racial demographics at Academic Magnet reflect the demographics at nearly all the district’s magnet schools including the School of the Arts and its Montessori schools.
Racial demographics at community schools that most often are driven by housing patterns have few options for change. And the options for changing racial demographics at schools like Burke High where housing patterns are contrary to the demographics in surrounding communities, finding solutions are enigmatic, Bishop said.
But where possible, the district is implementing initiatives to make positive change. The district dismantled the Task Force for Rigor and Diversity started after the Academic Magnet’s ‘watermelon’ incidents and last year created ad hoc committees at Academic Magnet, Military Magnet, School of the Arts, Charleston Progressive Academy and Buist Academy. The focus of each is to review and recommend diversity plans.
While everyone may not think the district is making a lot of progress in racially diversifying its schools, Bishop says Superintendent Dr. Gerrita Postlewait and county school board members are committed to the task.
“This issue didn’t happen over night. The community has to understand we’re working on it and that we’re doing everything we can,” Bishop said last week. “We have a new administration in place and we have to give it a chance to make a difference. While the outlook may be dim, the uplook is great,” Bishop said.