CHARLESTON, SC (WCSC) — South Carolina consistently ranks among the nation’s worst states for public education with a major achievement gap between black and white students.
In Charleston, only 26% of African-American students meet their math achievement goals, compared to 77% of their white counterparts. As students head back to school this year, heads of state hope they can get back to focusing on education instead of dealing with COVID.
As State Superintendent Molly Spearman prepares to step down in January, she says the lack of improvement in test scores is her biggest frustration.
“Obviously the only disappointment was that we didn’t see the increase in student achievement that we would have liked to see,” Spearman said. “I’m convinced we were right on the edge of that when COVID hit. We were starting to see our assessment scores go up and now they have dropped and rightly so because so many students were out of school.
Spearman hopes a return to more traditional learning will reinvigorate efforts to bridge the gap. She says she is happy that the restrictions related to COVID-19 have disappeared.
“While COVID is still here, we’re looking to have a very normal year,” Spearman said. “We’re not going to have to do isolation, so it’s really exciting to get the students back and we have a lot of work to do. Teachers know that many of their students have lost some of the learning that should have happened, so we need to speed that up. »
Getting back on track is also the goal of Charleston County’s newest group of district leaders and despite the temporary nature of Superintendent Don Kennedy’s role, Spearman says he appears to be doing a good job.
“Let me tell you, being a district superintendent and running an operation like this – people say running it like a business – and sometimes a leader can’t make the decision he’d like to make because he’s working for advice,” Spearman said. “It’s a very, very difficult position. To my knowledge, he’s done a great job but I really don’t want to take a position on an assessment because I’m not around every day. watching everything that’s going on but as far as I know, he’s fine.
Yet major changes threaten to disrupt the new direction Kennedy has set.
An election in November will replace at least two-thirds of the school board, and an active search for a new superintendent could bring a new leader as early as March. Spearman says parents will need to take an active role in selecting the next superintendent, someone who will give so-called failing schools a chance.
“I think they need to look for a leader who understands the disparities in Charleston County. It’s very similar to the state of South Carolina,” Spearman said. “The schools you mentioned that probably have the lowest assessment scores probably also have the high poverty rates, but they may have some of the hardest-working teachers in the entire district. The best managers are often sent to the most difficult places.
Spearman says she leaves office with optimism about the future of education in South Carolina, confident that her optimism will be reflected in test scores for years to come.
“It will happen,” Spearman said. “They will find that learning again, but it will take over a year for that to happen. I would just say to the community to be patient and grant some mercy to the next superintendent, but I think we will see the achievements climb. rapidly.
Spearman will retire in January when a new state superintendent is elected. The election is November 8.
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