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A concerned parent advocate, speaks during a school board meeting at the Charleston County School of the Arts Auditorium in June. File/Lauren Petracca /Staff

Many Charleston teachers remain unsatisfied with Charleston County School District leadership, according to a new survey.

The annual Charleston Teacher Alliance leadership survey asked teachers to rank "key district leaders," including school principals, the school board and the superintendent. It received more than 800 responses from teachers throughout the district.

"Effective leadership at the school level is critical if we are to educate our children properly," said Jody Stallings, director of the nonprofit teacher advocacy group. "It is important for the district to address the problems in those schools where ineffective leadership is an obstacle to success."

While some principals were praised, the nine-member Charleston County School Board received an overall rating of 1.27, or "ineffective." It marked the third consecutive year teachers rated the board as ineffective, but this year's ranking was slightly better.

"I don’t feel like we’re an ineffective board," said Kate Darby, vice chair of the board. "I think we’ve made a tremendous amount of progress in a lot of areas, and I think we’re so committed to increasing teacher pay, but I can understand why they might feel that way. And that’s something that we have to work on."

Stallings said teachers believe that there needs to be more constructive communications between teachers and board members, in addition to "more focused attention on issues that impact the classroom, support for teachers in stronger discipline and continued pursuit of fairer teacher compensation."

Superintendent Gerrita Postlewait received a "minimally effective" rating of 2.13, up from last year's ranking of 2.01. 

The survey results come shortly after the Senate Education Committee launched a second wave of reform efforts on Monday. The first wave resulted in a massive education bill that passed in the House but stalled in the Senate last May. 

Stallings said while it's necessary for the Statehouse to pass education reform, especially one that addresses teacher salaries, the responsibility of real education reform still falls mainly on local and district leaders.

"The biggest impact on a teacher’s ability to really do their job is with the people closest to that teacher," he said. "It’s with the parents and the principal of that school. So that’s where the biggest difference is made." 

Teachers who are more satisfied with their principal tend to work in schools that are more successful, he said. 

He said it's essential that local changes go "hand in hand" with what's happening at the Statehouse. He said he hopes the survey results provide insight to state legislators on the struggles teachers face, both inside and outside their classrooms. 

"If all they do is just raise salaries, that’s not going to be enough to keep teachers in the classroom," Stallings said. "Because it might satisfy them for a year or two, but after a couple years if you realize you’re not getting anywhere, you’re not reaching anyone, you’re not doing the job you were assigned to do, the money just won’t be enough."

Stallings is also an English teacher at Moultrie Middle School.

Darby said the school board soon plans to hold town hall meetings for community members to share their input. 

"I mean we’re making some really radical changes, and if we’re gonna do that, we need their input," she said. 

The survey also found that many Charleston teachers considered leaving the classroom last year. While 39 percent said they had considered leaving the profession outright, another 27 percent said they would have considered it had they been financially able to do so.

Common factors cited by teachers who considered leaving the profession included: unrealistic expectations; lack of parental support; poor student discipline; lack of respect for the profession; low salary and benefits; overwork; and large class sizes. 

Stallings said he sees the upcoming year as a golden opportunity for teachers, educational leaders, and elected leaders to address some of these issues. He hopes the momentum behind this year's education reform push continues into the upcoming year.

"I saw a governor who was willing to do something about education. You heard legislators that are willing to do something about education. You saw teachers standing up and saying we need to do something about legislation," he said. "And I don’t know the last time I saw such a desire on everybody to be able to get together and say let’s do something, finally, about this." 

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Jenna Schiferl is a Columbia native and a reporter at The Post and Courier. She has previously worked as an editor at Garnet & Black Magazine.

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