The new South Carolina school report cards show the gulf between Charleston's highest and lowest-achieving schools is widening.
About a quarter of the Charleston County School District's schools were rated Excellent, making up nearly 9 percent of the state’s Excellent-rated schools.
The figure is about the same number that earned this rating for the academic year ending in 2019 before the COVID-19 pandemic hit.
But the number of schools rated Below Average or Unsatisfactory increased.
The report cards are the latest sign that the starkly segregated district that’s historically failed to educate students equally has work to do.
“We're not going to argue with the data that's presented,” said Deputy Superintendent Anita Huggins. “But we know that we don't want to be judged on any one given day.”
Data has consistently shown that Black and Brown students fall behind their White peers in the county.
The district made up 15 percent of the state’s Unsatisfactory schools — the highest percentage of any school district with 25 schools or more. With a couple of exceptions, most of the 11 Charleston “low-achieving” schools also have the district’s highest poverty rates and highest populations of Black and Brown students.
It's also a jump from 2019, when just three CCSD schools were marked Unsatisfactory, only making up about 5 percent of the state's total of Unsatisfactory schools three years ago.
On the other end of the spectrum, 43 percent of CCSD schools earned one of the top two ratings.
District spokeswoman Sully Witte said CCSD is proud of its progress. In the top three categories, CCSD grew by 7 percent. (The district includes “average” in its top ranking.) She added that two of the 11 schools ranked Unsatisfactory in CCSD are not governed by the district — Greg Mathis Charter High School and Meeting Street Academy — Burns.
Michelle Simmons, CCSD’s interim chief academic officer, said the report card system is just one indicator of school quality. The district pays attention to other metrics, including student attendance rates and discipline rates. CCSD is also still experiencing the pandemic's long-term effects and is undergoing leadership changes.
Simmons theorized both of these could have factored into the growth of low-performing schools.
Donald Kennedy became superintendent of the district in January and has since shuffled CCSD administration in the name of restructuring. Huggins, Simmons and Dixon were all promoted under his tenure. Principals have been moved around the district, and teacher shortages continue across South Carolina.
“It takes a minute to stabilize your programming,” Simmons said.
To make changes in the district’s lowest-performing schools there are district instructional coaches working overtime and the district is piloting a strong ELA curriculum. It's also testing out other initiatives like Language Essentials for Teachers of Reading and Spelling (LETRS) aimed at giving teachers all the resources they need.
Huggins stressed the district has additionally expanded its social and emotional supports and wraparound services, especially after the pandemic has increased mental health needs.
“We want to figure out how we can support our schools that are rated Unsatisfactory or Needs Improvement,” she said. “And we want to be able to celebrate that there are good things going on in those schools and acknowledge that everybody is working so hard to try to meet kids where they are, particularly after COVID.”
The report cards make it clear that some schools are doing better than others, Simmons said, but the onus is on CCSD officials to give students and teachers what they need to achieve.
Sara Gregory contributed to this report.