Nine high-poverty schools in Charleston County ranked among the worst-performing in South Carolina on new education report cards this year, placing them on a list for state intervention.
The nine schools have a few things in common. All of the schools serve predominantly African-American student populations, and all but one are located in North Charleston.
Unlike neighboring Berkeley and Dorchester counties, which had no schools appear on the intervention list, Charleston County continues to be a place of stark contrasts, with nationally renowned magnet schools separated by a few miles from schools where fewer than 10 percent of students are reading on grade level.
Chicora Elementary, Edmund A. Burns Elementary, Greg Mathis Charter High, Mary Ford Elementary, Morningside Middle, North Charleston Elementary, North Charleston High, R.B. Stall High and St. John's High were all identified Monday as Comprehensive Support and Intervention schools by the S.C. Department of Education.
"We as a school district and a community have to be concerned, but at the same time, we welcome the state’s extra resources and assistance as we continuously work to improve these schools’ academic performance," Charleston County School District Superintendent Gerrita Postlewait said Tuesday.
"We are well aware of the challenges these schools face, and we welcome the state or any other agency or group that will roll up their sleeves and assist us with this difficult but worthy task," she added.
The state will provide a transformation coach and conduct a needs assessment at each of the schools. The schools will be eligible for additional state and federal funding to be used for improvement, as provided under the federal Every Student Succeeds Act, the Obama-era successor to the long-running No Child Left Behind Act.
The state Legislature has allocated $23 million in the first fiscal year to hire 50 transformation coaches and provide technical assistance funds to the bottom 10 percent of schools.
Each school will receive combined state and federal improvement funding ranging from $150,000 to $280,000 depending on the size of the school, according to Education Department spokesman Ryan Brown. The money is to be spent on "evidence-based interventions, practices, and strategies," he said in an email.
Dot Scott, president of the Charleston Branch NAACP, said she was not surprised by the fact that schools with high-minority populations were rated among the worst-performing in the state. But she said the repeated failure of those schools called into question the state's basic commitment to educating all children.
"It’s like when we had to do separate but equal: ‘OK, we’re not going to integrate the schools; we’re going to give you guys your own school.’ But they weren’t equal then, and they’re still not equal now," Scott said.
School segregation is not unique to Charleston County. Across the state, one in eight public schools is intensely segregated, with 90 percent or more minority students. A recent Post and Courier investigation found that the state's legacy of segregation continues thanks in part to an outdated and unequal school funding formula, aggressive school choice programs, and private "segregation academies" that cropped up during the era of integration and remain open today.
In a support document outlining the state's improvement plan for the Comprehensive Support and Intervention schools, Education Department officials framed the matter of high-quality education as "not just a state economic issue" but "a personal and moral issue."
"We acknowledge that we have schools, and sometimes entire districts, in South Carolina that are not successful in providing the education students need to perform at high levels required to graduate from high school college or career ready. The challenges in these districts are great, but research and experience have shown that school turnaround is possible," the document states.
Schools can end up on the intervention list one of two ways: Either if they rank among the bottom 5 percent of Title I schools, which have high rates of student poverty, or if they are high schools and post a graduation rate below 70 percent.
The new list of high-need schools is part of the state's new federally mandated accountability system, which attempts to take student performance and growth into account. Schools' overall ratings, on a scale of 100, also include data based on surveys of teachers, parents and students, which were called into question after serious technical difficulties postponed the release of the new state report cards by weeks. School district officials from across the tri-county area raised questions about the new report cards' validity on the day they were released.
The state will identify a new list of Comprehensive Support and Intervention schools every three years.