By Barney Blakeney
June 24 Charleston County School Board met with school district administrators and Mission Critical Action community representatives in a day-long board meeting during which board members received recommendations outlined by Mission Critical Action teams and heard from district administrators. The four Mission Critical Action groups made their presentations that morning and district administrators presented their responses to board directives that afternoon. The board took no significant action about either presentations during the meeting some described as ‘ugly’ and others described as productive, but indecisive.
As the day began high tensions became evident. By 9 a.m. this reporter received calls from teachers concerned about recommendations their schools would be closed. Four Mission Critical Action groups in distinct geographical areas of the county – North Charleston, Downtown Charleston, West Ashley and Johns/Wadmalaw islands – were tasked with discussing topics set forth by the district and to come up with recommendations regarding those topics.
The groups have met for the past several months. Topics ranged from expanding the quality of pre-k through high school opportunities and aligning programs to merging schools and creating options. For example the District 20 group was asked to discuss expanding enrollment opportunities at Buist Academy without lowering the quality of its program. In North Charleston the group was asked to discuss recruitment and employment of highly successful principals and teachers given the authority needed to transform their schools and holding them accountable for noticeable improvement. And they were asked to discuss changing attendance lines.
Although the groups have been meeting for some time, apparently information about the progress and outcomes of those meetings were not well conveyed despite persistent requests from the groups for constituent input. Misinformation and inaccurate information led board member Kevin Hollinshead to describe the meeting’s afternoon public comments session as “ugly”.
Recommendations that provoked fears in some school staff provoked outright racism from some parents, Hollinshead said, noting recommended mergers between Buist Academy and Memminger Elementary. “There were people on both (positive and negative) sides of the issues and others in the middle agitating,” he said. “We’re at a crucial point,” Hollinshead said.
Tri-County Cradle to Career Collaborative Chief Executive John C. Read was a coordinator for the North Charleston Mission Critical Action group. He said the purpose of the group was “To convey to the school board and superintendent as authentically as we can what parents and families in North Charleston want from their schools and for their kids.”
Read emphasized after Monday’s board meeting, their presentations to the board only were recommendations. While some may have been unhappy with some of the recommendations prompting responses Hollinshead described as ugly, he feels all the parties involved fulfilled their responsibilities for that meeting. Read said he feels hopeful. His hope is spurred by the willingness of so many people to continue to work to discuss school improvement.
“I don’t know what the board will do or how real reform will take place,” Read said. “The people who helped facilitate our North Charleston meetings are long-time activists and community organizers who had every reason to doubt the value of what we were asked to do. They stuck with it and put themselves at risk. The people who showed up at these meetings had been to too many meetings already, but they showed up anyway. So yes, I have hope, and what I heard yesterday from the superintendent and board was encouraging,” Read said.