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Proponents Hope Middleton Can Right CCSMS Ship
8/7/2013 12:52:20 PM

Juanita Middleton

The Charleston Charter School for Math & Science has struggled with adversity since its inception. Student racial demographics and facilities issues have dominated concerns in the past, but with last year’s departure of Principal Michael Stagliano, who was the school’s fifth, leadership is surfacing as another challenge. Next fall Principal Specialist Juanita Middleton will take the helm at CCSMS.

CCSMS opened in 2008 after a laborious birth. Proponents for the Charleston peninsula’s second public middle/high school, and the only racially integrated middle/high school, unsuccessfully fought off assaults to place a new high tech high school at the Rivers campus. Charleston NAACP officials expressed concern CCSMS would not be adequately racially diverse.

Those issues were satisfied. The school opened with 54 percent minority students and the Lowcountry High Tech Academy moved into the newly renovated Rivers facility along with CCSMS students in January.

Stagliano’s departure after only a year at CCSMS accentuated problems with leadership however. Counting interim principals, the school has had five principals since 2008. A source speaking anonymously offered that CCSMS has not had an environment conducive to strong leadership at the principal level.

Because former principals may not have realized the difficulties in running charter schools - charter schools autonomy require another level of financial and other responsibilities - they left forcing teachers to fill in the gap, he said. And the immediate past board of directors did not set the direction for the school, the source added.

As founding board members transitioned off the policy-making body for the school, new members failed to provide guidance.

“We had a lot of indians leading indians, but no chiefs,” he said.

“Little things were going undone. Like the landscaping and the acoustics in the new auditorium. The facility just had a $24 million renovation, but the acoustics in the auditorium is terrible and the landscaping is dying because there’s no irrigation system.

We must have someone in the principal’s office who can be proactive about those kinds of things.”

Middleton whose reputation as a strong leader capable of organizing school structures, is a good fit for CCSMS, he said.

Middleton, he thinks, can help create a structure that will allow a competent leader to take over after her. She has not committed to long term administration at the school.

Before her retirement from Charleston County School District, she served as principal specialist at St. James-Santee Elementary, Burke Middle/High and North Charleston High schools. Her tenure averaged about two years at each institution.

Former Constituent Dist. 20 School Board Chairman Marvin Stewart who was on the board while Middleton was at Burke, said he hopes Middleton can right the CCSMS ship.

The school has a lot of nay sayers, he added.

The concept of charter schools is good, Stewart said, but without the right people in place their autonomy can entrench dysfunction and a buddy/buddy system that benefits only a few people.

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