Middle school plan needs public input
There’s clearly an urgent need for an alternative to Burke’s failing middle school. But there is also need for vital, but time-consuming, public input into what that alternative should be.
It’s hurry up versus slow down; just do it versus hash it out.
The tension is palpable.
The issue is whether to convert Sanders-Clyde Elementary School to a middle school. The district has yet to make such a pitch, but indications are it’s a strong consideration.
Residents haven’t made their pitch either, but certainly some are concerned about what happens to Sanders-Clyde’s elementary students, and others want to be part of any decision affecting their middle-school children.
School board member Todd Garrett wants to improve schools on the peninsula so that residents have viable choices for their children. He notes that many families find ways to send their children out of District 20 because they don’t like their options.
Surely, providing residents with a strong middle school would be an improvement. But Mr. Garrett correctly insists that public input is a must. He says the process needs to slow down, even if it means no new middle school until 2014.
If parents don’t buy into the plan, it is not likely to be any more successful than Burke Middle School has been, and that is not successful at all.
And if the public isn’t given adequate opportunities to address the problem — and be listened to — the district could miss out on some worthy insights.
Charleston County School District Superintendent Nancy McGinley has yet to make a recommendation to the school board, but she has said, “We don’t have any community where the middle school issue is such an urgent issue.”
She would do well to keep in mind the success of the Charleston Charter School for Math & Science. It was visualized by and promoted by the community, despite the district’s discouragement. In part because of the community buy-in, it now has a waiting list that includes students who do not live in District 20 but are willing to make the trip to the school whose campus is the former — and once failing — Rivers Middle School.
Paul Padron, the school district’s executive director of access and opportunity, has led the public engagement process. He says there are more options to consider if the community is willing to wait.
It is painful to think of one more year when numbers of District 20 parents feel compelled to take their middle schoolers out of their community for a satisfactory education. Or one more year when children attend a failing school for lack of alternatives.
But a major change in District 20 must be based on sound information, and that can only come with public input.