By Barney Blakeney
No one likes the term failing schools, but beyond the semantics the reality is that the academic performance of many Charleston County School District students is tied to the schools they attend. The foundations of their academic careers are elementary schools which are the feeder schools to middle and high schools. I asked some school officials their thoughts about Charleston County School District feeder schools.
June 24 CCSD Mission Critical teams presented recommendations to the district’s consolidated school board members regarding elementary schools. Four Mission Critical Action groups in distinct geographical areas of the county – North Charleston, Downtown Charleston, West Ashley and Johns/Wadmalaw islands – were tasked with discussing topics set forth by the district and to come up with recommendations regarding those topics. The groups met for several months. Topics ranged from expanding the quality of pre-k through high school opportunities and aligning programs to merging schools and creating options.
The Mission Critical Action report for Constituent District 20 revealed third grade reading and math proficiency varied greatly among different schools. At predominantly white Buist Academy 96 percent of students tested were found proficient in English compared to about 41 percent of students tested at predominantly Black Sanders Clyde Elementary. In math 98 percent of Buist students tested was found proficient compared to about 55 percent at Sanders Clyde.
Jon Butzon, Ninth Judicial Circuit Representative on the S.C. Department of Education School Board, said feeder schools are the foundation among the building blocks in education. And just as the building blocks of a house are constructed in layers, so are the building blocks in education. Leave out a block and it’s hard, though not impossible, to put it back. “You need to put blocks in the right place at the right time,” he said.
He related that a large part of student success at middle and high school depends on what has been built at the elementary school (feeder school) level. “It’s not complicated,” Butzon intimated. “When you’re talking about kindergarten and first grade, the goal has to be to lay a full course of blocks. CCSD does that better in some places than others.”
Charleston County Consolidated School Board member Priscilla Jeffery said when considering the role of feeder schools we also must look at the role school choice plays. While some parents get the opportunity to choose where their children attend elementary school, others don’t. Factors beyond their control determine where their children attend school. That creates an unfair advantage for some students, she said.
“The system’s been broken a long time. When we see a kid fail in high school, that kid came from somewhere. Choices in the feeder system make it unfair. We don’t spend enough on the little kids,” she said. “The district’s improving its feeder patterns, but you can’t turn the ship around in a minute,” she said. “I think we’re moving in the right direction,” she added.