News+Opinion » Barney Blakeney

Disparities at Constituent Dist. 20 schools will continue

Par for the Course

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As I walked to work the other morning, I ran into state Rep. Seth Whipper, who represents North Charleston.

Before we parted, he mentioned that the local NAACP or someone should put a public focus on opposing the Charleston County School District's proposed plans to help county schools.

Superintendent Nancy McGinley has said that the district needs to look at new ways to improve schools. These ways may include combining student populations at different schools and restructuring the curriculum. Currently, the district is holding a series of meetings to get input from the public.

Over the past few weeks, I've talked with several people who think the school district has embarked upon yet another charade to give the public the impression that it is really concerned about providing a quality education to every student.

I know a lot of people who feel that's never been the case in the past nor is it now.

Some of the folks I've talked with think that any reason to close schools — especially failing schools which in almost every case have predominantly black enrollments — will actually serve as a shortcut to reduce the district's overall number of failing schools, thus improving its standing with the state education department.

The district's history of insensitivity and inequity, I think, gives their premise a lot of validity. In a school district that's only existed since 1967 where nearly 40 percent of students fail to graduate, one can't help but be concerned there are no real efforts to put all students on par.

In Constituent District 20, the disparities are so glaring Stevie Wonder could see the differences. At least when it comes to foreign language programs serving elementary and middle school students.

Recently, I spoke with outgoing District 20 Constituent School Board Chairwoman Pam Kusmider about the foreign language programs at constituent district schools, and she told me she believes there is a lack of foreign language teachers at Burke Middle, a District 20 school serving seventh and eighth graders.

Buist Academy and Charleston Progressive Academy, two Constituent District 20 magnet schools serving K-8 students, have foreign language programs, according to the schools' respective websites. Burke Middle does not, according to its site.

The vast majority of Burke's students are African Americans, while the majority of Buist students are white. Most Charleston Progressive students are black.

During the 2006-2007 school year, Charleston Progressive and Buist had similar enrollments (Buist 397 students, Charleston Progressive 315 students); however, Buist received nearly $400,000 more for its operating budget than Charleston Progressive.

Kusmider has been an opponent of the current attendance policy at Buist Academy, which allows the county district — and not the constituent district — to determine who goes to the school.

A few years ago former Associate Superintendent Geraldine Middleton of District 20 got public input about a proposal to reconfigure schools and their curriculums. It never happened. I was told after that charade that the district didn't have the funding to implement the changes.

Since 1967 the school district has had a succession of board members and superintendents who either willingly — or unwittingly — perpetuate an inequitable system of public education. In my view, that's no accident.

So when Whipper made his statement the other day, I wasn't shocked at his position.

I'm just hoping President-elect Barack Obama's theme of change in policies and politics as usual has a trickle down effect to Charleston County.

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