The Tri-County Cradle to Career Collaborative (TCCC) report released earlier this month makes clear that public education here continues to fail in its responsibilities to serve all children equitably.
What is different about this report is that, rather than place blame on school boards and educators, it points to the culpability of civic, business, faith-based and community leaders who remain silent on this failure even when we know it to be true.
As community leaders and members of TCCC’s board, we accept that responsibility — not as a “feel good” endeavor but because, right along with infrastructure, we believe inequity in public education is a threat to the quality of life of our citizens and the economic well-being of our region.
Taking a page from the playbook of the grassroots parent group Charleston RISE, we will educate ourselves on what is driving systems failure and where, along the education continuum, we can intervene.
We believe every school in our region should have an excellent principal leading high-quality teachers who are setting high expectations for every child — no exceptions. We will work with superintendents to make this happen.
We will advocate to change laws and policies that are clearly impeding our progress and contributing to disparities based on race, including Act 388 and the Disturbing Schools Law.
Our philanthropic efforts in support of education will be directed only toward those programs and initiatives that can demonstrate results on a sustained basis.
We recognize the critical importance of what happens to a child early in life as a determinant of future success and will support evidence-based programs that result in kindergarten readiness.
Excellent school district leadership is essential, and we will support those educators who are striving to change the system and highly qualified candidates for all four school boards who support those educators.
Collective impact offers a way for us to work together with districts and colleges so that promising initiatives in one part of the continuum aren’t snuffed out by dysfunction in another.
For example, for Trident United Way’s Reading by Third Project with the four school districts to be successful and eventually unnecessary, a nurse home visiting program for newborns, such as Family Connects (now under consideration for our region), and quality, affordable pre-school are both needed to assure kindergarten readiness.
North Charleston needs a high-quality middle school ready to receive graduates from Meeting Street Elementary @Brentwood and Burns Elementary School, and a middle grades math program is needed to support preparation for algebra across all four districts.
At the high school level, a math course should be required for every student all four years, and all students should be required to complete the FAFSA so that they have access to all available means to enroll and persist in a 2-year or 4-year college.
In other words, systems dysfunction needs to be addressed across the continuum simultaneously with solutions that reinforce each other, if there is to be any prospect of change in the status quo from within.
These efforts need to be accompanied by community-wide efforts on known contributors to the causes of systems failure. These include serious attention to child and family health issues of the sort underway with Roper St. Francis, the Medical University of South Carolina and Trident United Way through the Healthy Tri-County initiative and an equally serious and sustained discussion on race in our region, directed toward action.
This type of collaboration is the essence of TCCC’s work, and it is why we serve on its board. We believe there is still time to accomplish equity and excellence within the existing system if we, as a community, take ownership.
We are not, however, naïve about the prospects for success, and should parents in our region decide that alternative forms of public education now need to be considered, we will give those voices our attention and our support.
Anita Zucker is CEO of InterTech Group and chair of the Tri-County Cradle to Career Collaborative board of directors. This op-ed was approved by unanimous vote of the board.