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When Will The Charleston County School District Deal With Diversity?
1/28/2015 4:33:22 PM
Last Updated:
1/28/2015 4:45:35 PM

By Barney Blakeney

The issue may have come to the forefront with the Academic Magnet High School football team’s racially tinged watermelon ritual, but Charleston County School District a couple of years ago began to address diversity in its schools. Realizing true diversity will be if at all possible.

The firestorm that flared up after some parents criticized AMHS’s football ritual that included a watermelon bearing caricatures of ‘Lil’ Black Sambo and monkey mimicking resulted in the firing/rehiring of the football coach and resignation of CCSD Supt. Dr. Nancy McGinley. And it caused critics to scrutinize racial diversity at the school.

That closer look revealed that of 644 students at AMHS only 16 are African American. As bad as the AMHS incident was, a larger issue became racial diversity at the district’s best schools. Three of those schools are AMHS, Buist Academy where 51 of 465 students are Black and Charleston County School of the Arts where 167 of 1,120 students are Black.

Diversity at other high performing schools in the district are equally as striking: at Ashley River Creative Arts only 80 of 587 students are Black, at East Cooper Montessori only three of 265 students are Black, at James Island Charter only 446 of 1,578 students are Black, at Jennie Moore Elementary only 139 of 798 students are Black, at Montessori Community School only 23 of 232 students are Black, at Mount Pleasant Academy only 52 of 564 students are Black, at Orange Grove Charter School only 188 of 809 students are Black, at Thomas C. Cario Middle only 127 of 1,322 students are Black and at Wando High only 484 of 3,883 students are Black.

Charleston NAACP President Dot Scott said the Black community hasn’t been on top of the issue. Although CCSD’s population is about 42 percent Black compared to 46 percent white, the bulk of white students attend high performing or specialty schools such as magnet and charter schools.

Scott says Charleston County schools cannot be allowed to return to a segregated system, but a cursory glance at the racial breakdown of the student population in the district’s 80 schools reveals just that - racially segregated schools where the racial balance most often tips one way or the other by 70-100 percent.

Paul Padron, who formerly headed up the district’s Office of Access and Opportunity, said the district two years ago realized that needs to change. It began looking at what could be done to create more racial balance and diversity in schools. Housing patterns and socio-economic issues are among the factors that impact where students attend schools, he said. But there are some things the district can do to make a difference.

They’re looking at ways that can make more alternatives available to more students such as requirements for attendance at specialty schools and better preparing students at high poverty schools to compete with more affluent counterparts. And the district wants its guidance counselors to be more diligent about encouraging high performing students at low performing schools to apply to attend magnet schools.

Padron said the district is working in the right direction, but a lot more needs to happen. Scott said the community will see results that are directly related to the amount of effort it’s will to invest in achieving greater racial diversity in schools.

But racial diversity won’t come by only changing the numbers of black or white students at a school, said county school board member Michael Miller. It must include staff and administrators.

“We’re starting to have the conversation. How long and where it will take us only time will tell,” Miller said. “But the spotlight puts it in the forefront. The larger question is whether the district is willing to deal with issues about race.”

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