State Superintendent of Education Mick Zais hasn’t decided what he’ll recommend this summer for two of the state’s academically weakest schools, but he spent Monday in the Lowcountry learning more about Burke High and North Charleston High.
Both schools are among seven that will appear before the state Board of Education because of their persistent low performance and failure to succeed under the state accountability system. The board could continue helping the schools, remove the principals or take control of them.
Zais said Monday after visiting both schools that School Superintendent Nancy McGinley seems to be devoting the necessary attention to the district’s persistently failing schools. She seems to be trying to put the best teachers with those schools to make them better, he said.
“It’s a challenge statewide to get the best principals and teachers in schools with the greatest need,” he said.
Zais and a couple of his staff members spent about an hour at each school, as well as Stall High.
At North Charleston High, he spent the majority of his time talking with McGinley and Bob Grimm, the school’s principal, but he also took time to walk the school’s halls and check out students’ work posted on the walls.
Zais asked Grimm what he has been doing during his first year as principal. McGinley hired Grimm last summer, and the community criticized his lack of qualifications and experience. The school is the worst academically in the state in comparison with other schools with similar poverty levels.
His answer and their conversation revolved mostly around teacher quality. Grimm said that had been a priority, and he already has recommended that a number of teachers not be rehired next year.
Zais asked about the difficulty in removing weak instructors, and Grimm said that’s the No. 1 hurdle he’ll face this year. The Charleston County School Board has the ability to overrule his and the superintendent’s decision to fire poor teachers.
Zais said that would be fatal. Accountability and authority go hand-in-hand, and school leaders need the appropriate authority so they can be held accountable for their actions, he said.
“We expect principals and superintendent to be accountable, and they can’t decide which teachers are hired and fired?” Zais said. “It’s a disconnect in the system.”
McGinley said one of the reasons she hired Grimm was because of his ability to evaluate teachers’ performance, provide support and improvement plans, and recommend termination. Grimm had observed every teacher’s classroom by the end of the first nine weeks of school, she said.
“The beginning of change is very, very evident,” she said. “We picked the right person.”
They discussed the need for extended learning time for low-performing students, and McGinley described her proposal to delay giving students state-required tests until later in the year if they continued school in the summer months.
Zais supported the idea and asked McGinley to write him a letter directly with that request and her reasons. He said he would handle “the bureaucrats.”
Reach Diette Courrégé at @Diette on Twitter or 937-5546.