by Dan McNiel
A couple of weeks ago, State Superintendent of Education Molly Spearman announced that her office was taking control of the Allendale County School District.
Allendale has long been the poster-kid for the poor state of public education in South Carolina. In fact, the only other time that the Department of Education has flexed its muscle and taken over an entire district, it was Allendale in 1999.
The school board fought it tooth and nail the first time, generating a great deal of push back from the community. After eight years and some improvement in test scores and administrative policies, the state returned control to a newly elected board.
Now, after a decade of mismanagement and declining student achievement, Allendale is back in a huge mess again. Constant turnover in administration, hiring decisions that reek of nepotism and questions about the handling of finances were additional factors in the state’s move.
Spearman had reached out to the school board and planned to speak at a June board meeting. The school board refused to let her speak. They also refused to endorse a plan for the state to help the struggling district dig out.
The school board in Allendale refuses to go down without a fight, filing suit against the Department of Education that contests the state’s right to seize control of the school system.
“Management decisions that put self-interests ahead of our students’ achievement are unacceptable, and I will not stand by while students get left behind because of decisions the adults are making,” Spearman, a former rural school administrator, said in announcing the move.
Under Spearman, the Education Department has stepped in at several individual schools, most recently in Timmonsville.
If things keep going in the current direction, Marlboro County might not be too far down the list. While not nearly as low as Allendale, student achievement here is in the bottom ten percent of the districts in South Carolina.
The leadership that should be working together to remedy this sad situation is at each other’s throats.
The relationship between the administration and the school board is completely fractured. As a whole, the board does not trust the administration. The administration holds the board in obvious contempt.
The board itself is split, with a toxic environment among those that are to be making decisions as a group.
The outcome is most recently exemplified in the total chaos that has surrounded an attempt to reconfigure the schools. Called to an emergency meeting on a Friday afternoon in April, the board approved a plan requested by the administration.
Some of the highlights included third, fourth and fifth graders going to the high school and all sorts of kids riding back and forth from Clio and Blenheim. It also included incorporating the School of Discovery into a floor of the Blenheim school, so AMIKids alternative school could have a wing of the current SOD site.
Since that April 7 meeting, the plan has been rescinded, altered, approved then altered yet again. The latest rendition leaves the School of Discovery in its Clio location. Considering that SOD is the only school in the district that has consistently met or exceeded state standards for the last decade, this is the most sensible thing that has occurred.
It appears that there is a vacuum surrounding our school district in which logic, reason and civility cannot exist. Everything is ruled by emotion. Nobody wins a war like this, but the real losers are the children and the taxpayers.
Maybe Ms. Spearman can make sense of this mess.