By Barney Blakeney
In Charleston County where most aspects of community life are singed by classism, racism and segregation, the subject of public education is among the most controversial. For some that seems never truer than now with proposed changes to Charleston County School District schools.
From predominantly Black Constituent District 23 on the Sea Islands to predominantly white and affluent Mount Pleasant east of the Cooper River residents have balked at district officials’ proposed changes that would combine schools and programs which could impact communities in a variety of ways.
District officials November 13 issued this statement: “The Charleston County School District Board of Trustees agreed to proceed with a list of recommendations to be voted on at two upcoming meetings. Some of the proposals will be decided November 18 and others needing more time will be up for a final vote December 16. These recommendations are the culmination of more than a year of analysis, collaboration, planning, and feedback gathering including the Shared Future Project, the AdvancEd Accreditation Report, the Clemson University Diversity Study, Mission Critical Action Groups, and most recently, community listening sessions.”
Over the past several weeks as more information about the district’s proposals spread, segments among constituents mounted protests. The board indicated its response at its November 18 meeting. From the action taken at that meeting, it may be difficult to realistically gauge the effect of those protests.
At the outset, Chairman Eric Mack diffused one protest by postponing a decision that affects Yonges Island constituents regarding the proposed merger of Minnie Hughes and E.B. Ellington Schools.
“As one of the elected representatives of District 23, it is my intention to err on the side of good judgment, and because of such, I must oppose the merger of Minnie Hughes Elementary School (192 students) and E. B. Ellington Elementary School (351 student) – at this time … Therefore, I am proposing to convene a select committee of representatives from the district, meet with a select committee of the Consolidated School Board, to come up with an amicable resolution to address this current ‘educational dilemma’ in District 23,” he said.
While some Yonges Island protesters were pleased, another said, “I’m concerned about closing small schools. Private schools have figured out that small schools mean smaller class sizes where the attention and support for students is there. I don’t know of any data that shows transferred kids do better at larger schools or that consolidating or closing schools either saved money or improved education.” He noted the closure of Lincoln High in McClellanville whose students were commuted to Wando High. He said Minnie Hughes parents may only have won a reprieve, not the battle. Also in District 23, the board voted to Motion to return the 5th grade students at Haut Gap to their zoned school so that Haut Gap serves grades 6-8.
In North Charleston Constituent District 4 the board voted to remake Mary Ford Elementary to create a model 4K and 5K universal preschool and Family Engagement Center for the 2020-21 school year. Chicora Elementary will serve grades 1-5 for students residing in both the Chicora and Mary Ford attendance zones.
In West Ashley District 10 the board voted to locate all sixth graders on the West Ashley Middle School campus and create a 7th – 8th grade middle school on the C.E. Williams campus, effective for the 2020-21 school year.
And the board voted Monday to designate schools with both overall unsatisfactory and overall student achievement ratings; and PK-12 feeder patterns of schools with low performance – some 15 CCSD schools – as Acceleration Schools. Acceleration Schools will be enabled to provide leaders of these schools greater autonomy.
CCSD Board member Priscilla Jeffery said that doesn’t mean any CCSD school will be privatized. “I believe the board and superintendent really are trying to do things for underserved schools,” she said.