Brentwood and Burns make public schools work for kids

April 1, 2016 - MSS In The News


Meeting Street Elementary at Brentwood Pre K Teacher Sarah Petkus incorporates arm movements as she teachers math to her students Wednesday morning. (Brad Nettles/Staff)

The traditional public school model was created to serve society during the industrial era of the 1900s. Today, the grim reality is that this system is failing miserably in preparing all students with the knowledge, skills and attitudes essential for success. When a meager 17 percent of under-resourced kids in South Carolina are proficient in reading by eighth grade, and less than 10 percent are deemed college-ready by the time they graduate from high school, the old adage “if it ain’t broke don’t fix it” simply does not apply. Meeting Street Schools (MSS), a not-for-profit 501-(C)(3) organization, set out a decade ago on a fervent quest to improve educational outcomes for under-resourced kids in South Carolina. We are proving daily that wholesale change is possible when the right model is implemented. Monday’s op-ed “Beware of Privatizing Public Education” got the details of our partnership with CCSD completely wrong. I write this letter today to present the facts.

Question: Is the Charleston County School District (CCSD) outsourcing Brentwood Elementary, and now Burns Elementary, to Meeting Street Schools (MSS)?

Answer: No. The new public Brentwood Elementary School was made possible because CCSD, in showing its commitment to improving outcomes for kids, entered into a public-private partnership with MSS. CCSD took a bold and dramatic step towards fulfilling its responsibility to provide a quality education when it chose to affiliate with an innovative organization that is dedicated to providing under-resourced children the opportunity to experience a world class education. Further, the relationship between CCSD and MSS is truly a partnership in every sense of the word. Within the Brentwood partnership structure, MSS provides its targeted and proven model to under-resourced kids and families; and CCSD provides direct oversight via the executive board seat occupied by the superintendent herself.

Question: Is CCSD privatizing Brentwood, and now Burns?

Answer: No. Both Brentwood and Burns are public neighborhood schools with defined enrollment zones drawn by the district’s constituent school board, just as they would be drawn for any public school. As a matter of fact, after the opening of Brentwood, local neighborhood groups were so excited about the opportunity being offered that they successfully lobbied CCSD to enlarge the Brentwood enrollment zone to ensure that more kids in the surrounding neighborhoods would have access.

Question: Is CCSD affiliated with a private company called Sherman Financial Group?

Answer: No. Sherman Financial Group has no relationship with CCSD whatsoever. The district’s relationship is with Meeting Street Schools. Over the past decade, MSS has invested over $20 million of its donors’ money to build, renovate and operate three schools serving under-resourced children. Charleston-based Sherman Financial Group has been a generous donor to MSS — as have many other companies, foundations and individuals.

Question: Does the creation of the CCSD/MSS partnership somehow call into question the future of public education in Charleston?

Answer: No. The formation of this partnership shows the willingness of CCSD to engage in innovative structures that provide the best educational outcomes for children. Instead of being stuck in a rigid model from the past, CCSD continues to evolve its thinking to utilize whatever means are available to do what’s right for the children of our county. Businesses and the private sector have proven time and time again that specialization increases efficiency and effectiveness by allowing organizations to use the best, most efficient providers of the goods or services they require.

In choosing to affiliate with MSS, did CCSD borrow from this private sector concept of specialization? Yes they did, and consequently our partnership is now delivering precisely the programs and services that under-resourced kids need most to be successful: a longer school day, an extended school year, a culture of teacher excellence, and a variety of support services that ensure kids are well nourished and have appropriate medical care, with incremental costs all funded by MSS.

The MSS model is working for over 600 students at MSS’ two private schools in Charleston and Spartanburg and the public/private partnership school at Brentwood. When last year’s first graduating fifth grade class of MSS’ downtown Charleston campus matriculated, every child had achieved grade-level or better performance in both reading and math, and every child moved on to attend a high-performing public or private middle school. In Brentwood’s first operating year (2014-15), about two thirds of first grade students began the year in the bottom half of all academic performers . . . roughly the same as the average for all Charleston area Title 1 schools (61 percent). By the end of the school year the picture at Brentwood had changed dramatically: Just 16 percent of first graders remained in the bottom half of all academic performers, while the other 84 percent had moved into the top half. Meanwhile, the percentages at other area Title 1 schools remained unchanged, with 61 percent of kids still stuck in the bottom half. If anyone has any doubt about the results MSS and CCSD are achieving in partnership, come and visit one of our schools, as literally hundreds of people have done, including governors, senators, congressmen and community leaders.

The grand vision of Meeting Street Schools is to continue to partner with CCSD to provide as much additional educational opportunity as possible for under-resourced children in our community. We will do this by helping to operate schools as we have done at Brentwood, and as we plan to do at Burns, all the while proving to the adult citizens of our community just how high the bar can be. We are eager to continue our success in this mission.

Click here for the original article: The Post and Courier

By: Amy Mims, Executive Director of Meeting Street Schools

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