More than 100 North Charleston parents, residents and officials attended a community listening session hosted by the Charleston County School District Monday night.
The event was the second of eight planned community listening sessions that started last week.
The meetings, broken down by constituent districts, are meant to provide a chance for people to voice their opinions on proposed school changes unveiled last month.
No formal vote has been taken on any of these proposed changes, except for the district's decision to accept applications from third parties for potential partnerships, which was approved in June.
Despite the large turnout for Monday's North Charleston-Constituent District 4 session, only five individuals spoke publicly.
Kate Darby, the Charleston County School Board’s vice chair, took that as an encouraging sign.
“It could just be that people didn’t know about it," she said, "but I take it as I think these are good recommendations for D4. I think they’re positive.”
"I’m sure that we’re going to make adjustments based on what we hear from people, but I want to make sure people know our intent is to make our schools better," Darby added.
The district's handling of North Charleston concerns has stirred great passion in recent months. Earlier this year, some community members shut down a school board meeting early in protest.
Board member Chris Collins said he thought more people didn’t speak at Monday's meeting because they either weren’t aware it was happening or didn’t fully understand the proposals.
“I don’t think they did a good job of getting the word to the community,” he said. “To me, they’re really not aware.”
Andy Pruitt, a district spokesman, said the district took multiple steps to get the word out, including emails and phone calls to parents and staff. The district also alerted constituent board members and the Charleston County legislative delegation office, and it sent media advisories to local outlets.
Of those who spoke at Monday’s meeting, some raised questions about the district’s plan to create an early learning-family engagement center at Mary Ford Elementary. Under the proposal, Mary Ford students would be rezoned to Meeting Street Elementary @Burns and Chicora Elementary.
Others mentioned the district’s solicitation for more partnership schools.
Sydney van Bulck, a teacher at Goodwin Elementary School, said she wanted the district to be more transparent about the partnership school process. She felt out of the loop when the district opened Meeting Street Elementary @Brentwood in 2014.
“A lot of it kind of seemed to be done behind closed doors,” she said. “Moving forward, if we're going to create more partnerships schools, just be more open with us about the process. It was frustrating as a school that was not necessarily a part of it, but was deeply affected by it.”
Elvin Speights, a North Charleston activist and parent, raised questions about partnership schools and what they mean for the community, "and what it means for the kids."
On Sept. 16, Superintendent Gerrita Postlewait identified 13 potential partnership schools that would be given top priority, many of which have been named by the S.C. Department of Education as needing comprehensive support and intervention.
Eight of the schools Postlewait identified are in North Charleston: Chicora Elementary, Mary Ford Elementary, Hunley Park Elementary, Pepperhill Elementary, Pinehurst Elementary, North Charleston Elementary, Morningside Middle and North Charleston High.
At Monday's meeting, Postlewait said the district received eight partnership applications, five of which were from local educators or local nonprofits.
Another North Charleston proposal involved building a new 1,200-student school for Lambs Elementary, Goodwin Elementary and Hunley Park Elementary students. The change would free up one of their current campuses for a second early childhood center.
A new, larger Ladson Elementary also would be created, and its current campus would become North Charleston's third early childhood center.
One proposal suggested creating a new middle school for Morningside students.
The district will continue to host community listening sessions over the next month. More information about the sessions can be found on the district's website under the community tab.