Board should consider needs of all Burns Elementary students

Students receive diplomas for being the first group of fifth graders to graduate from Meeting Street Academy on Wednesday, June 3, 2015. Lauren Prescott/Staff

On Feb. 22, the Charleston County School Board gave tentative approval to a plan to relinquish control of education operations at Burns Elementary School to the good and capable people at Meeting Street Schools.

Meeting Street has demonstrated that it can produce results in an arena that has confounded the Charleston County School District for more years than any of us, inside or outside the district, should tolerate. God bless Meeting Street Schools for stepping up to the plate.

But — and this is the tricky part because I fear some may read this as ingratitude — the announced plan for Burns Elementary School is not a good plan. I have no doubt that Meeting Street can, over time, bring a vastly improved level of education to the children we have long betrayed at Burns. I have no doubt that they can do something we in the school district cannot do. I admire and am grateful to Ben Navarro for his vision and generosity in investing his own money in these children. Thank you!

That said, while Meeting Street Schools is building a new Burns Elementary School one grade a year for the next six years, starting with kindergarten for 4- and 5-year olds, we have no plan for our first through fifth graders beyond moving them to another building.

Let’s be clear. That move has nothing to do with improving education. It is simply intended to facilitate the demolition and construction of a new school building. Once again — still — we betray these children.

I assume that a plan for the education of the first through fifth grade at Burns is on the drawing board. I must assume this is the case because when I asked about the plan all I got in return were blank stares and silence. No other member of the school board echoed my question. They must be relying on blind faith that, surely, we are working on a plan. Will we never learn?

Unfortunately, the likelihood that a new district plan will work is slim at best. My doubt is not a sophisticated concept. It is quite simple: If we knew what to do and how to do it, we would have done it already. I fear that the plan will be fancy words, liberally laced with education jargon, that we have no hope of implementing successfully. The result will be that we will simply “move the scene of the crime” to a new site and continue to betray our children.

What’s the alternative?

Continuing to maintain the status quo is not the alternative. Trying to make the necessary improvements in house is not the alternative.

Asking an outside provider, like Meeting Street Schools, that knows what to do and how to do it to undertake a whole school turnaround is the alternative.

There are providers doing just that in other parts of the country.

Everything I read suggests that this is a more difficult task. But to do otherwise is to knowingly keep our backs turned on the majority of students at Burns Elementary School.

Burns Elementary School is not our only long-term failure. There are more schools of every grade configuration than I care to count that are in similar states of abject failure.

We need a policy and a plan to invite other external providers to operate these schools for us. We need multiple providers to step up to the plate like Meeting Street Schools has done because we, and more importantly our children, do not have time to wait while we make these improvements one at a time. We must address several schools simultaneously and we must do it now.

I call on my fellow board members to muster up the vision and the courage to take this even bolder step.

Or, in the alternative, I call on them to explain to these children, their parents, and the community as a whole just exactly why they want to continue to sell our children and our future down the river.

I voted “No” on the Meeting Street Academy and Burns Elementary partnership.

Michael Miller is a member of the Charleston County School Board.