Charleston County School District officials want community members to know they're listening.
After weeks of gathering feedback and passionate opinions on a laundry list of sweeping changes the district presented last month, Superintendent Gerrita Postlewait addressed the feedback publicly for the first time on Monday.
She broke down the feedback the district has collected so far into six overall observations, which included everything from potential school closures and consolidations to cynicism surrounding the possibility of more partnership schools.
At Monday's Board of Trustees meeting, Postlewait first recognized community members’ opposition to a plan that would combine Minnie Hughes Elementary and E.B. Ellington Elementary at Ellington's campus.
She also mentioned public opposition to a proposal to house multiple middle schools on one campus at the current Mitchell Elementary School — an idea some parents have referred to as a “middle school mall.”
“This middle school mall is a bad idea. I was at the listening session, and everybody there was against it,” said Braxton Williams, who spoke during Monday's meeting. “In fact, everybody there clapped wildly when they were against it. And that means you should not do it because those are your constituents, and your job is to do what they want you to do.”
Under this proposal, Mitchell students would be rezoned to Memminger Elementary and Charleston Progressive Academy. Mitchell’s campus would be renovated and would house students from Buist Academy for Advanced Studies, James Simons Montessori and Charleston Development Academy.
“That does not seem to be an idea that resonates with people that they can imagine working,” Postlewait said, "and we readily accept that this would not work without the right leader.”
Postlewait also said the district needs to understand how changes to schools could create additional ripple effects throughout local communities.
“We heard loudly and clearly that some neighborhoods have very fragile and complex social ecosystems,” she said. “The school holds a very special place in the community, connecting the inter-dependencies of housing, education, family, nonprofit organizations and other support mechanisms. We need to be very, very careful before we disrupt those kinds of connections.”
Other feedback Postlewait identified included concerns about changes to partial magnet schools and the possible creation of more partnership schools.
She also recognized that many supporters of Mitchell Elementary, Buist Academy, Charleston Progressive Academy, Memminger Elementary and Charleston Development Academy “like their schools as they are and oppose change,” but added that some community members have privately offered “thoughtful alternatives” for some of those schools.
Board Chair Eric Mack said all community feedback will be taken into account before any formal decisions are made.
“There's a great possibility some suggestions that were made coming from the community may alter what we already have in place,” Mack said.
Kate Darby, the board’s vice chair, agreed.
“I think what was presented in September, what we actually vote on will be a little bit different than that because of what we've heard in some sessions and these public comments,” she said.
“We do hear them. We are listening,” Darby added.
Postlewait, Darby and Mack all indicated that while the district is considering the feedback, they still plan to make some changes.
"These things are not stuff that we just started talking about a month ago," Darby said. "We have been talking about all the issues that we talked about today for the past four to five years."
As she started her presentation, Postlewait outlined some of the "rationale for change" behind some proposals, citing educational inequities across the district and a looming budget deficit.
"That is a hard fact of life, which causes us to have to make some changes, whether we want to or not," she said.
After all of the listening sessions, Mack said the board will compile the feedback and then “take a deeper dive into some of the ideas presented.”
The district has four more community listening sessions planned for Oct. 15, 16, 22 and 24. More information can be found on the district’s website under the “community” tab.
The board may vote on some proposed changes by mid-December, Mack said, and certain changes might be implemented as early as the next school year.