School Board Member Reflects On Burke High Graduation

Todd Garrett

By Barney Blakeney

After attending the June 7 Burke High School graduation Charleston County Consolidated School Board member Todd Garrett found himself frustrated. He learned that of Burke’s 60 graduates, only two academically were prepared to go to college, only one scored gold level on WIN certificates (the equivalent of WorkKeys, which is what’s needed to get a job at Boeing) and 19 graduated career-ready with silver or better on WIN certificates.

“I’m ready to pull the plug (on Burke),” Garrett said Monday reflecting on what he considers perpetual academic dysfunction at Charleston’s oldest public school for Black students. A county school board member since 2012, Garrett said as a candidate for election he felt challenged to improve the outcome for students at Burke. He now advocates a radical departure from business as usual – sending Burke students to another high school until a third party administration can retool Burke.

“I remember comments from people like Jon Butzon (former public schools advocacy group Charleston Education Network’s executive director) about state takeover of Burke and North Charleston High as I ran”, Garret recalled. “And then I Googled some articles.” He referenced a 2006 College of Charleston report and 2012 Post & Courier article.

The 2006 report said, “Over the past decade, Burke was plagued by poor student performance, unstable leadership, ineffective teachers and a lack of parent involvement. For six years, the school failed to meet federal performance goals for adequate yearly progress. Then in 2006, due to the school’s unsatisfactory rating and its failure to implement improvement recommendations, the state Board of Education nearly declared Burke to be in a state of emergency. A takeover by the State Department of Education was a real possibility.”

Six years later in her 2012 article Post & Courier reporter Diette Courrégé Casey wrote, “Charleston County School Superintendent Nancy McGinley is embarrassed about the district having to appear before the state board again, and she said both schools (Burke High and North Charleston High) should be better than they are. That said, both have the right principals now, she said, and she’s confident positive results are imminent. ‘To change course again would destabilize the progress that’s under way,’ she said. ‘My goal is building lasting change that can and will be sustained over time.'”

Butzon also was quoted in the Post & Courier article. “Some people don’t think the district can do what it’s promising, Jon Butzon is one of them …and he said it’s time for a management organization with a proven track record to be given control. ‘Kids are suffering, and it needs to stop, he said.’ “Six years ago, Butzon was part of the Charleston contingency that went to the Burke High hearing to beg the state board not to take over the school. ‘I’m not saying they haven’t tried,’ Butzon said. ‘I think they’ve done everything they know to do, and it hasn’t worked.’”

Citing declining current Burke student performance stats (average ACT scores in 2014 – 13.1/in 2018 – 13.7; End of Course pass rates: Algebra in 2012 – 62.6 percent meet/exceeds/in 2018 – 50 percent meet/exceeds; English 2012 – 66.3 percent meet/exceeds in 2018 – 39.7 percent meet/exceeds) Garrett asked, “Is the trend moving in the right direction as celebrated in 2006 and predicted in 2012?”

And Garrett looked at the long term impact the disparities have on those students. “How does that affect those kids after graduation? If the kids who are going to college and were college-ready, they could get into a state college/university. At SC State, Clemson, or USC – which typically want a 24 or better on the ACT – students can graduate expecting to earn on average $45,000 in their first year. At a typical “take-all-comers” college, the average graduate can expect to earn $30,000 per year the first year. That’s 50 percent more in potential earnings lost in year one.  With three percent increases over a career of 40 years, that’s $1.13 million more in earnings for those graduates,” he said.

“Talk about robbing a generation. A generation or a community cannot build wealth if we send them out with one hand tied behind their back. And those are if they go to and graduate college. What about the others?”

Responding to critics who say he’s part of a system that disables predominantly Black schools then proposes closing them, Garrett said well-meaning, but misplaced historic pride only has provided lip service to school improvement.

“Our Class of 2019 was not yet in kindergarten when the promises were made in 2006,” Garrett noted. “They were in 5th grade when the promises were made in 2012. We’re about to enroll a new kindergarten class in August.”

“We have a choice. There is the argument that kids don’t necessarily do better when we send them to bigger integrated schools, but I know we’re doing a disservice to kids who may have better opportunities where they have more access to resources. Last month, I attended Burke’s graduation – 60 grads surrounded by the Class of ’69 looking on – I wonder what the Class of ‘69 would say if they knew the truth about how those promises from 2006 and 2012 worked out for kids?”


  1. Peter Smyth on July 12, 2019 at 12:46 pm

    If we took the incoming Burke freshmen and distributed them to other, more successful schools, or or if we brought in some of the faculty and staff from say, Wando, would the outcomes be different for those same students?
    Citing Jon Butzon doesn’t give Garrett much credibility.

  2. Downing Child on July 13, 2019 at 7:22 am

    Great article. I agree with Mr. Garrett.

  3. Monique McKnight on July 13, 2019 at 9:27 am

    It’s very easy for someone who is sitting behind a desk to pass judgement. What is “pulling the plug” on any school really going to do? Why can’t more resources (more funds) be poured into the school, the teachers, etc to get the students where they need to be! The superintendent said he was disappointed, however where was he the entire school year. Why wasn’t he doing his job by going into the schools and observing the students/teachers? Or providing ideas and/or solutions to make things better. The fault doesn’t fall on the schools. It falls on all of us (parents and school board members as well).

  4. kevin williams on July 15, 2019 at 5:13 am

    Todd Garrett is out of touch and part of the larger problem.Charleston county school board needs to resign and allow parents teachers and administrators to take over our school system.The system is broken and needs our immediate attention, we must do all we can to save the children.

  5. Joyce Freeman Howard on July 15, 2019 at 10:22 am

    What does pulling the plug mean? Garrett has been on the School Board for years and apparently he hasn’t accomplished anytbing ! It’s really smlke screen! Tney have been planning for years to make Burke what THEY want it to be!
    I visited and interviewed students wno had great SAT scores and are headed to college, so his statistics are a bit skewed.
    Put some educators on the school board who know what the schools and teachers need to be more productive! Try starting aith a decent salary so you can get more people hired, who don’t have to work two jobs to get by.
    We need to pull the plug on the school board and get people on it who have the best interest of our young people at heart!

  6. william bryant on July 15, 2019 at 11:18 am

    I’m not a graduate of Burke, yet I see what is happening here. There was much stolen from Burke’s progress to assist in the uplifting of Wando High. All during the times that it has been said to have been bad at Burke where were all of these administrative people. I worked at Wando at the time it opened up and it was a known fact that funds were taken from Burke and transferred to Wando. Now with the city becoming a large white enclave Burke is now needed to educate the white kids at the dismay of the black kids. Why would you take all of Burke’s kids and bus them to North Charleston High? This shows balant sense of racism. Leave these kids there and give the school what it needs : good teachers, administrators,and learning environment. People of Charleston please do not allow the the destruction of a part of the history of this “Beautiful City” and its African-American history. Our history and yours are so entwine that to destroy one is to destroy the other. I’m a proud graduate of Rivers High. .

  7. Francis Beylotte on July 15, 2019 at 1:35 pm

    No surprise by anyone watching the past several years–that this is the opinion or a long serving CCSD School Board Trustee and Commercial Real Estate Broker. (CCSD has had continuous membership from at least one Avison Young Broker for over a decade).

    But he should have checked the data accuracy. How embarrassing and offensive.

  8. Just Curious on July 15, 2019 at 5:43 pm

    Interesting that the proposed solution is to close Burke and send those students to a “high” performing school.” A review of Wando High EOC and ACT data reveals the following: (Algebra I – African American students – 40% of students made an “F.” White students – 8% of students made an “F.”) (Biology – African American – 46.7% of students made an “F.” White students – 3.9% of students made an “F.”) U.S. History – African American students 46.7% made an “F.” White students- 8.7% made an “F.” 2017 Composite ACT score for juniors , African American students- 13.6, White students – 22.3.

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