Fixing Charleston Schools – A Maze That Won’t Be Conquered In A Day

By Barney Blakeney

South Carolina Department of Education recently reported eight of the state’s lowest performing schools are located in Charleston County School District Constituent School District 4, the North Area. Don’t try to find that in the annual state report card on schools. The S.C. Dept. of Education’s website is an intricate maze that leaves many information seekers wondering if its complexity is intentionally designed to hide such facts. But CCSD officials admit the reports are accurate.

The eight Dist. 4 schools rated among the lowest performing are; Burns, Chicora, Mary Ford and North Charleston elementary schools; Morningside Middle School; North Charleston and Stall high schools; and Greg Mathis Charter School. North Charleston Dist. 4 is the county’s largest constituent district with approximately 25 schools. It has the highest concentration of Black students, where about half the county’s approximately 19,000 Black students attend school. Nearly all its schools are predominantly Black.

Those dynamics have persisted in District 4 schools for decades. But since the SCED report individuals and groups have mounted efforts to focus on the findings. March 18 South Carolina National Action Network President Elder James Johnson commandeered the floor at the county’s consolidated school board meeting criticizing board members and district administrators for facilitating ongoing disparities that disenfranchise Black students. He vows the protests will continue. And this week a group of about 20 individuals will travel to Atlanta, Ga. to visit four schools. Coordinator, county school board member Kevin Hollinshead, said the trip is being undertaken to see what other schools are doing to achieve success.

Cindy Bohn Coats represents North Area District 4 on the consolidated school board. Asked her thoughts about the persistent low performance of North Area schools and what’s being done about it, she said she can’t speak for those who were on the board before her. Coats has served on the board since 2010, but like the maze that is the state’s school report card website, the complexity of the issues leave those attempting to navigate toward solutions not knowing which way to turn, she said.

“We simply don’t know what to do,” Coats said. “It’s not just North Charleston,” she added. “We need to find the best practices and implement them with fidelity,” she said echoing an oft-repeated phrase. She voiced the mission of this week’s trip to Atlanta saying, “We need to find models that work and learn from them.”

There are a myriad of reasons North Area schools persistently have been low performing, Coats said. But through all the confusion and uncertainty two concepts should be considered – “Rome wasn’t built in a day and it didn’t burn down in a day. We must be in this for the long haul,” she said.

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