By Barney Blakeney
When the S.C. Department of Education last month released its annual report card on school districts, one local principal cautioned that viewers should consider that numbers can be manipulated to produce various perceptions. But the report that 20 percent of the state’s lowest performing schools are located in Charleston County School District’s Constituent School District 4 confirms a lot in the report is indisputable. Consolidated school board members were asked their perceptions about the report card.
Interestingly, last week some board members still had not read the report card. Their regular updates from the administration gave them a clear picture of the district’s status, they said. Kevin Hollinshead and Priscilla Jefferies both were elected to the board in 2016. They brought with them some knowledge about local schools. Since being elected they’ve learned more than the report card tells.
Hollinshead’s whose late wife was a teacher and whose sister was a school administrator, said the report card results leave him with mixed emotions. Hollinshead is one of two members on the board representing the North Area district. As with previous report cards, this year’s report card points to many of the same deficiencies, he said. While CCSD students performed better (about 47 percent meeting or exceeding the standard) in English Language Arts and Mathematics than the state average (about 41 percent meeting or exceeding the standard) deficiencies persist, he said.
He contributed a lot of the blame for the status of Charleston County schools to the district’s governance. The school board allows the administration to repeatedly implement plans that don’t work, Hollinshead said. Low performing schools – often predominantly Black schools – are closed and their students integrated at other schools, but at what expense, he questioned. Shifting students and programs won’t produce better performance unless more money and resources are poured into initiatives like early child education, Hollinshead said.
Jefferies came to the board as a retired educator having taught in Colorado, Massachusetts and Vermont. Like Hollinshead, she feels more must be done in early education to achieve positive outcomes for students later on. The district lacks strategic coordination at many levels, so “the left hand doesn’t know what the right hand is doing,” she said. Inconsistencies in course offerings and resources provided to different schools are among the things that produced the report card we have, she said. And while poverty is a contributing factor to the vast needs CCSD students bring to school, fixing woefully inadequate early child education would produce better results, she said. Providing more resources to students early on is expensive, but it would be money well spent.
After two years on the board Jefferies said last week, “I am rethinking what our schools need to improve. It is so multilayered and complicated. Having spent my career in the classroom, I believe that part of my research has to include visiting schools to see what is really going on. I visited North Charleston High School. I sat in on a class and talked with students about what they think they think their school needs. I will continue to do that in January. I am of the belief that we overlook the value of the input from the students. If you are straight with them they are straight with you.”