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Commentary: Charleston County School Board wants to silence dissenting voices

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The Charleston County School Board held a special meeting at the Charleston County School of the Arts Auditorium in June. File/Lauren Petracca /Staff

Charleston County School Board Chairman Eric Mack sent letters to me and the seven other school board members in July that stated, “Rogue statements and unofficial community meetings not hosted by the district are counterproductive to what we’re trying to accomplish.”

Does that apply to a June 2018 meeting when Mack and former Chairwoman Kate Darby pushed for the purchase of $4,000 steel classroom doors with no school board input? I can remember last year when Darby and board member Cindy Coats held a town hall meeting at Mount Pleasant Waterworks.

One of our stated school board goals reads, “CCSD students will achieve at or above grade-level readiness expectation in reading and math.” The most recently published SC Ready test scores show less than half of the school district’s students in grades three through eight met or exceeded state standards in those subject areas.

At Chicora Elementary in North Charleston, only 1.2% of fifth-graders met the state math standards. Another North Charleston elementary school, Mary Ford, had only 2.6% of fourth-graders meet state standards in reading and math. District-wide, only 11.5% of our African-American students are meeting the state math standards.

In general, for students who attend schools outside of East Cooper or magnet schools in our school district, most are not performing at grade level. As a school board member, I want to know what the school district’s strategy is for improving student achievement in our high-poverty, mostly minority schools. We never even discuss strategy at our school board meetings.

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When I try to have a discussion on what strategy the district will put in place to improve student performance, it gets blocked from the agenda. A rule imposed by Darby requires three board members to sign off on an agenda item for a committee meeting and four members for a regular board meeting. With a rubber stamp school board, installed through hundreds of thousands of dollars of advertising paid for by the moneyed interests in Charleston, my voice and the voices of North Charleston parents and students I was elected to represent are drowned out.

Our rubber stamp school board has a governance problem. There is no oversight on either policy or school district spending. When I chaired the Charleston County Park & Recreation Commission, my fellow board members and I held the executive director accountable. We expected a steady flow of information on performance measures, revenue, expenditures and promotions for each of our parks, and we received it.

On our school board, the superintendent dictates policy and makes large expenditures without school board approval. Numerous staff positions have been created by the superintendent using the designation of “interim” without discussing the position with the board. Most of these new employees receive more than $100,000 a year. The district would have been better served hiring two reading specialists for the same amount. Millions of dollars are spent on consulting fees. The needs of under-performing students in high poverty schools never seem to take priority.

Until our school board becomes more inclusive and honestly deals with the plight of the district’s low-performing minority students, I will continue to hold public forums in Charleston County and encourage community members to propose solutions. All we get at school board meetings is happy talk. The public deserves to hear about bold strategies to educate all of our children and prepare them for success in life. Nobody will take away my First Amendment rights of freedom of speech and peaceable assembly.

Kevin D. Hollinshead Sr. is a member of the Charleston County School Board.

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