Charleston County School Board Tossed A Bone To Garrett CAS Supporters

By Beverly Gadson-Birch

Garrett Academy of Technology was established after closing out trades at Burke High School and a few other area high schools.  The Board’s decision at the time was to take the trades out of the high schools and place them at Garrett and allow students from each attendance area/county-wide to fill the slots up to the maximum enrollment.  The students would have to provide their own transportation.

One student summed it all up in a 2016 Overall Experience Rating by stating, “My school started off good, then went south”. If you know Garrett Academy’s history, you would have to agree with the student’s comment. So, what really happened to seal Garrett’s fate as a once highly rated technology school by US News to its present non-ranking nationwide status?

 According to The State Department of Education’s Report Card for 2008, for five years (2004-2008), Garrett’s Absolute ranking each year was “Excellent” and the Growth Rankings were “Excellent” in 2007 and 2008 followed by “Good” in 2004, 2005 and 2006.  Garrett received the “Excellent” ranking in 2012 and 2013; and, an “Average” ranking in 2014. It’s important to understanding the rankings and why Garrett went “south” and why the school board elected to close Garrett and build the new Center for Advanced Studies (CAS) at North Charleston High School.  According to the State’s Report Card, “Excellent is defined as Garrett students’ performance as “substantially exceeds” the standards for progress towards the 2010 SC Performance Goal” and “Good is defined as “exceeds” performance standards for progress toward the 2010 SC Performance Goal.”

The irony of what led to the demise of Garrett is the same thing that happened at Bonds Wilson High School.  Bonds Wilson, a black high school, was closed and North Charleston High was then built because the whites did not want their children going to Bonds Wilson High School. The reason given was location–“the entrance was undesirable”.  It was about the “entrance” and the school’s history as a “predominately black” high school. The parents did not want the Bonds Wilson’s name on their children’s diploma.  The entrance was on Montague Avenue through the black neighborhood of Liberty Hill.  Garrett is located east of Dorchester Road on Leeds Avenue in Dorchester-Waylyn, a community that has had several murders and is known for high crime activities. In spite of the crimes, which is no stranger anywhere, both communities have many long time and good, law-abiding residents. Although the Bonds Wilson’s entrance was deemed “undesirable” for Academic Magnet and School of the Arts when they were seeking to find a new location, it suddenly became desirable when the school’s access was turned to face Enterprise Street. And let’s not forget, like the Bonds Wilson’s parents, Academic Magnet did not want Burke’s name on their diploma.

The half cents sales tax is not for “whites” only. Black and Brown folks pay taxes too and should have input when it comes to how the Board spends their hard earned tax dollars and whether their decisions are cost effective and in the best interest of children. Although Garrett was created to be a county-wide magnet, the Board has the option to revisit that. The District #4 Board can change the attendance to include only those students in the District #4 attendance zone, giving them first priority and approving students from other districts who choose to take advantage of a high-tech education that’s not available in their home school district. As a county-wide magnet, Garrett Academy of Technology students receive credits and a state diploma. The Center for Advanced Studies is not a school. It’s a program that must be attached to a high school for credits and a state diploma.

The “Centers” for Advanced Studies were not the best option to infuse technology into the district. The Board should have built several diplomas awarding high tech schools and strategically placed throughout the county and accessible to any student choosing to attend. And, because of poor planning, transportation and scheduling will continue to be a nightmare for the Board. Since some School Board members, past and present, have failed to act responsibly over the years, CCSD students are at least twenty years behind the rest of the country and are not equipped to meet the high demands of many of the high tech industries locating to Charleston and surrounding areas.

Here is where the rubber meets the road!! Check the archived Board minutes. The Centers came about as a result of the community requesting the old Rivers Middle School facility, which had been closed for several years, to be used as a diploma-awarding high tech school—not a Center.  The request was for a county-wide high tech school. After many years of back and forth and unrelenting community input, the district finally decided to throw the group a bone and the Lowcountry High Tech program was established. If the Board had done the right thing then, the district would not be in a constant tug-of-war with the community and the students would be prepared to fill area high tech jobs. The decision to build a school would have also saved taxpayers’ millions of dollars. Then along came Math/Science Charter School that kept pushing for more space at the Rivers’ site and the Board voted to place the Lowcountry Tech program at Burke High School. At the same time, and without carefully researching their options, the Board voted to place Centers for Advanced Studies in Districts #10 and #4.

The Board held several meetings to receive public input. The Board also formed a committee of community stakeholders and parents for input as they so often do. The final meeting of the committee was held on Wednesday, November 1 at Garrett Academy. Each committee member was allowed final input and asked to vote for the Garrett, Stall or North Charleston High location.  The community’s input and the committee’s vote (Garrett, 9 votes; N. Charleston High, 3 votes; and Stall High 1) were overwhelming for the Center for Advanced Studies to be placed at Garrett.  Garrett is already a high-tech school and has the land to build and restore Garrett on the site to be state of the art facility.

The Board met on Thursday, November 2, in a special called Board meeting to take final action on the placement of the Center for Advanced Studies. It was evident from the onset of the Board meeting, check it out on YouTube, that the decision was already made before the members took their seats.  The vote was called and Todd Garrett made the motion to place the CAS at the North Charleston High location, seconded by Chris Staubes before Rev. Chris Collins, who served as a facilitator for  community input, could share the committee’s input and vote. Rev. Collins asked for a point of order and that he be given the opportunity to make a report from the community and committee’s input. The report was made and based upon a majority community input to place the CAS at Garrett. Rev. Collins made a second motion to place CAS at Garrett, seconded by Michael Miller. Rev. Eric Mack offered a “friendly amendment” to Todd Garrett’s motion for Garrett to remain open as a college middle school or some future use which amounted to nothing more than throwing a bone to taxpayers and the CAS Committee. Todd Garrett’s motion was seconded by Chris Staubes along with the “friendly amendment” by Rev. Mack.  The seven voting for North Charleston High location were: Kate Darby, Chair, Rev. Eric Mack, Vice-Chair, Cindy Bohn Coats, Chris Staubes, Todd Garrett, Kevin Hollinshead and Priscilla Jeffery.  Voting against the motion to place CAS at North Charleston High and for the placement at Garrett Academy were Rev. Chris Collins and Michael Miller.

According to the Board’s plan to build the Center at North Charleston High, some things to consider are costs which the Board continues to dance around; the Attaway-Heinsohn Stadium will be torn down; land acquisition for a new regional stadium; where will North Charleston and Military Magnet students play sports during the interim while the stadium is torn down and a new one built; concerns and costs for transportation, travel time between the North Charleston and Stall sites and scheduling due to the layout of North Charleston and traffic congestion.

The root cause once again for the Board’s action is the entrance into the Black community is undesirable. And, let’s not forget POLITICS.  So, what will really happen to Garrett Academy? The demise of Garrett, and that will surely happen, has been sealed by the decision of the Board to place CAS at North Charleston High. The Board’s deceptive pattern is by design to eliminate low performing, low enrollment schools to get them off the books and paint the district’s educational disaster in a more favorable light. Because of the board’s failure to provide an equitable education to all children, the district has a history of “failing students” and “declining enrollment” in majority black segregated schools. The even greater question is what will happen to black children throughout CCSD, many of whom are reading and performing below grade level? Will their future be sealed in mediocrity with the closing of yet another majority black school?  Judge for yourself!

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