On Wednesday, 88 North Charleston High School seniors walked across the stage and collected their diplomas.

It's a great achievement and they should be applauded for their efforts. Especially since they were set up to fail.

There were 105 seniors in the North Charleston High class of 2012, so 84 percent of them graduated (and the rest can graduate this summer with a little more course work).

But that 84 percent is not how the state sees it. According to South Carolina statistics, 251 students were in the school's class of 2012 as of ninth grade. So the school will be credited with a 35 percent graduation rate for the year.

Which qualifies it as a failing school.

It does not matter that at least 100 of those 251 students never showed up for a single class at North Charleston High — some of them went to other schools, others dropped out, a few just disappeared.

It also doesn't matter that, of the students who did show up, more than a third of them were reading at a fifth-grade level — or lower. Which made their failure almost a foregone conclusion.

It's wrong to blame North Charleston High for all of this.

In July the state will hold a hearing to determine what should be done about North Charleston High.

It could fire Principal Robert Grimm, who's been there less than a year. It could shut down the school, or the state could take it over.

Good luck with that. Einstein couldn't run a successful school in these conditions, much less the state.

North Charleston High School has a lot of good teachers, a revolving door in the principal's office (Grimm is the eighth principal in 11 years) and a sizable portion of the student body unprepared for middle school, much less high school.

“It's absolutely criminal,” says Michael Miller, a North Charleston High supporter, volunteer and member of the principal selection committee. “Whether you are a good or bad teacher, makes no difference. They aren't trained to teach elementary school kids.”

If the state, or the district, really wants to fix this problem, it needs to start with the elementary and middle schools.

That's what officials say they are doing now. But it's going to take a while for the results to reach the high school level.

Which could be too late for North Charleston High.

Superintendent Nancy McGinley says that given the historic conditions in this district, it's certainly not fair for North Charleston High to take the blame for a low graduation rate.

In the past, she says, the elementary schools and middle schools that supply North Charleston High with students were passing kids that they shouldn't have.

“They are not now,” McGinley says.

A couple years ago, the district put into place innovation zones to target kids who weren't keeping up. When students don't pass a grade, they are put in a special program to make sure they get the attention they need to try to catch up.

Four years ago, 20 percent of ninth-graders showed up for class reading at a fourth-grade level; this year the number was 12 percent.

So the data suggests that the district is working on the problem.

But will it save North Charleston High?

“I trust the state understands this is a complicated problem,” McGinley says. “This isn't a failing school.”

Miller says the school does as well as it does because the teachers and staff work hard for the love of those students.

And that's not something that shows up on a spreadsheet.

Grimm acknowledges that he and his staff are fighting an uphill battle, but they work with what they get.

“We're doing students a disservice by sending them to high school if they can't read,” Grimm says. “But we're put in that position.”

And that's not the school's fault, the principal's fault — and it's certainly not the teachers' fault.

It's the system. And it needs to change before the state judges North Charleston High.

To do otherwise would not only be unfair, it would be absurd.

Reach Brian Hicks at bhicks@postandcourier.com or follow him on Twitter at @BriHicks_PandC.