By Barney Blakeney
June 24 the four Mission Critical Action groups commissioned by Charleston County School District officials to develop recommendations for improving schools handed over a slate of proposals that represent aggressive change. Among them expanding elite programs, recruiting highly successful professionals, investing in early child and elementary education as well as changing perceptions of school choice.
Four groups representing Downtown Charleston, North Charleston, Johns Island/Wadmalaw Island and West Ashley were tasked with providing recommendation on various concerns outlined by the board. The groups offered recommendations to address those concerns.
In North Charleston Constituent Dist. 4, the county’s largest where the highest concentration of minority students attends schools; one of the most challenging recommendations was to establish high quality pre-school programs. The group recommended every elementary school be associated with full-day 3K and 4K programs.
Recruiting and training principals to work in the district where too many schools have revolving doors at the principals’ offices and providing them their needed support was another recommendation.
The North Charleston group also recommended school officials create better middle schools and “urgently” create a neighborhood school to serve Brentwood and Burns elementary students. “The Garrett site should be considered an option for a model middle school, the group recommended.
In response to the directive to address training successful teachers who work in high challenge settings, the group recommended assigning mental health and other support professionals in addition to training in racial equity, adverse childhood experience and cultural competence. The best teachers and administrators should be incentivized, the group recommends.
At the June 24 recommendations unveiling, the Charleston group received much of the backlash. It recommended merging elite Buist Academy with predominantly Black Memminger Elementary and closing Charleston Progressive Academy in three years. Less controversial were recommendations to expand the Montessori program at James Simons Elementary through middle and high school at Philip Simmons Middle and Burke High and providing specialized programs and advanced studies tracks at Burke High.
The West Ashley group recommended hiring more teachers of color in elementary schools, providing reading coaches as needed and redrawing attendance lines to create neighborhood schools. The Johns Island/Wadmalaw Island group focused on increased collaboration between schools in the district and creating a greater sense of cohesiveness in the district where school choice, changing population demographics and negative perceptions of schools are realistic threats.
The board has taken no action on the recommendations. The full listing of recommendations can be found at the district’s website: ccsdschools.com.