Blog Posts

SC Schools Must Use Covid Money to Make Lasting Changes

by John Read on Behalf of Charelston Shared Future

It is estimated that close to a half-billion dollars of Federal and State funds related to COVID recovery will be flowing into the four tri-county school districts in the next 2-3 years. Will these funds be used merely to return our schools to where they were pre-COVID or will they serve to transform the system in a way that assures the success of all children in our region?

In its award-winning series “Minimally Adequate” three years ago, The Post & Courier documented the systemic failures of public education in our state in assuring that all children are successful in our schools. Here in the tri-county, organizations including Harvard, Clemson, Tri-County Cradle to Career Collaborative, Charleston Shared Future, The Avery Institute, The Charleston Forum and others have documented the extent to which disparities exist in every school in the region attended by children of poverty and of color. The evidence is irrefutable that while these gaps have worsened during this pandemic, their root cause is to be found in an underlying, longstanding and at least implicit racial bias in how the system works.

This new funding will not be repeated, and the track-record of our districts in making effective use of such one-time infusions is not impressive. District staffs prefer to keep their own counsel on how such funds should be spent, often turning to other educator consultants for advice. The results – fragmentation, more interventions, more remediation, something-for everyone – have left these systems unchanged once the funds are spent.

School Boards have the ultimate fiduciary responsibility for the effective use of these funds when they arrive but none of these boards have had experience with funding of this magnitude. The CCSD Board is still new, finding its footing and will be entirely replaced in less than two years. Berkeley County District financial challenges are well documented and the Dorchester Two Board has shown little interest in the disparities found in its schools. Where then can the community turn for a different way to approach the use of these anticipated funds and the opportunity they present, in order to effect lasting change?

The Council of the Great City Schools is comprised of educators with long experience in such matters and their advice to districts is strikingly different. The Council will be encouraging districts to convene teams of stakeholders from across the district and region to create the plan for these funds. Educators should join with civic and business leaders, students, parents and community leaders and these cross-functional teams empowered to make these decisions. “Go slow to go fast” is the Council’s advice such that schools not only open safely but that equity drives the application of these funds to where the need is greatest and with changes that are proven to work.

Within CCSD, for example, a concentrated effort to transform the fourteen ‘Accelerator Schools’ should be a high-level objective for these funds, and the result – highly qualified, culturally competent teachers led by well-supported world-class principals in these schools. Stakeholder plans should result in a disproportionately large share of these funds directed to these schools. In other regional schools where disparities are covered up by averaging, targeted support for students and families during and after school may be appropriate.

While these one-time dollars would secure the necessary talent for these schools, it will be the system changes that retain them – changes that free a principal and teaching staff from bureaucratic requirements that impede innovation. The principals at two of our public schools, Brentwood Elementary and Burns Elementary have this flexibility and accountability. Their results, from student achievement to parental engagement and teacher satisfaction demonstrate the value of providing resources and flexibility to capable educators and staying out of their way.

The Covid-19 crises has been devastating for all concerned, and educators at every level have exhibited heroic efforts on behalf of our children over these last months. Systemic failure is no one’s fault but everyone’s responsibility and with public education already disrupted, it would be a moral failure to waste the opportunity for lasting change. School boards, civic and community leaders should heed this expert advice and open up the planning to broad-based community engagement across the region. 


by John Read, February 2021

In the scenario planning work completed by Charleston Shared Future (CSF) for CCSD in 2019, one of the four scenarios, “TechTowne”, illuminated a future that has many similarities to our current situation and it came to pass sooner than anyone would have expected. 

In the early stages of this scenario as laid out by CSF, confounding technical challenges, increased isolation for students and disruption to families, teachers and schools work to exacerbate racial issues and education disparities. Decades pass before technology and education come together in ways that further the interests of equity and equal opportunity to succeed in school.

The CSF Report published two years ago joins the Harvard and Clemson Studies, the Avery Institute Report and the CCSD Certification Report all of which are in violent agreement that fundamental reforms in CCSD are needed if every child is to have an equal shot at a quality education. These reforms extend from a restructuring of CCSD governance to financing reform, equity-based personnel practices and more innovation in our schools such that every school and especially those with the greatest challenges have an excellent instructional leader directing highly qualified, culturally competent teachers setting high expectations for students.

The Charleston region, and cities with similar demographics across the country are struggling to deal with the effects of this pandemic, made worse by the longstanding distrust of many families, especially Blacks, in the safety of our schools. Students of color and especially those in poverty struggle with the technology, and the motivation to learn remotely and the consequences in academic, social and emotional development will take years to overcome.

There is however every indication that this pandemic will come to an end in 2021 and, moreover that substantial new funding from Federal and State sources will be forthcoming. If, however these funds are used simply to revert to the system we had pre-COVID – a system that has institutionalized disparities based on race for a century – our region will have squandered its best opportunity to make these long overdue changes.

The reforms identified in these reports should be adopted. 

New funding from public and private sources needs to find its way to our most challenged schools. Once a highly qualified principal is placed in charge and expected results agreed upon, s/he should have the autonomy by whatever means to hire qualified teachers and support staff and decide the curriculum. 

Micro schools and learning pods now under development, if demonstrably effective, should be deployed in areas where the need is greatest so that students who are furthest behind can receive the support they need.

Another of CSF’s scenarios entitled “1835” makes reference to the year in which the South Carolina legislature made it illegal to teach Black children to read. Generations of children from then until now have experienced a system that does not serve them well. If we waste this opportunity, brought about by multiple crises to reform education in the region, we will destine this and future generations of Low Country children of color or poverty to more of the same.