The officers of the School Improvement Council (SIC) at Burke High School read Barney Blakeney’s recent piece in the Chronicle, “School Board Member Reflects On Burke High Graduation” with great surprise, in particular quotes attributed to School Board Representative Todd Garrett, who calls for shuttering the school and turning it over to a third-party operator. We reject these proposals and implore stakeholders such as School Board members to work with the school community to improve the school, rather than abandoning their responsibilities. Our opposition to Garrett’s proposals should not be confused as an argument for the status quo or claims that Burke cannot continue to improve.
There is no evidence that third-party providers (charter management organizations) would improve outcomes at Burke nor that dispersing students to other schools would improve outcomes for those students individually. But the moves Garrett proposes give the appearance of doing something dramatic. Mr. Garrett purports that Burke has only produced two college-and-career-ready students among the 60-something graduating class of 2019. Yet, college and job applications don’t merely ask for test scores for admissions or hiring. Further, when compared to similar high poverty schools, Burke High School students perform similarly or better than these comparable schools, according to data from S.C. Department of Education School Report Cards.
In terms of data to show college readiness, 28 students from the class of 2019 were accepted into four year colleges, with 15 planning to attend two-year and technical colleges–70 percent of students are pursuing post-secondary educational opportunities. Burke students have accepted admission to Clemson, College of Charleston, USC and its satellite campuses, the Citadel, Charleston Southern, Georgia Southern, and SC state, to cite just some noteworthy institutions. More than ten students from the 2019 graduating class earned dual-credit for completing college-level coursework coursework through Trident Tech. Additionally, 16 students earned substantial graduate credit from MUSC through the SC Cures program. Obviously, ACT tests are not the only measure of college and career readiness.
We remind the Board of Trustees of CCSD that their job is to support public schools. Mr. Garrett fails to understand the obstacles Burke faces and does not offer genuine, proactive solutions. Burke serves a high poverty student body and the school faces challenges like absenteeism, inadequate mental health support, and students who may not even have a stable residence, to cite some major issues that genuinely affect learning. In other words, we are not talking about the failings of students, teachers, or school administrators. We are talking about significant challenges that are not being addressed. We hold that both selling out to third-party operators and dispersing students around the District will likewise fail to address issues that stem from systemic poverty. We suggest using identified best practices to actually improve learning among all students, including budgeting to give students and families wraparound supports that help students excel; empowering the SIC and PTSA; assisting with creating mentorship and internship opportunities; and employing specialists who can assist teachers to work with students who possess below-grade-level skills.
We conclude by noting that Burke has been historically important for Charleston and for the state of South Carolina. The recommendation that Burke should be handed over to a third-party amounts to the board and District abandoning their responsibilities. It also shows a politician’s inability to understand the deep racial divisions that continue to plague the state and county to this day, as cited in both the recent Clemson University Diversity and Inclusion Study and the College of Charleston’s Racial Disparities study. Mr. Garrett appears oblivious to the experiences of a community that has been repeatedly disenfranchised by individuals and institutions that wield power. In the midst of rapid gentrification, the calls to shutter the school look like part of a larger process of stripping cultural, social, and political power from African Americans. We invite people who believe in the democratizing power of public education to help Burke High School by getting involved in the life of the school and to reach out to the Charleston County School District’s Board of Trustees and tell them to live up to their responsibilities.
Eric Jackson, SIC President
Dan Ryan, SIC Vice President
Aysha Bowens, SIC Secretary