Academic Magnet students want more diverse school, urge board to take action

Calls for a change in the admissions process at Academic Magnet High School continued Monday, with students urging the Charleston County School Board to tackle diversity issues at their school.

“Is the system that has produced an overwhelmingly white, upper-middle-class school in place of an equal opportunity magnet school for all Charleston County students fair?” asked Academic Magnet student Natalie Davidson.

The Academic Magnet junior urged the School Board to consider changing the school’s admissions policy to include a lottery system for students who qualify to attend. The school currently admits students based on a 15-point rubric that weighs factors such as grades and standardized test scores.

Davidson said that although the school’s admissions process is “in a vacuum unbiased,” it has produced a “homogeneous” student body that is only 2 percent black in a school district that is 42 percent black.

“A lottery system would increase diversity in a fair way,” Davidson said.

Charlisa Pugh, whose son is one of only 16 black students enrolled at Academic Magnet, also urged the school board to consider implementing a lottery, saying it would provide an “immediate, fair and equitable opportunity to all qualified applicants.”

“I cannot believe, I refuse to believe that our district would say that we have fewer prepared and qualified students of color ... than we had just five or even 10 years ago when Academic Magnet was more representative of the diversity in our district,” Pugh said.

Pugh’s son, William Pugh, told the board that increasing diversity at his school and throughout the school district would better prepare students for life in the workforce. William Pugh, who recently cofounded a districtwide student organization called Students Advocating for Multicultural Education, said his group believes “diversity should not be sacrificed in order to have a successful or high-performing school.”

But Dr. Darlene Rawls, chairwoman of Academic Magnet’s School Improvement Council, asked the board to consider creating a second academic magnet school in downtown Charleston, which Rawls said may address transportation issues that prevent some students from attending Academic Magnet’s campus in North Charleston.

The admissions process for Academic Magnet was not on the School Board’s agenda Monday and the group did not discuss the matter.

The School Board did vote on Monday to hire the South Carolina School Boards Association to conduct a search to replace former Superintendent Nancy McGinley, who resigned last year. The organization will help the School Board identify qualified candidates and engage the community in the selection process.

School Board Chairwoman Cindy Bohn Coats said in an interview that an exact cost for the board’s contract with the association is still pending until the contract is final.