By Jesse Williams, Co-chair, Quality Education Project (QEP) Political Action Committee; Co-Chair, the North Charleston Civil Coalition for Reform
The Charleston County School District (CCSD), with the school board’s approval, plans to build a new Center for Advanced Studies (CAS) in North Charleston. This proposal for the new CAS will add several trades to the school, though the board or district has not yet specified the actual trades that would be added to the curriculum. As part of the plan, Garrett Academy of Technology, a predominantly black choice high school in North Charleston, will more than likely be closed. This closure of a high school serving students of color is yet another example of district leadership failing to listen to the concerns of an impacted community and meet the needs of their students.
The Quality Education Project (QEP) and the North Charleston Civil Coalition for Reform (NCCCR) raise serious concerns about the lack of oversight in this proposal. Beverly Gadson-Birch, a community member, articulated the sentiment that children of color, once again, are being used as pawns in an experiment. Gadson-Birch was quoted by the Post and Courier on March 28, saying: “Now that (Garrett) is predominantly black and no longer one of your showcase schools, you want to close it, merge it with North Charleston High, close down a stadium that’s important to that community, build another stadium somewhere else, spend more taxpayers’ money to construct a new stadium. Stop using these children as pawns.”
Gadson-Birch’s observation sheds light on the entire process and the history of CCSD using children as pawns in experimental designs that affluent and mostly white parents never choose (and never will choose) for their own children. Moreover, the school board or district cannot specify what trades will be offered. In fact, they have regularly reduced enrollment at Garrett by eliminating trades since 2010. Further, the teachers at Garrett have no direction provided by the district as to where or what they are supposed to teach this academic year to prepare them for upcoming programs. For these and other reasons, it is painfully obvious that the board and district have negligently governed Garrett.
It is also painfully unclear how the Superintendent’s “listening sessions” have genuinely engaged the community. The listening sessions have been advertised as public sessions. But numerous community members at the sessions have complained that many people were not permitted to speak.
Given this history, QEP and the NCCCR encourage the CCSD board and administrators to keep both North Charleston High School and Garrett High School open. Continuing to shut down predominantly black high schools as part of experiments that do not have a convincing record of success suggests the board continues to be disconnected from and insensitive to community wishes and concerns. Though voters passed the capital projects referendum in 2014 to create a new Center for Advanced Studies in North Charleston, voters did not vote to create more havoc and to perpetuate harmful negligence in North Charleston.
One solution to create a mutually beneficial arrangement is to build the CAS at the current Garrett High School campus and rename the program the Garrett Center for Advanced Studies. The campus has 17.5 total acres and the campus is an obvious site because Garrett currently has trade programs. Therefore CCSD could rebuild the school and keep a historic high school open in the community. Building the new program on the current campus demonstrates that the district has the best intentions of families and students who have up to this point in time been forced to attend inferior schools.