Downtown Charleston parents to host meeting on Burke High’s future

Downtown Charleston parents are organizing a meeting to give families with children a chance to voice their ideas for how to improve Burke High School.

Amid new talk of how to reinvigorate Burke High School, a group of downtown Charleston parents is organizing a community meeting Tuesday to give families with children a chance to discuss school needs.

Diana Yarborough, who is among the parents leading the effort, said the group decided to host a forum after feeling like the majority of people weighing in on the future of Burke either weren’t downtown residents or didn’t have school-age children.

Yarborough, who serves on the constituent school board for downtown Charleston, said the group wants to give parents a voice to “say what they want in a high school because that’s who is going to be making the decision to send their children there or not.”

As a downtown resident and mother of five children, Yarborough said she feels there’s a “lack of confidence” among parents in the academic rigor at Burke, causing them to look at other options. Yarborough’s oldest child will attend Academic Magnet High School in North Charleston in the fall.

“High school is a very important four years and so people don’t feel like they can take a chance on that,” Yarborough said.

There’s been new talk about Burke’s future by Charleston County school officials in recent months, who have said they are weighing ideas about how to use the addition of the technology program Lowcountry Tech Academy at the school as a launching point for change. Some in the community also have suggested converting Burke to a charter school.

Burke has struggled academically for years as enrollment has declined. The school has fluctuated from being rated at-risk to average in the last five years on its state report card. It is currently rated below average.

Many downtown parents, Yarborough said, feel discouraged that school officials have failed to take meaningful action.

“There’s definitely a frustration that this has been going on for a long time,” she said.

Elena Tuerk, who is working with Yarborough to help organize parents, said that as a mother of two young children she’s bothered by the fact that many downtown parents have had to be “lucky enough” to get their children into what they feel are high-quality high schools either through a lottery, meeting admissions criteria or being granted a transfer to another school.

“This is not fair for the children who leave their community school or for the children who remain,” Tuerk said.

“I, and many other parents with young children, expect a high-performing school environment and opportunities for all students in our community to be successful.”

The goal of the meeting, said Tuerk, is to give parents a collective voice about the issues affecting success at Burke and ideas for solutions.

“We know that in order to be credible and effective, we need to be organized as we advocate for our children’s educational needs,” she said.