Coastal Community Foundation’s ‘Reimagine Schools’ proposal aims to co-invest with CCSD in turnaround plans for select schools, based on needs to be defined by community commissions

Coastal Community Foundation (CCF) is proposing Reimagine Schools: a bold, strategic co-investment with Charleston County School District to create three inclusive community commissions that will determine turnaround plans for many of the underperforming schools in their communities located in the most economically challenged areas of the school district.

The goal is to ensure that strategies for rapid improvement are developed by local parents and educators alongside CCSD elected leaders, and that the learning environments reflect what students truly need to succeed based on their lived experiences and community context.

CCF will present the proposal to the Charleston County School District Board of Trustees on Monday, Dec. 13. You can read the full proposal here.

The Reimagine Schools proposal is rooted in the belief that all students are capable of learning and achieving their goals, but in economically challenged communities, it has been proven essential for learning environments to fit the specific circumstances and needs of its students.

We also believe when we invite teachers, parents, students, grandparents, and civic leaders to the table to rethink what their local schools can look like based on what they truly need, and then pursue those ideas with all available resources, we can close the longstanding disparities that have only deepened as a result of Covid-19.

By taking a “whole student” approach — acknowledging the role families and communities play in the success of students — we can implement the structures, interventions and supports that lead to student growth and achievement. The two approaches that are key are community engagement and innovation.

Community engagement

Reimagine Schools begins with the creation of three inclusive Innovation Commissions —each with up to 15 members including CCSD elected leaders, parents, local educators and community residents — to support the creation of turnaround plans for specific feeder patterns of elementary, middle and high schools in their communities.

One joint commission will support the feeder patterns in Hollywood/Ravenel and Johns Island, with the two other commissions each supporting feeder patterns in North Charleston and on the Charleston peninsula. The commissions will work with education experts to assess, deliberate, and ultimately put forward plans for transforming each school that align with each community’s goals and reflect their community’s circumstances.

In each area, the Commissions will ensure students and their families, community academic leaders and residents of each school community have a meaningful voice at the table with education experts, school district leaders and representatives of community-based education nonprofits. As a result, plans for Reimagine Schools will be forged with research and best practices as well as historical context and the lived experiences of the surrounding community.

To further build consensus with parents and community members, the Reimagine Schools proposal recommends appointing nonprofit community hosts to work with each Commission to gather input from local parents and provide their feedback to the Commission throughout the process.

Meanwhile, Commissions would also be supported by a third-party technical advisor, which will help Commissions evaluate options and think through various outcomes of proposed changes, based on expertise, research, experience and familiarity with education policy.

The proposal also recommends a convener to serve as the organizer and administrator of the Reimagine Schools initiative, ensuring a smooth and transparent engagement and decision-making process. It would be responsible for securing and managing the contracts of the technical advisor and community hosts, as well as managing the communication and reporting process between the Innovation Commissions, CCSD Board of Trustees, CCSD Superintendent, and the community at large.

Innovation

Each Commission will be encouraged and supported to explore new ideas and pursue them as true possibilities, as the common financial and structural constraints that often hinder innovative solutions will be lifted.

From a financial standpoint, CCF recommends that CCSD set aside $31.1 million to implement the turnaround plans once the plans are submitted by the Commissions and the CCSD School Board votes to approve them. CCF would also commit to raise funds to further support and sustain the structural and programmatic innovations enacted at Reimagine Schools.

By providing substantial up-front support, the Commissions can work on plans to fit students’ needs first and foremost, rather than primarily considering ideas that would fit into a school’s typical budget.

Structurally, the recently passed Public Schools of Innovation law allows school leaders to apply for waivers to state and local regulations that inhibit creative solutions, meaning each commission can pursue ideas that potentially haven’t been tried before.

Based on school models they decide to recommend, each Commission will also be tasked with identifying the best management structure for each school in that district, after deliberating the following options:

  1. District-managed Public School of Innovation: The school remains managed and governed by CCSD. Some waivers to regulations will be accessible through the Public School of Innovation law.
  2. Nonprofit-managed Public School of Innovation: The school would transition management to a nonprofit management organization, increasing autonomy, flexibility and ability to receive direct donations. Waivers to regulations will be accessible through the Public School of Innovation law.
  3. No changes to existing structure.

In each case, CCSD still provides funding, facilities and infrastructure and remains accountable for the school’s performance and fiscal responsibility.

Depending on recommendations of each Innovation Commission, the opportunity could arise for CCSD to assist in establishing a separately managed nonprofit, an Innovation Management Organization, in which Reimagine Schools can be assigned for the purposes of contract management, administration, talent recruiting, teacher training and retention, shared practices, and funding.

Recommended feeder patterns

The proposal recommends establishing feeder patterns in each of the four Commission-supported areas to ensure that students are supported in a full ecosystem that is responsive to their needs, goals and circumstances from the time they enter elementary school to the time they graduate high school.

Research shows that the feeder pattern approach can help minimize social disruptions as students move into upper level schools, and it encourages collaboration among all school leaders in that area as they identify emerging trends or needs in their communities.

We reviewed schools that were designated as “comprehensive support and improvement” schools, where most students perform one or more years below grade level in reading or math, located in communities with high poverty rates. In addition, with data and guidance from CCSD School Board members, we were able to identify and recommend schools in feeder patterns that provided the highest turnaround potential.

Two proposed feeder patterns are included for District 4 in North Charleston:

  1. Feeder Pattern #1: Chicora Elementary School, North Charleston Elementary School, and Morningside Middle School and North Charleston High School.
  2. Feeder Pattern #2: Jerry Zucker Middle School and Stall High School. The elementary school is to be determined.

In District 20 on the Charleston peninsula, the proposed feeder pattern schools are:

  • Elementary Schools: Sanders Clyde Elementary School, James Simons Elementary School, Charleston Progressive Academy, and Mitchell Elementary School.
  • Middle School: Simmons Pinckney Middle School.
  • High School: Burke High School.

In District 23 in Hollywood/Ravenel, the proposed feeder pattern schools are:

  • Elementary Schools: Jane Edwards Elementary School, EB Ellington Elementary School and Minnie Hughes Elementary School.
  • Middle School: Baptist Hill Middle School.
  • High School: Baptist Hill High School.

In District 9 on Johns Island, the proposed feeder pattern schools are:

  • Elementary Schools: Mount Zion Elementary, Angel Oak Elementary and Frierson Elementary
  • Middle Schools: Haut Gap Middle
  • High School: St. John’s High School

The Innovation Commissions supporting Constituent School Districts 20, 23 and 9 would form by the end of January 2022, with plans completed by June 2022. Implementation would be expected to begin in August 2022.

The Innovation Commissions supporting District 4 would form by November 2022, with plans completed by May 2023. Implementation would be expected to begin in August 2023.

For more information about the Reimagine Schools proposal, email communications@coastalcommunityfoundation.org.

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