Can CCSD fix neighborhood schools?

Can CCSD fix neighborhood schools?
April 04 19:21 2018 Print This Article

Our daily newspaper recently had a series of articles about the difficulty parents are having getting their children into one of the choice schools in the Charleston County School District (CCSD). A Post and Courier article states that it Is harder to get into Buist Academy in downtown Charleston than to get into Harvard. What the articles don’t address is why parents are so desperate to get their children into a choice school and how CCSD can “fix” the neighborhood schools parents are running away from.

One of the problems with neighborhood schools is the lack of discipline. I taught at Greg Mathis Charter High School. I called this school “Last Chance Academy”. It was for students who had been expelled from their neighborhood schools. I was somewhat apprehensive to teach there but had a good experience. Surprisingly, the students behaved in class. There was only one fight that school year. The school board (every charter school has its own board) met the day after the fight, and the student who started the fight was expelled that day. This had certainly not been my experience in the CCSD schools I served for 30 years. It would take months for a student to receive a hearing with the constituent school board to determine whether or not they would be expelled for fighting or chronically disrupting class. In the meantime, the students up for expulsion could attend school and continue to misbehave. Receiving immediate consequences for misbehavior is an advantage charter schools have. Administrators don’t have to wait months navigating the myriad of bureaucratic paperwork and hoops needed to remove a disruptive student.

CCSD’s reluctance to suspend and expel disruptive students is partially due to federal funding. The district receives federal money based on student attendance. CCSD implemented the Progressive Discipline Plan to address discipline problems. It has been a disaster. Students have been quickly returned to class after assaults or even death threats. Is it any wonder parents want their child in a choice schools? Students don’t feel safe in many neighborhood schools.

Another reason parents want their children in a choice school is the superior academic performance of students in those schools. The Post and Courier published an article today about the achievement gap between white, black, and Hispanic students. The gap is wide and many of the black and Hispanic students with low test scores attend neighborhood schools.

I am all for students attending neighborhood schools. I attended an excellent neighborhood school growing up in West Ashley, Middleton High School. What would it take to draw students back to neighborhood schools? I believe two things are needed – high standards for student conduct and a magnet program within the regular school to attract high achieving students. This model has been successful at Haut Gap Middle School on Johns Island and West Ashley Middle School. Haut Gap and West Ashley Middle had been struggling schools. The magnet programs were implemented for high achieving students and the programs became a huge success. CCSD needs to copy these success stories at other neighborhood schools and draw students back. You should not have to buy a $400,000 house to enable your children to attend good neighborhood schools. I hope it is not too late.  There has been no published strategy to improve our neighborhood schools.  We need to elect a school board in November 2018 that is committed to the success of all students.

Robin Steinberger retired after 30 years from Charleston County School District as a high school special education teacher.  She is the education reporter for Lowcountry Source.  Please contact Robin at robin@lowcountrysource.com if you have tips to offer.  Your confidentiality will be maintained.