By Barney Blakeney
Continued protests marred Charleston County School Board’s May 22 meeting as protesters hurled insults and name-calling at school district officials. The board meeting grew ugly inside as protesters disrupted proceedings with insults from the audience while protesters outside could be heard making similar dispersions. A level of order was achieved inside after protesters were threatened with being ousted.
Monday’s protests followed a larger more orderly protest last week at school district headquarters on Calhoun Street. Last week about 200 protesters marched at the district’s headquarters to challenge proposed principal assignments and teacher evaluations. Challengers have been vocal, though views about the proposals have been mixed.
Constituent Dist. 10 School Board member Henry Copeland said county officials failed to notify constituent boards of the proposed initiatives. That blindside move prompts questions that include how the affected individuals are evaluated, whether they should receive developmental assistance and more importantly, are the initiatives continuing a pattern of ineffectual rotation among staff.
County school board members have different views of the protests as well.
North Charleston representative Kevin Hollinshead said one mistake was in the failure to communicate. Superintendent Dr. Gerrita Postlewait and her staff dropped the ball by implementing the proposal without first getting community input. They’re paid too much money to make such mistakes, he said. Consequently board members also have been left out of the loop and can’t provide answers to constituents.
Rev. Chris Collins, the board’s senior member, said uprooting principals and evaluating teachers in what many consider an unfair manner prevents him and some other board members from defending the initiatives. People want answers, but the board has none, he said.
Monday’s disruption is an indication of the level of frustration, he said. While disruption and name-calling isn’t the way to conduct the most effective protest, it should force district officials to go back to the drawing board, start over and present a plan to the public.
Peninsula Charleston representative Todd Garrett supports the initiatives. The culture of public education in Charleston County too long has focused on adults, Garrett said.
Postlewait, who’s been superintendent since July 2015, is bringing a new focus on student needs. The previous focus failed the poorest students. Ironically, most protesters represent the county’s most affluent constituent district. Garrett explained the phenomenon saying those protesters obviously don’t want change.
Having a new school board and new superintendent makes this an opportune time to change the district’s focus, Garrett said. In the past there was lip service about change, but unwillingness on the part of administrators to make those changes.
“What we’re doing isn’t working. Maybe we need to look at how we make assessments, but obviously we need to make assessments if the end product of our efforts is kids who can’t get jobs at Boeing. Maybe this should be viewed as an opportunity to improve what we’re doing,” he said.