By Barney Blakeney
I was talking to a friend digging up a story. He asked, whatever I did, don’t mention how much assistance Charleston County School District Superintendent Gerrita Postlewait gives to Black folk’s initiatives. He didn’t want to stir up political wrath against her. Like any good reporter, I always try to accommodate my source – off the record means off the record; hold the info means hold the info. But I also believe one should give credit where credit is due. I won’t talk about that guy’s deal specifically, but I can talk about Postlewaite otherwise.
I don’t know Postlewaite very well. I met her when she first got the job and we’ve only met a few times since. Postlewait became superintendent July 9, 2015, a few weeks after the June 15 Emanuel AME murders. I remember Black folks were upset that the school board continued its deliberation over the superintendent selection process in the wake of the tragedy. Black folks hollered, “Business as usual, white folks are insensitive”, but the board made its choice.
Postlewait brought with her a wealth of experiences as an educator and leader at the district, state, and national levels and as an executive in the private sector. She served as chair of the State Board of Education, as a member of the national governing board of the American Association of School Administrators, and as a consultant for several districts, states, and national organizations. As Chief K-12 Officer for a foundation, she helped establish the national Innovation Lab Network and co-founded Transform SC, a state-wide business-education partnership that fosters systemic educational change. In districts where she previously served as superintendent, student achievement increased dramatically during her tenure.
As smart as she is, you’ve gotta wonder why she chose to come to Charleston County. I remember talking to a former county schools superintendent who once said Charleston County has a reputation around the country among superintendents as being a difficult place to work. If I remember correctly, over the past 20 years of so the average tenure for our superintendents has been about five years.
Folks say our governing structure is inefficient and prohibitive. I’m no education expert, but I guess there’s merit to that. But we all know why CCSD is structured as it is – it accommodates the inherent racism and discrimination in the system. It allows those in power to maintain that power. As a child of the 1950s and 1960s, I remember Charleston County schools’ racial segregation and discrimination during its unmasked era. I was in school as the county transitioned from open segregation to the masked segregation we have today. Even the dumbest among our county school board members can see through the ruse we call “integrated schools” that exist today.
A lot of people have tried to improve the farce that is Charleston County schools. I think Gerrita Postlewait is among them. A little while ago former county school board member Craig Ascue wrote an op-ed. Here’s that op-ed:
‘WHY BLACKS NEED TO SUPPORT GURITTA POSTLEWAIT’S SCHOOL BUS’
“Amid recent protests by teachers and principals across the district many Blacks have taken a backseat to openly supporting Charleston County’s Superintendent Geritta Postleswait. Yes, we all remember that she came in under unsettling circumstances in 2015. In hindsight you might ask what person in their right mind would take a job leading 50,000 students and 3,500 teachers in a constantly racially torn school district and just after the most heinous criminal slaughter of nine praying prisoners at Emanuel AME Church……. A woman of faith is the answer, a woman of moral character with a vision to help transform a school district and city that’s voted best in the world, but is still hamstrung by Jim Crow laws today.
“The truth is that silence is consent. No one from the Black community or Black (school) board members for that matter has come out to openly support Dr.Postlewait as she drives the bus of change through Charleston County.
“With 84 percent of the county’s Black third grade scholars failing their state reading test we need bold leadership. In fact, Dr. Postlewait has demonstrated the change needed in the district by not only sharing the brutal facts; she has taken heat from teachers and principals on some very controversial moves that challenge the status quo – moving Jake Rambo off the James B. Edwards bus where affluent students and parents are fine, but middle class white students and poor Blacks remain stagnated in yearly growth progress. Mr. Rambo’s response reeked of privilege, blame game and poor leadership. She changed the bus driver at West Ashley High School where school fights were the norm.
“Dr.Postlewait has also put some great talent on the bus when it comes to predominantly Black high schools in the district that no one seems to give her credit for: the new principal at North Charleston High school Mr. Henry Darby, a long time North Charleston resident who knows education and is committed community leadership; naming Cheryl Swinton Executive Principal at Burke High School. Mrs. Swinton and her family already have a lifelong commitment to put Burke back on top.
“Dr. Postlewait came to Charleston County in the cloak of night under scrutiny, but has emerged as a champion for public education not only in words but in deeds. The job of school superintendent is hardly an easy one; especially in Charleston County where we are still fighting the Civil War and can’t even seem educate students across the county equitably.”
Okay, so maybe I can’t talk about the subject my source asked me not to mention. I think Ascue says enough.