Education

S.C. school district, fighting state takeover, ‘has failed the children,’ parent says

SC schools chief takes over failing district

SC Superintendent Molly Spearman talks June 19, 2017 about the state taking over Allendale County School District.
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SC Superintendent Molly Spearman talks June 19, 2017 about the state taking over Allendale County School District.

A rural S.C. school district, with one of the state’s worst academic records, is suing in hopes of derailing a state takeover of its schools.

Read the The Complaint for Declaratory Judgment

Read the “Memorandum In Support of Petition For Original Jurisdiction And Motion For Temporary Injunction”

The Allendale County School District filed suit Wednesday before the S.C. Supreme Court, arguing S.C. education Superintendent Molly Spearman does not have the authority to seize control of its schools.

Spearman said she would take over the district Monday, stripping the locally elected school board of its management authority. She said problems with the Allendale school board that were identified in a recent review of the district – including the board’s tendency to overstep its authority by trying to influence personnel and daily management decisions – forced her to intervene.

According to that review:

▪  In interviews with state auditors, no board member could articulate a plan of action for improving the district’s schools, among the lowest-performing in the state.

▪  Board members “frequently attended out-of-state meetings and conferences” but showed no evidence those trips had “direct impact on the district or its students.”

▪  The district offered sample lesson plans for high-school math, a list of requirements for getting into honors classes and “several screen shots of grade books” as examples of evidence of a district-wide curriculum and teaching plan.

At one board meeting, a parent complained, “The district has failed the children. Why are students not being educated?” State auditors found no evidence the district followed up on the parent’s concern.

Noting students were not ready for the next grade level, another parent said, “Something has to change, or I am pulling my kids out of this district.”

Spearman said Monday taking over the district was not her first choice. But the Allendale school board would not sign on to a plan to improve its schools, the Saluda Republican said.

The board also refused to let Spearman speak at its May meeting, where she planned to present information about the district’s performance.

Board: Allendale needs assistance, including more money

Columbia attorney Carl Solomon, who is representing the Allendale school board, said Wednesday that the board “has been concerned and is concerned about the welfare of its citizens and its students.

“It is the board's position that it does need assistance,” Solomon said, adding the district has challenges, “not the least of which is funding.”

Solomon said challenges facing poor, rural districts – which the S.C. Supreme Court identified in its 2014 ruling in a lawsuit filed by poor, rural schools in 1993 – have not been corrected.

The Allendale school district, which has 1,200 students, receives more than $17,000 a year for each student in state, federal and local dollars – more than most districts receive. The district operates the only schools – public or private – in the county.

Allendale takeover, Part 2

The S.C. Education Department recently commissioned an audit of the Allendale school district – one of the state’s four lowest-performing districts. Highlights from that review:

▪  District administrators said school board members frequently overstepped their authority, sometimes attempting to influence personnel matters and other day-to-day decisions.

▪  The school board rarely focused on student learning, effective instruction or assessing progress.

▪  There was no evidence the board ensured its decisions and actions were free of conflicts of interest.

▪  Board members “frequently attended out-of-state meetings and conferences” but showed no evidence those trips had “direct impact on the district or its students.”

▪  When asked about the rigor of instruction, one administrator said, “We don’t have quality. We struggle.”

▪  The district had a five-year strategic plan with measurable goals and action steps, but there was no evidence the plan was being followed.

▪  In interviews with auditors, no board member could articulate a plan of action for improving the district’s schools, among the lowest-performing in the state.

▪ The district offered sample lesson plans for high-school math, a list of requirements for getting into honors classes and “several screen shots of grade books” as examples of evidence of a district-wide curriculum and teaching plan.

▪  Parents complained that international teachers and long-term substitutes often frequently were teaching their children.

▪  38 percent of classes were not taught by highly qualified teachers; also, the district had no plan for recruiting teachers.

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