How to close the achievement gap

February 7, 2016 - MSS In The News

For years, educators have been trying different ways to close the achievement gap between white and black students in Charleston County. Finally, one of those attempts is working.

That puts the Charleston County School Board in an encouraging position to spread the concepts being used successfully at Meeting Street Academy and Meeting Street Elementary @ Brentwood, to reach Burns Elementary students.

The change will add $3,000 to the present $10,000 per-pupil cost, but board members should recognize that the returns promise to be worth that investment and more. They should support it. The per-pupil cost for students in some other schools is far greater, and the results far poorer.

For that investment, Burns students will be taught in classrooms with two teachers hand-picked from thousands of applicants, if the experience at Brentwood is any indication. They will have access to a speech therapist, social workers and therapists. And they will use a curriculum chosen especially for their school.

Most importantly, they can expect to defy trends and significantly close the achievement gap.

Burns will still be a public school, but it will be run by Meeting Street Schools (MSS), a private enterprise. MSS founder and CEO Ben Navarro, Brentwood principal Sarah Campbell and CCSD superintendent Gerrita Postlewait will oversee the operation.

Eight years ago, Meeting Street Academy, a private school founded by Mr. Navarro and paid for by MSS, was opened with a mission to serve students who would otherwise attend failing schools. With a rigorous curriculum, carefully chosen faculty, staff to address health and behavioral needs and high expectations, MSA’s students have thrived. Indeed, educators, elected officials and business leaders from across the state and beyond have visited the school and been delighted by the students’ academic achievements.

It was such a success that MSS suggested a partnership with the Charleston County School District: It would operate an elementary school in the former Brentwood Middle School building, drawing from students in nearby low-income neighborhoods. Unlike MSA, its students would not be screened for admission. And unlike other public schools, its staff would work for MSS, thus allowing principal Sarah Campbell to hire and fire employees as needed.

This is the second year of Meeting Street at Brentwood, and test scores are impressive there, too: When students began kindergarten in the fall, only about 34 percent scored in the top two quartiles. By spring, 85 percent did.

So next fall, students zoned to attend kindergarten at Burns Elementary, a failing school, will be part of the Meeting Street School family. They will temporarily go to Brentwood, as Burns’ building is being replaced.

The school will add a grade each year until it reaches the fifth grade, moving into the new Burns structure when it is complete.

Dr. Postlewait said the district will track closely how students at both Brentwood and Burns perform. Mr. Navarro predicts it will go well and anticipates spreading the MSS practices even further.

The school district has tried one tactic after another to close the racial achievement gap, with limited or no success.

This opportunity to make a big difference deserves the support of the school board, district staff and the community.

The Post and Courier

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