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Downtown Parents Can Be An Example For Other Communities
9/26/2012 2:40:28 PM

By Barney Blakeney

It was good to hear from my old friend Carol the other day. I first met Carol through Leroy Connors a few years ago when he ran for Charleston City Council. We hooked up again when she was advocating for the Charleston Math and Science Charter School. Now she’s inviting me to a morning of exploring the future of peninsula Charleston public schools.

Apparently some downtown folks want to take a critical look at public schools on the peninsula with a focus on making them more successful to attract the growing number of young parents living downtown.

Sponsored by “the Residents of Charleston on behalf of the city’s students”, this group hopes to bring together a crossection of people from around the community to discuss how the peninsula’s woefully underachieving public schools can be improved.

Of course it’s a worthy undertaking. One that should have been done long ago. Unfortunately, it’s taking a bunch of white parents to do what Black parents have failed to do the past 20 years - insist that their neighborhood schools offer quality educational opportunities to kids living in those communities.

No, let me back up a step or two. Black parents have insisted on quality education, but that’s about all. This new group of people aren’t content to simply give lip service to the issue of quality public education downtown, they’re  taking the initiatives to make it a reality. This morning exploration seemingly is part of a well-planned process.

I talked with Carol about the deal yesterday and she emphasized that this isn’t her baby and that she doesn’t want to be construed as the group’s spokesperson. But every group needs a go-getter with the time and enthusiasm to pull people together. Carol’s this group’s go-getter.

Black folks in some other communities where the public schools are less than the best ought to take some tips from Carol and her group.

For over 25 years Charleston County School District ignored peninsula schools. Some really good schools were allowed to sink into an academic abyss as Black parents downtown watched neighborhood elementary schools stumble into non-productive baby-sitting and high schools either close or become the last stop on the track toward dropout for almost 60 percent of Black boys.

Most insulting was the creation of Buist Academy. The district developed Buist to ward off a U.S. Justice Department desegregation lawsuit. White flight from the inner city left neighborhood schools almost totally devoid of white students. Buist became an oasis for white parents in the desert of failing predominantly Black neighborhood schools.

Social trends are shifting again and white folks are moving back to the inner city. They can’t all get their kids in Buist, one of the best elementary schools anywhere, so they’re going to insure that previously failing neighborhood schools are improved.

During my conversation with Carol the term conspiracy theory came up. She assured me that the folks working to improve downtown schools aren’t conspirators. They’re just parents who want the best for their kids. I believe that.

I know that Black parents over the past 25 years also wanted the best for their kids. What I don’t know is why those Black parents were so unsuccessful in improving community schools.

Since the racial makeup in downtown Charleston has reversed from the previous 70 percent Black population to the present 70 percent white population, Charleston County School District has invested over $150 million in facilities infrastructure and curriculum improvements are underway at several elementary schools.

Carol seems to think a lot of that has come because in recent years there has been more energy coming from parents. Some folks began talking and others listened. She laments that with the success of the Math and Science Charter School a lot of that talking and listening cooled down. Educational discussion downtown went from running school board candidates to write-in school board candidates, she noted.

But that’s about to change. This new group wants to develop a vision of downtown schools that shows what they’ll look like by the end of the decade. The kids at four schools are supposed to reoccupy new facilities next fall. Carol says with those new facilities should come lasting change.

To accomplish that the group hopes to bring the whole peninsula community together for quality education. That’s what next week’s morning exploration will embark upon.

I’m thinking the same thing can happen in areas that still have underachieving predominantly Black schools. Carols says the strategy of identifying needs and resources, then developing ways to address them is something that’s occurring in cities across the country. Why can’t that happen in other communities across the county like McClellanville, North Charleston and the sea islands?

There are choices. Black communities can sit around another 25 years and cry about the school district’s neglect of their schools, or they can organise and strategize. It ain’t about Black or white, it’s about common sense.

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