Parents at a public-input meeting for Charleston County School District Monday night proposed making Mt. Pleasant its own school district, an idea that has been bandied about in the past.
Lynn Franchak, who has children attending Cario Middle School and Wando High School, was the first to propose the idea of a Mt. Pleasant school district in her brainstorming group. She says parents have been talking about it since her family arrived in the town six years ago.
"We've worked hard to build a nice life and live where we do and pay the taxes that we do," Franchak said. "We feel that this town is large enough to support its own school district. I also feel as though being part of the Charleston County School District, it brings our standardized test numbers down, it brings our attendance down, it brings our graduation rates down, and so we hurt because of that."
The idea was one of the top recommendations to come out of a brainstorming session in the Wando High School cafeteria. The Board of Trustees held its regular meeting in the auditorium at Wando High School, and afterward board members hosted input sessions at Wando and at Lincoln Middle-High School. After the meeting, Superintendent Nancy McGinley said any attempt to create a Mt. Pleasant school district would meet serious logistical setbacks, even beyond the legislative action that would be required to create a new district.
"It's not something new, and it's not something unique to Mt. Pleasant," McGinley said after the meeting. "Very often people think, 'If we had our own district, we would have more autonomy, more authority, and we'd be free from restrictions and directives from the central office.' What people don't understand is, where did the tax dollars come from in Charleston County? Because the tax base is driven from North Charleston, from the industry in North Charleston, so when you really get underneath the issues, how would that impact funding? Would the taxpayers of Mt. Pleasant be able to generate the funding to build the four new schools that we have slated to come into Mt. Pleasant?"
Coincidentally, one parent did propose raising taxes to support education, although his idea was not voted to be one of the top recommendations.
The atmosphere was hectic in the echo-prone cafeteria as about 50 parents were split into two focus groups to generate suggestions. The focus of the evening was Vision 2016, a five-year plan being drafted to accomplish the goals set out by the district's Charleston Achieving Excellence initiative: 1) closing the achievement gap, 2) elevating achievement overall, and 3) raising the graduation rate.
Specifically, by 2016, the board wants the graduation rate to go from 72 percent to 81 percent. The board also wants students to be scoring a "met" or "exemplary" on sections of the standardized PASS test at certain thresholds by 2016:
• 98 percent of third-graders passing English/Language Arts (the current average is 80 percent)
• 93 percent of third-graders passing Math (the current average is 70 percent)
• 85 percent of eighth-graders passing English/Language Arts (the current average is 70 percent)
• 82 percent of eighth-graders passing Math (the current average is 69 percent)
In the two focus groups, volunteers asked the parents questions about how best to achieve those goals, talking at breakneck speed and scribbling furiously on a flip chart to keep up with the steady stream of ideas. Before presenting to the school board members who were present, the parents were asked to narrow their ideas down to top suggestions. Some of the recommendations they made were:
• Expand the elementary schools' third-grade academies.
• Keep a focus on literacy and expand professional development for teachers who teach reading skills.
• Expand pre-kindergarten programs.
• Stop over-testing to allow more time for instruction.
• Encourage vocational education as well as college-oriented instruction.
• Stop teaching to the standardized tests.
• Consider Montessori school models.
• Keep fine arts.
• Keep physical education.
• Consider improving technology to move toward paperless classrooms.
• Shrink class sizes.
• Improve teachers' pay.
In addition to the community meetings, the school board also received thousands of responses to its electronic and paper survey, which asked parents to respond to statements like "My family is treated with respect at this school" and "This school provides a safe environment for my child to learn" on a scale of "strongly agree" to "strongly disagree." The survey also included open-ended questions and blank areas for comments. The survey closed Dec. 16.
At the school board meeting Monday night, the Rev. Chris Collins said the survey was a hit with parents. Collins joined the school board in 2008.
"For what it's worth," Collins said, "I've seen a lot of parents who not only saw it and filled it out, but they said it was the first time in their public school lives that they were asked what they thought."
The meetings Monday night were the first of the year. The public is invited to attend sessions at James Island Charter High School (Jan. 23 at 6 p.m.), Stall High School (Feb. 13 at 6 p.m.), and Burke High School (Feb. 27 at 6 p.m.).
An earlier version of the story incorrectly stated that district employees facilitated the community discussion. This was actually done by volunteers. We regret the error.