Back in 2007, about one fourth of the schools in Charleston County School District had an unsatisfactory rating on the South Carolina State Report Card. The district was considered below average on student test scores and made just average student achievement growth since the previous year. We knew we could do better. And for the sake of our children and their futures, we had to do better.
We worked tirelessly with parents, community members, teachers, principals and district staff throughout the region to craft a strategic blueprint for improvement that lived up to the expectations of the great Charleston region. “Excellence is our standard” was our collective vision. Now, it is our reality. For the first time, Charleston County School District has received an excellent district rating, exceeding state expectations in both performance and growth. We’ve boosted student achievement and graduation rates for all groups of students and 70 percent of Charleston high school students taking Advanced Placement exams to earn college credit pass them – outpacing the pass rates for other comparable school districts statewide. In addition, we are making progress on the Charleston Achieving Excellence: Vision 2016 goals, which are the most aggressive and audacious district-level goals in South Carolina.
As I reflect on this tremendous progress, I see six consistent strategies that were essential to our improvement.
We focused on strengthening the people working in our district. Every school needs an effective principal and every student needs an effective teacher. We raised the bar for those seeking the privilege of working with our children – requiring a writing sample, an interview with a panel of principals and a graded demonstration lesson as the first step for all new teacher candidates and final interviews with the superintendent for each principal candidate.
We also invested heavily in professional development. We knew that with the right support, our educators would thrive. So we initiated ongoing leadership training for principals and future principals and instructional growth opportunities for teachers to innovate and hone their practice.
We deepened our community partnerships. Public dollars never go far enough. But the incredible support we enjoyed from our mayors, civic agencies and the business community have been second to none – providing a bounty of resources to benefit our children. I am grateful to all of our partners who have supported critical programs over the years, like Communities in Schools, Overcoming Obstacles – life skills and anti-bullying curriculum, Charleston Promise Neighborhoods, Wings for Kids, Book Buddies, Links to Success, Engaging Creative Minds, the Boeing Wellness Initiative, the I-Beam Volunteer tutoring program and our partnership with Meeting Street Academy at Brentwood.
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