BY THOMAS F. HARTNETT
I read with a great deal of interest the guest column by Jon Butzon in the July 7 Post and Courier and the editorial four days later.
The column addressed, in the opinion of the author, the reasons for the failure of North Charleston High and Burke High School. He placed the blame squarely on the shoulders of the Charleston County School Board and the teachers.
I suppose the buck has to stop somewhere, and perhaps it rightfully stops on the desks of the superintendent and the board. However, I believe that the blame really lies elsewhere. The board and the superintendent have made herculean efforts to correct the miserable showing of both of these institutions, but they cannot do it alone.
Mr. Butzon opines, “These schools have already failed, over and over again. They have failed to meet the minimum standards for student achievement. Most seriously they have failed in their responsibility to the children whose education has been entrusted to them.”
I disagree completely with that position. It is not the superintendent or the board who has failed in their responsibilities to the children whose education has been entrusted to them. It is society, and particularly the parents of these children, whose complete well-being has been entrusted to them, who have failed.
Society has accepted the irresponsibility of adults, passing it off as a socio-economic condition which is the fault of the government or some other unnamed person or entity. And parents of these children, particularly fathers, have taken little, if any, interest in their well-being and education.
If, indeed, it takes a village to raise a child, then most certainly parents, both mothers and fathers, have to be the major part of that village.
The superintendent has stated, “These schools aren’t dropout factories. They are dream-making opportunity centers.”
I submit that they are indeed dropout factories, the fact of which is supported by the 65 percent of students who were supposed to graduate this year from North Charleston but didn’t. However, they could be dream-making opportunity centers. The key words here are “opportunity centers.” Every student in these schools has been given the opportunity to dream but they must be encouraged to strive toward those dreams by family, parents, neighbors and friends.
As Mr. Butzon states in his column, the district’s best efforts and hard work simply aren’t enough. He goes on in his column to say that the challenges of producing a high-level education for the students of these two schools are enormous. The enormity of the challenge is no excuse for not meeting the challenge. He is correct.
However, no more or less effort is being made at other schools throughout the district that is being made at these two institutions.
We should be grateful for men and women who are willing to serve on school boards, enter the teaching profession, work with our young people and continue on in their effort under often difficult non-disciplinary conditions. We should be grateful for teachers who must endure sometime physical and often verbal abuse from disruptive students. for teachers who are rewarded with inadequate pay, and are blamed for students who fail to meet minimum standards of achievement.
It is time that we admit that school district consolidation has failed. It is time to return to the smaller districts that existed before consolidation in 1968. The idea of consolidation seemed to be a good one at the time. We had an existing tax base that was terribly inequitable. Some of the districts were receiving significantly more dollars per pupil than others and consequently were able to pay teachers more and to purchase the latest and most up-to-date teaching aids.
Equitable distribution of tax dollars to the schools has been accomplished through consolidation, but as far as delivering a better education to our children, it has failed miserably. School board members are elected countywide and know very few, if any, of their constituents.
Parents never attend school board meetings because for most the meetings are a far distance from their homes and generally in the evenings. It is hard to identify with the people who are making decisions for their children when these people are never seen or spoken to.
In its wisdom and because of political pressure, the Legislative Delegation which created the Consolidated School Board left in place the then existing eight districts. These districts were left in place to perform some remaining duties such as hiring principals and in some cases even teachers. But as time has passed the consolidated district has usurped the responsibilities of the constituent districts.
Given the various economic, geographic and racial makeup of Charleston County, serious consideration needs to be given to returning more responsibility to the remaining constituent districts. We need to bring the educators and administrators closer to the people whom they serve. Bigger has not proven to be better.
The equalized tax base could remain the same and dollars could be returned to each of the constituent districts on a per student basis so that all districts would receive the same per-capita allowance. The experiments being tried in Tennessee that Mr. Butzon suggests should be tried in Charleston are most certainly not the answer. They will only serve to throw more money at a problem that has shown can’t be corrected simply with more money.
North Charleston High School has had more principals in the last few years than in the first 35 years of its existence. Even the finest principal assisted by the best teaching staff can’t make students with little desire to learn become great students. They need the help of the local community. If we can’t get the parents of all students to become closer to their school board and teachers then we have to bring the school board and teachers closer to the parents. It is time to seriously consider deconsolidation of our school district.
I know there are many fine, educated and well-meaning citizens and administrators who make their living far removed from the students they serve, who will give typical bureaucratic responses as to why deconsolidation won’t work.
But is what you are doing now working? I know you can’t solve problems you can’t talk about. Let’s talk about this.
Thomas F. Hartnett is a former Republican member of U.S. House of Representatives.