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Zumalt A Case For Public Education In North Charleston
2/4/2013 11:39:13 AM

By Barney Blakeney

This week, North Charleston Police Chief Jon Zumalt leaves the department to head home to Oklahoma. Zumalt has headed the North Charleston Police Department for 12 years. When he arrived, the city was ranked among the nation’s most dangerous. Since taking the helm, crime has been reduced some 60 percent.


Zumalt’s tenure as police chief is viewed differently by many in the community. Some folks think he’s the best thing since sliced bread because he has helped reduced crime. Some folks think that’s been accomplished by coming down hard on Black folks.


However you think of Zumalt, there are much fewer young Black men are being murdered in the city these days. It wasn’t that long ago that some 30 Black men would be killed in North Charleston every year. In the past few years that number has been cut by more than half. Last year there were 13 homicides in the city.


There were 28 in 2006 when the city was ranked the nation’s seventh most dangerous, about half the 59 homicides in Charleston County. By 2010, the city was ranked the nation’s 70th most dangerous with 12 homicides.


Jon Zumalt is leaving North Charleston in a better place most agree. Now, if only that same progress can be repeated in other areas.


North Charleston is perhaps the metropolitan Charleston area’s most diverse community. About half of its 90,000 people are Black with whites making up another 45 percent of the population and Hispanics representing a strong approximately five percent.


That diversity carries over into the city’s public schools as well. North Charleston is home to two of the county’s most high achieving high schools - the Academic Magnet High School and Charleston County School of the Arts. It’s also home to two of the county’s lowest performing high schools - North Charleston and Stall high schools.


While thinking about the kind of progress Zumalt made in the area of crime, I asked myself if North Charleston can make that kind of progress in education.


North Charleston Constituent School District 4 is the county’s largest with some 25 schools and over 13,000 of the county’s approximately 44,000 students. About 9,000 of those students are Black giving North Charleston the county’s greatest concentration of Black students.


As with crime, North Charleston ranks high in failure when it comes to public education. With few exceptions, most schools are failing schools.


The county school district’s administration has changed chiefs of North Charleston schools as many times in the past 10 years than Carter has liver pills, but nothing has worked to substantially improve the quality of public education.


When I think about North Charleston schools, I can’t help but be reminded of downtown Charleston schools. Like North Charleston schools, for more than 25 years public schools in predominantly Black schools downtown languished in inferiority.


But downtown now is the banner child for gentrification. The peninsula, once 70 percent Black is now 70 percent white. And white parents are demanding the neighborhood schools improve. Peninsula Charleston schools are being turned upside down.


As gentrification begins to take hold in North Charleston, I think public schools there also will improve. The change already has begun with the new Zucker Middle School and that new elementary school back there off Lackawanna Boulevard near the new Academic Magnet/School of the Arts complex.


As North Charleston succumbs more and more to gentrification, I think we’ll see schools in the city that have faltered over two decades suddenly be turned around.


I know its a good thing when schools are improved. My problem is why is it that schools don’t start to improve until white kids become the students.


A good friend said that’s not white folks fault, it’s the fault of Black parents who accepted inferior schools. North Charleston should take a look at what happened with Jon Zumalt and insist on the same with public education.


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