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What Would It Actually Look Like to 'Reimagine' Schools in CCSD?

To reimagine schools, we must reimagine our communities.

It’s that simple. So why do we insist on making it so much more complicated than it is?

What the multiple organizations who have attempted to privatize Charleston schools either miss completely or hope Charleston residents do not realize is that poverty is that the most prevalent indicator of academic achievement in today’s schools.

You can spend $31 million on “Commission and Community Conveners,” “Innovation Management Organizations,” “District Innovation Commissions” and other nice-sounding initiatives and positions, but if the students you serve are still returning to homes where their most basic needs for participating in modern society are not met – nutritious meals, electricity, running water, internet connection, heat and air, water, transportation, computers – then you are throwing money into a dumpster fire.

I do not make this statement through a deficit lens. The students who attend the 23 schools listed in the Reimagine Schools Proposal are all brimming with intellect, compassion, talent, skill, drive, and curiosity. They bring to their respective school environments unique and valuable experiences and perspectives, all of which should be viewed as assets. Like all students, they want to be successful, and their hard-working families (and teachers) desire the same.

If third-party organizations TRULY wanted to reimagine education in Charleston, they could start by investing or continuing to invest money into the communities they purport to seek to serve. Many of these organizations already perform such initiatives and our communities are better for it. They should continue performing their good work there and allow those with experience to manage our schools.

Charleston County School District teachers, students, and families are tired of watching certain members of the CCSD School Board time and again attempt to covertly slough off their responsibilities to third-party organizations run by wealthy donors with little to no experience in educational leadership, childhood development, learning theory, curriculum design, literacy, or culturally sustaining pedagogy.

Thanks to the research and voices of teachers, principals, community leaders, and journalists from the Charleston community, many Charleston residents are now aware of the hypocrisy and absurdity of it all.

For example, how could a prominent third-party investor propose, on the one hand, to seek to close achievement gaps that are challenging for students living in low-income households to overcome, yet on the other hand, file more lawsuits to collect credit card debt – the largest annual increase of any firm identified by the Wall Street Journal between last March 15 and Dec. 31? Hypothetically speaking.

Instead of investing hundreds of millions of dollars in hotels, oil and gas, and school board elections, what if these patrons…

  • Invested in affordable housing, infrastructure, and jobs for the families who live in the communities where the 23 (predominantly Black) target schools of the Reimagine Schools Proposal are situated?

  • Bid on the potential of CCSD students through investing in retaining and recruiting talented, experienced, and certified teachers in the state of South Carolina?

  • Secured reliable bus transportation and drivers?

What if you could accomplish all of this by paying skilled adult members of those very communities to fulfill this vision? To build? Teach? Drive? Counsel? Feed? Protect? Nurture?

What if those with the means could invest in our villages by granting access to the resources they need to care for their children?

All of that being said, it would be a huge mistake to predicate the success of the 23 target schools (and all of CCSD schools for that matter) on the whims and tax write-offs of the ultra-rich.

In that case, we can simply ask: what could the $31 million that CCSD already has in their possession accomplish in CCSD? Here are some possibilities:

We have a trained, highly capable, brilliant, and nurturing army of diverse teachers, administrators, school counselors and psychologists, nurses, and critical support staff who do the best they can, yet are often held back, thwarted, and undermined by bureaucratic limitations, misguided proposals like Reimagine Schools, and school board members – backed by billionaires – who support such proposals and maintain such limitations.

While Charleston’s elite has the privilege of bidding millions and billions of dollars on projects that may never follow through – or only have positive outcomes for the already wealthy – CCSD does not have such a luxury.

The CCSD School Board members would be foolish, irresponsible, and derelict of their duties if they cut a $31 million check to an organization that has zero experience in educating students. And we, the Charleston community, would be foolish to allow them.

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