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Vidonne Colston, a concerned parent advocate, speaks during a school board meeting at the Charleston County School of the Arts Auditorium on Monday, June 24, 2019.

A proposed list of "mission critical" actions that would result in a major overhaul of Charleston County schools has some parents and community members frustrated with potential school consolidation and upset with what they see as the school board’s lack of transparency and communication.

Parents and community members lined up inside the Charleston County School of the Arts auditorium Monday to voice their concerns over some of the proposed school recommendations before the Charleston County School Board.

A District 20 Mission Critical Action Group proposal that recommended a merge of Buist Academy for Advanced Studies and Memminger Elementary School resulted in a wave of public comments.

Some who spoke were worried that it would be detrimental for Memminger students’ self-esteem if they were “thrown to the wolves” into classrooms with the high-performing students at Buist Academy. Others said the merger would lower Buist's academic standards.

“It does not benefit either student group. The needs of Buist students are completely separate than the needs of Memminger students,” said Gina Voorhees, a Buist Academy parent of two. “They’re setting up both student bodies to fail.”

Buist Academy has been widely regarded as a high-performing, rigorous countywide magnet school that uses an intensive application process to select and accept its students.

Voorhees said she was disappointed with decisions already in place that increased the size of Buist’s kindergarten class and lowered the kindergarten admission entry standards from a 75th percentile entrance exam score to a 65th percentile score. According to Voorhees, these decisions were made without the input of local community members.

“You made these decisions behind closed doors and without any vetting,” she said.

Darrin Goss, who co-facilitated the District 20 Mission Critical Action Group recommendations with his wife, Vee, said the merger would not lower the Buist’s academic standards but would provide an opportunity for lower-performing students to succeed.

“If I have a student performing at 65 percent and I could get them to perform at 75, 80, 90 percent, why would I rob them of that opportunity?” Goss said.

“Differentiated learning, where stronger students are sitting around a table with maybe weaker students within the same standard deviation, if you will, only helps those students on both ends,” he said.

A Charleston County parent advocate, Vidonne Colston, said opposition to the merger reflects a larger problem of racial inequity. She said she did not originally plan on speaking at the meeting, but felt prompted to do so after hearing so many comments critical of the merger.

"White parents in this district did not want their kids going to school with a bunch of black kids. Especially poor black kids," Colston said. "They can try to hide behind the language about rigor and percentiles and resources, but we have to start calling this what it is. It's segregation."

One major issue mentioned by many Mission Critical Action Group members was school choice. 

"The idea of school choice, while it creates options for many, it exacerbates an already segregated and inequitable school system," Goss said. 

Other key concerns involved complicated administration systems and hierarchies within the school board and a communication disconnect between parents and school officials. 

"In all my years of experience, I've never felt such a level of distrust from community members," said Anton Gunn, who co-facilitated the mission critical recommendations for District 10.

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Charleston County Superintendent Dr. Gerrita Postlewait packs up her things following a school board meeting at the Charleston County School of the Arts Auditorium on Monday, June 24, 2019.

After hearing a presentation on the mission critical action suggestions, Superintendent Gerrita Postlewait presented 10 potential school board directives that echoed many recommendations made by the Mission Critical Action Group earlier in the day. 

But Postlewait emphasized that all of the directives and recommendations she presented were not formal motions. Instead, they should be treated as potential ideas for reform.

The board will meet in July to examine the recommendations and will select high-priority action areas in August, Postlewait said. 

After six hours of presentations and public comments, the school board voted to initiate some short-term solutions to some of the concerns voiced.

The school board agreed to address school choice issues by October, expand social-emotional student support for the 2019-20 school year and implement a mandatory cultural competence training for all school district personnel by Aug. 20, 2020. 

Another approved motion laid out a three-part goals statement that includes school district performance, growth and readiness gap goals. The specific percentages have not been determined but are scheduled to be by Aug. 26.

The board had previously allocated $5 million to implement some of the proposed changes. 

The Mission Critical Action report provided suggestions four Charleston County school districts: District 20 (Downtown/Peninsula), District 10 (West Ashley), District 9 (John's and Wadmalaw Islands) and District 4 (North Charleston).

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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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