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?”