When interviewing prospective teachers to work at Meeting Street Elementary @Brentwood, a high-poverty North Charleston school run by a public-private partnership, Principal Sarah Campbell asks job-seekers two key questions:
“Do you think that all kids can learn?”
“Do you think that all families care?”
The school sifted through 2,000 applicants for 30 open positions in the fall of this year, and, according to Campbell, the No. 1 reason why teachers didn’t make it past the interview was that they hedged or said no to one of those questions.
“You’d think that those would be pretty simple questions,” Campbell said. “If you’re in education, you should assume that all kids can learn. But there’s a lot of implicit bias in teachers that we’ve found (toward) kids in poverty, kids of color.”
Charleston County school principals and district staff gathered at the district office Monday to hear what was working for Meeting Street Schools, a private group that places two teachers to a classroom and offers an extended school day that lasts until 5:30 p.m. With one private-public school partnership underway at Brentwood and another beginning in the fall with kindergarten students from North Charleston’s struggling Burns Elementary, the district is looking to emulate Meeting Street’s success at traditional neighborhood schools across the county.
At Brentwood, Meeting Street Schools set some ambitious goals for its students, including a goal that 75 percent of students will graduate with Measures of Academic Progress (MAP) test scores in the 75th percentile or higher. This spring, with the school serving only pre-kindergarten through second grade students, 67 percent met their growth goals in reading and 73 percent met their growth goals in math.
Brentwood’s high standards start with behavior. Campbell said teachers instruct students in how to walk in the halls, how to act in the cafeteria and even how to sharpen a pencil.
“They get four lessons on the playground before they’re allowed to touch any equipment,” Campbell said.
Meeting Street Elementary @Brentwood also offers what Campbell calls “wraparound services,” including a full-time speech therapist and a behavior interventionist. To maintain a racially diverse teaching staff, Meeting Street recruits teachers at historically black colleges and universities.
Part of the Meeting Street strategy also has to do with money. At Brentwood, Meeting Street Schools currently pitches in about $4,000 per student on top of the district’s $9,900 in per-pupil funding. The district’s partnership with Meeting Street Schools will reach a “sunset” after Burns and Brentwood have both expanded to the fifth grade, at which point the district will have to figure out how to fund the programs itself.
Superintendent Gerrita Postlewait said the district doesn’t want to “create 50 Meeting Street schools,” but rather to apply the lessons learned there to other schools.
Founder and CEO of Meeting Street Schools Ben Navarro also addressed some concerns raised by education activists, who have been unsuccessfully filing Freedom of Information Act requests with the district to see all of the funding sources at Brentwood. They have also objected to the school’s special waivers from South Carolina’s teacher employment protection laws. He said his school had more oversight than most others, as Postlewait sits on Brentwood’s executive committee.
“What is the agenda of people doing the attacking? Is it about adults?” Navarro said.
Reach Paul Bowers at 843-937-5546 or twitter.com/paul_bowers.