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CCSD Waiting To Exhale With New Superintendent and Academic Chief
10/21/2015 5:15:15 PM

Valerie Harrison

Gerrita Postelwait
By Barney Blakeney

Charleston County School District has wasted no time in naming a new chief academic officer. The district last week announced Valerie Harrison will take over the position formerly held by Dr. Lisa Herring. Some CCSD officials this week offered speculation about Harrison’s appointment.

Harrison, a veteran educator who comes to the district with outstanding credentials, steps into a challenging role. Charleston County School District is one of the state’s largest and is marked by some of its best performing and lowest performing schools. That spectrum is reflected by student achievement as well. And much of the district’s dynamics are wrapped in traditional racial disparity.

After months of racial tension that began with a watermelon incident at the Academic Magnet High School in 2014, CCSD in July hired Dr. Gerrita Postelwait as superintendent to replace Dr. Nancy McGinley who resigned last year amid that tension. Postelwait’s appointment also came amid racial tension. Speculators say they are waiting to see what changes will come with the two newest additions to the CCSD hierarchy.

Postelwait is in the process of building her own team of administrators, agreed two school officials. As vacancies in the district’s upper echelon of administrators come open, she can be expected to fill them with her people. Encouragingly, she’s bringing in some new people and not just shuffling the deck, said one official. Who she hires will give some indication of her priorities and where she’s going, he said.

In the mean time, a lot of positioning is taking place behind the scenes, the official added. Prior to Postelwait’s hiring, the CCSD Consolidated School Board reorganized the administration after McGinley’s departure. Because several Black administrators in key positions were moved, rumors began that Postelwait was forwarding the district’s racist agenda. Both officials clarified that the reorganization was board driven and not part of any decisions made by Postelwait.

Although the new superintendent may not be responsible for those changes, she could shake up some settled situations as the district moves forward - probably changes at Burke High and in the financial and legal departments, one official speculated. The recent revelation the district has a financial shortfall of some $18 million is sure to raise dust, he said.

Part of Harrison’s challenge will be to make a dent in the wide student achievement gap that places the district’s significant Black student population at the lower end of the spectrum. It’s a task left uncompleted by her predecessor and a tall order to fill in Charleston County’s difficult school district.

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