Burke Supporters Respond To Todd Garrett Comments

Barbara Dilligard

Dear Editor:

On behalf of the Burke High School Foundation, Inc. and the Friends of Burke, this is a response to the recent article in your paper by Barney Blakeney, regarding Todd Garrett’s reflections and recommendations for Burke High School. The article entitled: “School Board Member Reflects on Burke High School Graduation” seems to be a misnomer since very little was shared about the graduation and more about negatives on Burke.

Members of the Foundation and the Friends of Burke also attended the graduation and we were proud of the many awards and academic recognitions announced during the program. In addition to one student receiving recognition as a CCSD Board Scholar (no money attached), eighteen students were listed as Life Scholars, receiving $20,000 each from the state; four were military enlistees; four were Career Education Completers; 12 were listed for Junior Reserve Officers Training Corp; and the class amassed more than $1.3 million in scholarship awards.

The valedictorian and salutatorian speeches were excellent and challenging to their classmates and other students in attendance. Ms. Sheniah Everson, valedictorian, recounted many times in her speech, what BURKE has done to prepare her for life’s challenges. She will enter the University of South Carolina-Upstate, as a junior this fall because she successfully completed her studies at Trident Technical College, receiving an associate degree in science while attending Burke as part of the Advanced Placement curriculum.

The salutatorian spoke about the Burke experience, reinforcing the training of her parents and grandparents to better equip her for future endeavors. Traveling with the band, exposure to new places and activities, being part of a team who valued her contributions, along with her studies, have netted her multiple scholarships and acceptance to Clemson University this fall.

During the graduation exercises, the BHS Foundation awarded three scholarships totaling $14,000. The Foundation has awarded more than $196,000 to Burke graduates since the centennial celebration in 2010. We track our scholarship recipients throughout their college years and the college graduates are successful and contributing to society. Encouraging students and welcoming them into a world where they are valued and can contribute are what board members and other leaders in the community should do, not look for ways to say, “you should be carted off to who knows where…just get off the Burke campus…we want it for our kids!” Well it will not be that easy!!!

The statement that our students are graduating with 3rd and 4th grade reading levels begs the question of how they are being accepted and graduate from the best colleges. Burke graduates have always and continue to excel at Clemson, USC, The Citadel, S.C. State University, Johnson C. Smith University, N. C. A &T State University, Yale, MUSC and many others.

It is abundantly clear to most readers that the purpose of the article was to criticize all aspects of Burke High School with the intent of taking over the Burke campus for the “new” residents of Wagener Terrace. We are painfully aware that after gentrification, comes takeover of public assets. The attitude is let’s displace remaining residents so that we are in the majority.

Much research shows that people of that mindset are not comfortable unless they are in the majority wherever they are. Therefore, the remedy to appease the new residents, according to Mr. Todd Garrett, is “sending Burke students to another high school until a third-party administration can retool Burke.” This is the strategy that was used to convert James Simons Elementary to Montessori. The playbook was to relocate the students “temporarily” while new construction and renovations took place. Next, students were denied readmission by rezoning neighborhood students to other schools outside of District 20 and by changing the theme of the school to Montessori. There was even an effort to move the D20 district lines to incorporate the “Neck Area.”

For those in the “know”, Montessori (in the USA) is code to white parents as in: “attendance for white students with limited minority students admitted.” There were so many games played hoping that minority parents would not select that theme and send their children elsewhere. When that didn’t work along with grade level designation changes and the phony application process, and using our own people to maneuver the plan, the school was touted as a successful effort toward integration.

I invite you to reassess the James Simons Montessori effort now. FLASH!! It is not working! The Montessori method is failing miserably, and the student body demographics are changing constantly. If the article was attempting to be a commentary of why Burke High School should be closed so that it can reinvent itself as an acceptable place for non-minority students to attend, its flawed data were “cherry picked” to support a preconceived notion or agenda.

Burke has made progress during the years mentioned in the article, but those data were not reported (perhaps not researched) for inclusion. Data exists from previous years where Burke students were achieving higher than their cohort groups at non-Title I schools. These data supported the efforts and growth that were being made. Please note that students change each year – new ones enter – others graduate. Therefore, the data should be longitudinal to assess real change. Professional and good practice generally require the use of an evenhanded assessment rather than selected data to support a false or weak argument.

Here are our recommendations that would benefit all students who live in District 20. We can start with moving the “Early College” to the Burke campus as part of the Advanced Placement curriculum currently at Burke. Placing a competing program in our backyard and recruiting our best students from Simmons Pinckney Middle are not actions of a supportive board and staff which say they are giving us their best toward our success. Reinstate the support systems that allowed our students to place first in the National New Tech Network program after their first year of participation. Support the school’s strategic plan with adequate funding and staffing. Hold the administration and faculty accountable to deliver progress with their strategic plan.

One good thing about Mr. Garrett’s interview: It verifies to our students that they must continue to build their confidence and maintain their determination to do well so that they can overcome the obstacles before them. A school like Burke helps students know that they are worth teaching, training and being prepared for the real world. Burke prepares students academically and emotionally to compete on the world stage and to deal with a leadership that expects very little of them, will overlook their accomplishments, will do everything to make them doubt their abilities to achieve and will try to break their winning spirit. They know only too well what we were taught: “we must be twice as good as others to receive 3/5 the recognition and credit for our work.” March on Bulldogs and stay “BULLDOG READY…BULLDOG PROUD.”

Barbara D. Dilligard, Ed. D. MBA, President, Burke High School Foundation, Inc

Arthur Lawrence, President, Friends of Burke

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