I’ve been privileged to serve as the principal at a school like Lead Academy in Greenville, South Carolina. We’ve faced tremendous challenges – from losing our building to the constant pressures put on public charter schools in South Carolina – but in spite of it all, our kids have succeeded. Due to the incredible teachers who work at Lead, our SC Report Card Growth is rated “Excellent,” our TAP Value-added Score is 5 out of 5, our Palmetto Achievement Award is Gold status and our Palmetto Closing the Gap Award status Silver. All this at a school where 65% of students are on free or reduced lunch.
I tell you all this not to brag, even though I could not be more proud of my students, but to emphasize that culture is an incredibly important part of building a successful school. We created a culture of success with great teachers, high expectations and individualized education. A fancy building never educated a child, and that is certainly true at Lead.
We need a culture change in South Carolina public education. A culture that places the needs of students ahead of the ideologies of adults. A culture where high performance is rewarded for students, teachers and principals.
We need dramatic change in education, and there are several solutions that could go a long way towards helping a lot of South Carolina’s children.
First, South Carolina needs a dramatic turnaround for its lowest performing schools. We’ve seen cyclical poverty, high crime rates and high unemployment in far too many communities as a direct result of the state failing to act in a transformative way. I strongly believe that an Achievement School District model, similar to what has worked so well in Tennessee and Louisiana, must be part of the solution. It has worked to turn around schools previously thought to be destined for permanent failure. While it might be controversial to some, it puts the needs of students ahead of everything else. And it creates a culture of success in schools that values the student.
Second, the funding formula for South Carolina charter schools needs to be reformed. While funding isn’t everything, principals and teachers shouldn’t have to constantly worry about funding for their school. The uncertainty detracts attention from the most important job of providing an education that meets the needs of all students. It also levels the playing field between all public schools, and even amongst charters, allowing innovation and achievement to be the identifying characteristics of schools, not who can raise the most money. High performing charter schools, like Lead Academy, deserve to be treated like every other public school in South Carolina.
These two policies, when implemented in tandem, will also have the added benefit of helping to recruit high quality charter management organizations to South Carolina – something that is currently lacking. As an educator, I know that these two policy changes won’t solve every problem. But bold solutions like an Achievement School District and charter school funding reform will improve the lives of thousands of South Carolina children.