The Post and Courier did not get both sides of the story about the school where I spent 20 years as principal from 1984-2004. Murray LaSaine’s enrollment was at least 700 for several years under my leadership.
We had students from Wadmalaw Island, Johns Island, Ravenel and even the city of Charleston during those years. Upon my arrival at Murray LaSaine, I was told that the school was considered to be the “stepchild” of the island and that many of the Riverland Terrace parents refused to send their children to Murray LaSaine because it was “too black.”
We reached out to the parents in Riverland Terrace many times. A few enrolled their children, but many didn’t.
As principal, I quickly found out that the resources were not being distributed fairly among the three elementary schools on James Island. Programs like Reading Recovery should have been given to us first; we lobbied for it.
My school had a most difficult special education program that I had to supervise without an assistant principal until school enrollment reached 600.
We had to take the emotionally handicapped students from Johns Island, Harborview and Stiles Point schools. I pleaded for help to no avail for many years.
When we asked for monies to support a foreign language program, we were denied. Meanwhile, magnet schools were getting resources that other schools with greater needs were not receiving.
We were expected to make the same gains but with fewer resources. When we submitted a proposal to add the sixth grade, we were denied at first. When we submitted a proposal to have Murray LaSaine become a year-round school, it was shot down. When we proposed uniforms for our students it was rejected at first. (Now, more than 30 schools in the district wear uniforms.)
It was obvious to me that the board was not fair.
When enrollment began to decline, some said that our children were moving to Stiles Point and Harborview. That argument didn’t last long after it was determined that fewer than 40 of our students were in those two schools.
The final blow to our decreasing enrollment came when the James Island Elementary School was built. Many of the neighborhoods that we served were zoned into the new school. I firmly believe that was done by design.
Even before 2008, there was an attempt to have Murray LaSaine become a Montessori school without our input. That showed me how much they disrespected the staff and parents at Murray LaSaine.
In spite of the obstacles that we’ve had to overcome, many of our graduates have done well. Some of them are now lawyers, doctors, teachers and nurses. Our motto is “The Sky’s the Limit.”
Thank goodness for all of the wonderful supportive parents, civic organizations, churches on the island, teachers, staff and volunteers. They looked beyond color and only saw children who needed a chance to pursue an excellent education.
I don’t have a problem with the Montessori approach. I strongly believe in school choice. I would suggest that a survey be conducted to determine how many young children who don’t presently attend Murray LaSaine are actually in Riverland Terrace. If the numbers are small, would the board still consider keeping the school open as a Montessori school?
One of my concerns is that the name will be changed and the community will forget about the two black educators, Mrs. Murray and Mrs. LaSaine, who fought for our children on James Island when the old school in Riverland Terrace would not allow them to cross their threshold.
What a better world this would be if only the adults would work together!
I’m still working with children regularly because I know that they are our future. Hopefully, they will not be influenced by adults who’re still living in the past.
Dr. Blondell E. Kidd
Murray LaSaine Elementary