Charleston Promise Neighborhood creates four school-based health clinics in effort to improve education
Third-grader Jasmine Dingle hadn’t been her usually lively self.
She’d vomited, slept through her classes and winced when her right ear was checked.
School nurse Stephanie Merrell thought those symptoms added up to an ear infection, but nurses can’t diagnose patients or prescribe medicine. In most schools, a student such as Dingle would have had to leave to see a doctor, which can be a hassle for working parents.
Sanders-Clyde Creative Arts School is different: It has an on-site health clinic where a doctor visits once a week. Dr. William Randazzo examined Dingle at school, diagnosed her ear infection and wrote a prescription.
“Kids spend most of their time here (at school),” Randazzo said. “If we don’t come see them, they usually don’t come see us.”
Sanders-Clyde is one of four high-poverty Charleston County schools that has a health clinic this year because of the nonprofit Charleston Promise Neighborhood. Its goal is to make those four schools — Chicora School of Communications, Mary Ford Elementary, James Simons Elementary and Sanders-Clyde — and the surrounding neighborhoods indistinguishable from the rest of the county within a generation.
The 3-year-old group has a $1.4 million budget that is funded with public and private money. Although some Charleston County School Board members voted against the investment, the nonprofit will receive $450,000 during the next three years from the school district. Three other government bodies — Charleston and North Charleston city councils and Charleston County Council — also are on board with promises of continued support for its efforts. The school-based clinics are just one of the ways they’re trying to accomplish the group’s goals.
Charleston Promise Neighborhood is modeled on the Harlem Children’s Zone in New York City. Both groups say the whole child, from his or her physical health to emotional well-being, needs to be addressed for learning to take place.
In CPN schools’ health clinics, Randazzo volunteers eight hours each week. The nonprofit helps pay the salary for Merrell, who supports Randazzo. It also covers the clinic’s equipment and supplies, such as eyeglasses and asthma inhalers.
The clinics have seen a 63 percent increase in the number of student visits this year, and most cases involve chronic issues such as ADHD or asthma.
The clinics don’t solve all of students’ health problems. Parents still have to fill their prescriptions and give them medicine, which officials said sometimes doesn’t happen.
And many parents haven’t agreed to have their children treated at the clinics. Fewer than half of the 1,700 students’ parents in the Promise Neighborhood schools have given their OK, but officials expect those numbers to grow as they gain families’ trust.
Merrell held a 2-year-old boy who was part of the school’s Early Head Start program as Randazzo took his temperature and looked in his ears and throat. “They’re perfect,” Randazzo said with a smile.
“You don’t even know how many (children) we want to take home,” she said, and she gave the boy a kiss.
Charleston Promise Neighborhood has invested its funding into a handful of areas, such as creating college-bound cultures in schools, Teach for America and training for teachers. The biggest chunk of its budget, nearly 40 percent, has gone to an incentive pay program for teachers, Achieving Classroom Excellence.
The nonprofit rewards teachers with bonuses ranging from $200 to $3,000 based on a combination of factors: their students’ growth, the school’s growth, classroom observations and self-assessments. Teachers also receive extra training to help them improve.
“We want to reward and incentivize excellence in education,” said Sherrie Snipes-Williams, chief executive officer for the nonprofit.
The money is a nice reward and encourages teachers to work harder, said Sanders-Clyde Assistant Principal Stacey Williams.
But it’s been frustrating for some teachers who didn’t get as much of a bonus as they thought they deserved, she said. Some have had a tough time with the classroom observations, particularly when those happen and students are acting out, she said.
The Promise Neighborhood hopes to eventually serve students in the area’s middle and high schools, as well as nearby residents. It will have to overcome a number of challenges to make that happen.
For example, Randazzo is a volunteer in the health clinics, which isn’t a sustainable arrangement. The nonprofit plans to hire a nurse practitioner for next school year, and officials are working through state and federal hurdles to give the clinics a revenue stream, such as Medicaid reimbursements for patient care.
“It would be run as a traditional medical office with billing, insurance and quality control,” Snipes-Williams said.
The nonprofit’s focus is on education. Last year was the first that the nonprofit provided services to its schools, and some of its schools’ state report card ratings showed improvement.
“They are working with our toughest schools, and they are working very well,” said schools Superintendent Nancy McGinley. “We can’t say (the improvement) is all Charleston Promise Neighborhood because it’s many things. But without (them), we would not be seeing the progress that we’re seeing.”
Reach Diette Courrégé Casey at @Diette on Twitter or 937-5546.