Charleston County school leaders promise to leverage local control into improvements at Burke, North Charleston High
COLUMBIA — Charleston County Superintendent of Schools Nancy McGinley doesn’t want the district’s two worst schools to be moved into a proposed statewide district for failing schools.
Burke High and North Charleston High have to get the state Department of Education to sign off on their improvement plans, and Charleston County school leaders will continue managing those efforts.
She vowed Wednesday to improve Burke High and North Charleston High, and she applauded state leaders for allowing local educators to move forward with their plans for improvement.
“It’s not about who’s in control,” she said. “It’s about the quality of the academic program. We’re going to work hard so that by the time this statewide district is established, our schools are not ‘at risk.’?”
Both schools have been identified as “persistently failing” and were among seven to appear Wednesday before the state Board of Education.
State Superintendent of Education Mick Zais had three potential sanctions — assume management of the schools, replace the principals, or continue providing assistance. He recommended the latter for both, and the state board unanimously approved it.
In explaining why he would not instead suggest a state takeover of the troubled schools, Zais said doing so “has been tried and proven to be unsuccessful in its current form.”
He told the board that all the options were too limited. He wanted another alternative — to create a statewide school district for failing schools. It’s a similar concept to what exists in Louisiana and Tennessee, and its sole purpose would be to turn around failing schools, he said.
The state would repurpose existing funds to operate it, and schools would have the kind of flexibility that is available to public charter schools, he said.
State law didn’t permit him to do that Wednesday, but he said “just because it isn’t an option today doesn’t mean it can’t be an option tomorrow.” He said the schools that came before the state board were not “at-risk.”
“These schools are failing, and failing persistently,” he said. “And it’s not the students who are failing in these schools. It’s the adults on the boards, in the districts and in the schools who are failing the children.”
Charleston County school leaders may have to make some changes to their proposed improvement plans. The state wants both schools to begin measuring teacher effectiveness by looking at student achievement, and that information would have to be used to make employment and compensation decisions.
The state also wants the schools to develop measurable goals to complement state-prescribed reform strategies.
The state plans to withhold some funding from the schools until that happens.
McGinley expects those issues to be resolved in “days.” Burke High already plans to use that kind of compensation system, and she wondered whether that would be sufficient for the state.
North Charleston High also has been developing a similar salary proposal for a federal grant proposal, and she questioned whether that would satisfy the state.
“We’re swimming in the same lane and direction as the state on teacher compensation,” she said.
As for the measurable goals, McGinley said both schools already have defined those, and it’s a matter of getting the state’s OK.
McGinley said she planned to propose at the upcoming school board meeting that Burke Principal Maurice Cannon and North Charleston Principal Bob Grimm be given three-year contracts as a sign of the district’s commitment to them and a means of preventing leadership turnover.
Cannon said he plans to tell teachers and students about the school’s appearance before the state board and to let them know the district fought for children.
“We believe in them, and we have to make this happen,” he said. “It gives me a renewed spirit.”
Grimm said he doesn’t think a pay-for-performance compensation will make a difference to teachers’ motivation. Most, if not all, teachers are there because they care about students, and the potential for additional pay won’t affect their classroom instruction, he said.
He said he appreciated the state giving the school the chance to prove it can be better under the district’s watch.
“It’s going to take a while to process (today),” he said.
Reach Diette Courrégé at @Diette on Twitter or 937-5546.