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Struggle For Diversity At AMHS Continues, So Does Struggle To Improve Burke
9/2/2015 3:29:35 PM

Charleston Branch NAACP President Dot Scott (center) & National Action Network Vice President of Stakeholder Relations Nelson Rivers III (2nd from right) at press conference at CCSD Headquarters June 5, 2015
By Barney Blakeney

As local civil rights organization leaders settle in for another contentious year at odds with Charleston County School District officials over diversity at the county’s top schools, advocates for Burke High School one of the lowest performing schools, have developed a plan to improve it.

Rev. Nelson Rivers, vice president of Stakeholder Relations for the National Action Network said though there remains a conflict about the number of Black students admitted for the Academic Magnet High School’s freshman class - district officials say six of 190, Rivers says one - either number is ridiculous, he maintains.

Last school year of 644 students at AMHS only 16 were African American.

In a previous interview county school board member Todd Garrett said it would take at least four years to achieve 20 percent Black student population at AMHS under its current admissions policy. Rivers said if under the current admissions policy only one Black student is entering the school’s freshman class expected to graduate in 2021, achieving 20 percent Black student population seems unobtainable.

Since the policy isn’t changing, the county school board which sets the policy must be changed, Rivers said Monday. Rivers leads a local group that has filed a complaint over the lack of diversity at county schools with the U.S. Justice Dept. Their investigation into the complaint is continuing, he said.

The county school board has proven it’s unwillingness to equally educate all students, Rivers said. So until the justice department or some other entity forces change, county residents must exercise their ability to make change at the polls. County voters will elect five members to the board in 2016.

Charleston NAACP President Dot Scott concurred. The conversation about diversity at schools is one that must be discussed by the county school board which, since the issue has existed perpetually, obviously has not had the discussion.

“I don’t know where we go from here as a community, but the bigger picture is how the lack of diversity impacts the students at those schools,” Scott said. “Until a justice department investigation happens, all we can do is continue to put information out there so that voters know what’s going on. We don’t have a magic bullet, but half our job is to tell the story,” she said.

At Burke High in downtown Charleston where almost all the students at one of the district’s most troubled schools are Black, a coalition of parents and school advocates have come up with a solution to the school improvement and diversity issues.

In its August newsletter, Burke Foundation President Dr. Barbara Dilligard said new county superintendent Dr. Gerrita Postelwait has granted the coalition permission to establish a new school governance approach.

The new approach includes creating a new school improvement council that includes parents of students attending the school as well as those not currently attending. And the school, will have increased autonomy. Efforts to implement the new strategies for Burke are to begin immediately and will continue over the next three years.

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