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Gentrification Ripped Blacks From Downtown Schools
9/24/2014 4:19:01 PM

Marvin Stewart
By Barney Blakeney

For the first time in over three decades peninsula Charleston’s Constituent School District 20 public schools are physically and academically positioned to offer students a level of quality education opportunities that existed in the past.

White flight from the inner-city during the decades of the 1970s and 1980s left downtown public schools all Black and deteriorating. That deterioration continued for decades producing dilapidated schools and low performing student achievement. But as gentrification took hold and whites moved back into the inner-city creating a 70 percent majority white population, downtown’s public schools now are reflecting an accompanying change.

Former Constituent Dist. 20 School Board Chairman Marvin Stewart said for decades after white parents left downtown schools, County school officials presented a facade of improvement implementing a succession of various programs that came and went. As student achievement plummeted and enrollment declined, failing schools were closed until all Dist. 20 schools except predominantly white Buist Academy were rated either below average or average.

But in the past 10 years, as more white parents moved onto the peninsula, county school officials recognized the need to actually improve neighborhood schools, Stewart said. Some schools changed the focus of their curriculums and other school options were created. Currently some 11 schools comprise the constituent school district, including three charter schools, that offer students an array of educational focuses ranging from creative arts and Montessori to math and science.

“In the past, white parents wouldn’t send their kids into the turmoil that was Dist. 20,” Stewart said. “But now that there are more affluent white parents here who want a quality education for their kids at their neighborhood schools, the county officials are listening.

“For years Black parents didn’t demand anything from the district, but the squeaky wheel gets the grease. It’s sad and ironic that in the past Black kids had to transfer out of Dist. 20 to get those opportunities,” Stewart said.

In 2010 when the population shift downtown reached 70 percent white residents, county school officials that year also moved to improve school facilities in Dist. 20. Citing potential safety risks from earthquakes, the district successfully petitioned voters to fund building and renovations downtown.

Although reports indicated a 1 in 50 chance an earthquake could strike the Charleston peninsula, Stewart said Superintendent Dr. Nancy McGinley was adept at manipulating information. The tougher course of action was to upgrade school facilities and offer more challenging curriculums. With a majority white constituency, county officials chose that tougher course.

Current Dist. 20 Constituent School Board Chairman Edward Jones said former Charleston City Councilman Kwadjo Campbell predicted the changes gentrification would bring to the peninsula, still Black parents remained uninvolved. As a result of their uninvolvement, school officials manipulated the system, he said.

“It’s just not fair,” Jones exclaimed. “If they had taken all the politics out of it and just got down to the basics of educating all kids, everything would have been alright. But They didn’t do that. We’re only now starting to see improvement as Black residents have been displaced from downtown by gentrification. It just ain’t fair.”

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