Brentwood Elementary is a model for success

June 19, 2016 - MSS In The News

It is time to close the devastating, but persistent, achievement gap between students in Charleston County whose families have resources and those whose don’t.

And the familiar dodge about how difficult it would be isn’t acceptable. That gap already is being eliminated here on a small scale. The challenge of expanding that success district-wide would be a worthy priority for the new Charleston County School District superintendent, Gerrita Postlewait.

A visit to Meeting Street Elementary @ Brentwood points the way.

Last fall, the school, a public/private partnership, opened for students living in a zone with a history of failure. Meeting Street Schools, which already had established two private schools for under-resourced students, was allowed to choose the staff, select the curriculum and set the calendar. CCSD provided the regular local contribution per child — $3,000.

In the fall, first graders at Brentwood were given the same tests as students at Title 1 schools in North Charleston. They were comparable — 34 percent in the top two quartiles and 66 percent in the bottom two.

But when they were tested in the spring, 84 percent of Brentwood’s students were in the first or second quartile. That means they are on the early track to be eligible for Life Scholarships.

Kindergartners showed similar success with 86 percent in the top two quartiles by spring.

Its first grade class ended well above the national average in both reading and math.

The performance was significantly better than that at North Charleston Title 1 schools with similar student demographics.

Ben Navarro, a local businessman, established Meeting Street Schools and helps funds them. He talks about good business practices applying to schools: accountability, effective staffing, adequate resources and solid assessments.

Brentwood’s mission of providing excellent academics to under-resourced children involves recognizing that these children deserve excellent schooling and that they can achieve great things in the classroom.

And they do.

Mr. Navarro wholly funds the school’s program for 3-year-olds because the school district doesn’t. The school day and its calendar year are longer than a traditional school’s. And each classroom has two teachers. The school provides medical and dental screening, healthy meals and exposure to people and places in the community.

Brentwood’s philosophy is not to blame families for shortcomings at home but to provide programs that meet students’ needs at school. Parents are encouraged to be active in the school, and 100 percent of parents regularly attend parent/teacher conferences.

Before the school year started, principal Sara Campbell visited every student’s home to welcome the families and talk with them about what to expect.

Mr. Navarro acknowledges that CCSD has some obstacles to replicating Brentwood. Foremost is the state Teacher Dismissal Act, which makes it difficult to weed out teachers who are not succeeding with students. He says businesses anticipate dismissing 5 to 10 percent of their workforce every year for inadequate performance and that demanding high standards pays off.

Also, he says, CCSD’s big bureaucracy can be cumbersome. Meeting Street Schools principals are allowed to recruit nationally to find teachers with a passion to change children’s lives. And principals can replace teachers when necessary.

The tragic slaying of nine people as they studied the Bible at Emanuel AME Church has inspired people to reflect on becoming a fair and united community.

Giving every student a chance to get an excellent education is basic to that goal. Schools can’t guarantee equal outcomes, but they should guarantee equal opportunities.

And the time to make it happen is now.

The Post and Courier

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