Tri-County Cradle to Career Collaborative released its fifth annual Regional Education Report on April 9 at Charleston Southern University.
During the event, TCCC hosted a panel discussion featuring Melanie Barton, executive director of the South Carolina Education Oversight Committee, Anjene Davis, a community advocate; Gerrita Postlewait, superintendent of the Charleston County School District; and Anita Zucker, CEO of The InterTech Group.
Barton said she is pessimistic about the S.C. General Assembly passing significant education reform during this session.
“What the General Assembly, I think, will end up doing is increasing starting salaries of teachers from $32,000 to $35,000 as the minimum. They’ll give all other teachers a 4% pay raise. That’s in both versions of the bill. I think it’s done,” she said. “There may be a reduction in end-of-year testing in social studies and science, and there may be legislation to force some smaller, multi-county school districts to merge or give them incentives to merge, because that’s also in the budget. And then we will call it a win; we’re done. That’s my greatest fear that nothing else will change and that’s what we’re going to call ‘we’ve addressed the issue.’”
Barton said ideas like “disruption” – the theme of TCCC’s newest Regional Education Report – require courage, leadership and a grassroots revolution to be accomplished.
“Honestly, in my talks – and I’ve been around the state a good bit – I honestly don’t think that the public believes we have a crisis,” she said.
Zucker, who founded TCCC, urged the business community to be courageous and take a leadership role in ensuring education reform is a priority.
“The business community better step up and stand up and get really loud. I know Boeing is always up at the Statehouse. They’re always in the middle of this,” Zucker said. “The rest of us might need to get on a bus and join them because they’re not hearing and not understanding. … If we, as a community, don’t stand up and have that sense of urgency and bias for action, we will never be able to create the necessary change.”
Davis shared that the region’s Black community has the sense of urgency but is fatigued.
“The unfortunate part about it is, though, that many people I represent will never set foot in this room, will never sit at the tables where the decisions and conversations will be made. … In the Black community, primarily, we’re fatigued with all the efforts, the change. It seems as though every year or every other year, there is some initiative coming down the pipe, especially as it relates to education. Some imperative,” Davis said. “When you look at the statistics as they’re reported, African American students and Hispanic students bear the brunt of the negative research and statistics that are out there.”
He said Black families feel that they are at a disadvantage because they are consistently asked to follow and do things that never seem to work.
“When you think about it, parents are the investors in our school systems. Every morning, parents get up and send their most precious gifts into our schools with the idea that the school, in turn, is going to do its best job to educate and make sure that our babies become the best people they can be,” Davis said. “It is very disheartening to consistently hear on a regular basis that the schools in which African-American students are the predominant populations are the failing schools.”
Postlewait – who provided an update on CCSD’s Mission Critical work, an effort to improve the education system – acknowledged that “what we have done in the past is not getting us to where we want to go.”
She said the district is now undertaking a kind of change that makes people very uncomfortable.
“It’s the type of change that is unpopular, the type of change that frightens people because they don’t know whether to trust that this time it will be different,” Postlewait said. “Very quickly, we have to show the community that we are earnest about listening to them, about taking some of their suggestions, about being malleable in our thinking, and our responses have to fairly quickly show that what we do differently will produce some results. … We must speak with one voice. We must find one courageous heart, and, when we take action, we cannot afford to fire inward on one another.”