District needs expert advice on diversity

Numerous speakers -- and a few people holding signs -- made their feelilngs known about wanting former superintendent Nancy McGinley back leading Charleston County Schools during a December school board meeting. (Wade Spees/File)

I was disappointed to hear that the Charleston County School Board's Audit and Finance Committee recommended not extending an Atlanta firm's contract to create a diversity plan for the district, but I wasn't surprised.

The same committee made the financially and socially irresponsible recommendation to move the Lowcountry Tech Academy away from the Rivers Campus that the school now shares with the Charleston Charter School for Math and Science.

The Post and Courier's story on the contract decision included board member Todd Garrett's suggestion that the Charleston Area Justice Ministry develop the diversity plan and a citizen representative on the committee's suggestion that community committees look into ways to increase diversity.

The committee's decision and those suggestions show why the present contract should be extended.

I would suggest that the members of the Audit and Finance Committee enroll in the next Lowcountry class of the Riley Diversity Leaders Initiative. As a member of the first Lowcountry class, along with elected officials, lawyers, clergy, business people, community organization leaders and law enforcement leadership, I found the class training to be enormously beneficial and useful. We all had an interest in diversity, and the DLI staff from Furman University were great, with the classes being led by Juan Johnson, who owns another Atlanta-based diversity consulting firm.

Mr. Johnson was key to our success, because he came as an outside observer who made us think, challenged us to broaden our perspectives and led us in positive directions we would not have gone on our own. That was important, because it forced us to consider the views of others and not assume that our personal views of our community were the only right views.

The school district diversity program should be developed by a consultant who isn't tied to Charleston - someone who can broaden the view of our very real diversity problem and can bring a frank and impartial perspective that would challenge the district to try new things and go in new directions. Trying to do it through a local organization with a different purpose or by local committees - with some members who don't have a clue about diversity - is a road map to the continued creation of public schools such as Academic Magnet High, which has an enrollment of more than 600 students with fewer than 20 African American students.

The district needs a diversity plan, not just a process of illusion that preserves the status of exclusion by race in our public schools.

Perhaps if the contract for the diversity plan is extended, school board members might even participate, reflect and realize that they fired one of our best superintendents, with a real desire for diversity, when they accepted the "resignation" of Dr. Nancy McGinley and imposed a legally drawn "gag order" to prevent her discussing whether she really resigned or was given an ultimatum to quit or else.

Since one element in promoting diversity is honest disclosure, board Chair Cindy Bohn Coats could tell us what really happened with Dr. McGinley's "resignation." Many of us in the public would like to know.

When elected officials expect (and demand) transparency and honestly from others, as has been the case with the chair, she and the entire board should walk the talk.

The taxpayers of Charleston County deserve no less.

Our school board now has new members, and I urge them to go against the Audit and Finance Committee's recommendation, not let the "tail wag the dog" and extend the present diversity plan development contract. That would help to restore community trust and show that you won't play the ugly, partisan, petty games played by some on the old school board.

I also urge the new school board to give strong consideration to opening dialogue with Dr. McGinley that might lead to her return, so that she can continue her excellent work.

That would eliminate the community's fear that the next superintendent might not be a professional educator, but an obedient tool for those who stand in the way of educational equity and excellence in all schools.

While you, the new school board members, did not make the mess, the good news is you can surely help to clean it up.

Dot Scott is president of the Charleston Branch NAACP.