by Paul Bowers
In response to "Left Behind," a recent Post and Courier investigative series highlighting segregation and educational disparities in Charleston County, parents from Park Circle are looking for ways to improve their neighborhood's struggling schools — starting with North Charleston High School, whose students were featured heavily in the series.
Some parents in the neighborhood have launched a Facebook group called Park Circle Friends Nurturing Public Schools. One of the group's founders, Kevin Wagnon, says she was saddened when she started reading the Post and Courier series last week.
"It also opened my eyes because I drive by that school every day, and I see there's a major difference between the School of the Arts, where you have this top-notch facility, and then you have, a mile down the road, this school that — like they said — is getting left behind," Wagnon says.
Group members have organized a meeting for Park Circle residents to talk with NCHS Principal Robert Grimm Wednesday at 4 p.m. at North Charleston United Methodist Church. Wagnon says she doesn't know how to solve the school's problems, but she thought reaching out to the principal would be a good step. The group plans to organize meetings with administrators from neighborhood elementary and middle schools in the future.
"I kind of started it without knowing what direction we're going to take ... [Grimm] said he had some insight for us and he wanted to talk to all of us," Wagnon says. "It's raised a lot of discussions on some different Facebook pages, and a lot of them are saying it's all about putting your kids into schools that are in your neighborhood. That's what you have to do, or they're not going to get better."
The P&C series, authored by Pulitzer Prize winner Jennifer Berry Hawes with contributions by Adam Parker and Amanda Kerr, focuses on how school choice — specifically the proliferation of magnet and partial-magnet schools in the school district — has allowed parents to withdraw their students from the schools they are zoned to attend, leaving many traditional neighborhood schools like NCHS with low test scores and dwindling student populations composed largely of minority and low-income students. Wagnon, who relocated from Summerville to Park Circle with her daughter two years ago, says she heard dire warnings about the schools from other parents as soon as she made the move.
"All I heard when I moved here was, 'Well, the schools aren't going to be great. You need to start off with some sort of art right off the bat and get her involved with something so when she gets to high school she can get into the School of the Arts.' That's always been the way it's gone, and I don't like that being the only option for all these kids," Wagnon says. "People come here when they're single, they get married, they have kids, and then they move off because there's not a good school for them to go to, and I just think that sucks. And really the only reason for that is because there is not any integration going on."
If you haven't been reading the P&C series, we recommend that you at least check out Part 1, which features an infographic showing which schools students are transferring to and from under the district's magnet program. Here's the video that accompanies Part 1: