Charleston County School District's superintendent said the "soft bigotry of racism" allowed now-defunct Lincoln Middle-School in rural McClellanville to operate with lower academic standards than Wando High School in Mount Pleasant, where the majority of former Lincoln students are now struggling to maintain the grades they achieved before they were forced to transfer schools.
A district report published in December suggested many former Lincoln students arrived at Wando in the fall under-prepared for their new school’s rigor and expectations based on their academic performance during the first nine weeks of school.
The district's latest analysis of these students' performance, based on a semester's worth of data and presented to the school board Monday during a Committee of the Whole meeting, shows they have since made very little progress toward improving their grades.
Faced with these results, board member Chris Collins, who had opposed closing Lincoln, turned to Superintendent Gerrita Postlewait at Monday's meeting and pointedly asked whether she still believed the district "did the right thing" by closing the historic McClellanville school and sending those displaced students to Wando.
"I absolutely believe we did the right thing," Postlewait replied, "because at Lincoln High School, they were getting better grades but when it came time for the high stakes tests that determine whether you get to go to college, go to Trident Tech, get a job, we were letting those kids down."
The district's challenge, she added, is to ensure students at St. James-Santee Elementary, Lincoln's former feeder school, are prepared for their transition to Wando.
"Because we had two sets of standards," she said, "and it is, as others have said, the soft bigotry of racism that we allow two different standards to exist."
Before its closure last spring, Lincoln housed fewer than 160 students, nearly all of them black and roughly 90 percent in poverty while Wando drew more than 4,000 students, most of them white and from some of the most affluent parts of the county.
Lincoln's persistent problems, Postlewait said, reflect a nationwide achievement gap between students at high-poverty schools and their peers at schools with more socioeconomic diversity.
“Without meaning to, no one knows that the expectations that we hold for children in some ZIP codes are very different than the expectations that we hold for children in other ZIP codes and kids don’t know that,” she said.
But resource allocation, recruitment policies and classroom standards vary from school to school, Postlewait said, resulting in “huge disparities in what kids can do.”
“I know this first year is really difficult for everybody,” she said. “But it does show that we had two different expectations that we accepted as OK.”
As of the end of the first semester, according to the district's new report, 40 of the 65 students who transferred from Lincoln to Wando, or 60 percent, have been unable to maintain or raise their grade point average from the previous school year. Only 16 students have a C+ average or higher, 14 students have a failing average and slightly more than half of the former Lincoln students, 32 of them, have a D, C or C- average in their core classes. One Lincoln transfer student qualified and enrolled in dual-credit courses.
Overall, former Lincoln students at Wando passed 56 percent of their courses first semester. Twenty of them failed at least one core course while 10 failed two or more. Seven students failed an English course; 12 failed a math course; four failed a science course; and six failed a social studies course. Of the 12 total students who took the state's End-of-Course subject exams in U.S. History and English 1, none passed.
To date, former Lincoln students have been involved in 109 disciplinary incidents at Wando, according to the latest report. Nearly half of these incidents involved cutting classes or other school activities. Pamela Jubar, Lincoln's previous principal and now an associate principal at Wando, said ninth graders received the majority of disciplinary referrals.
Michael Miller, one of the three board members who opposed closing Lincoln last spring, stepped out of the meeting as Jubar flipped through her PowerPoint slides on the former Lincoln students' performance. He later admitted he was so angry, he could not bear to listen to her presentation.
"The system failed the students. We have not prepared them to do work at a high school level," Miller said. "The sad thing is, the spotlight wasn't as bright until those students transferred to another school."