1. What is Reimagine Schools?
Reimagine Schools is about making sure communities surrounding 23 schools in Charleston County have the opportunity to take stock of what their students need to thrive, to explore the ideas that the teachers and administrators have to address those needs, and then to assess all the available options under South Carolina law that would best suit what they want and need to accomplish.
Too often across this district, students and teachers have been challenged to succeed in one-size, fits-all schools that simply don’t address their students’ needs or circumstances. Many of those teachers and administrators know what needs to be done differently but lack the resources or flexibility to make changes.
The Reimagine framework is all about capturing that community wisdom and ensuring that the district commits the funding and support to enable those ideas to be fully explored and ultimately implemented — which we believe will address decades-long challenges and the well-known educational disparities students face throughout the district.
With this approach, educators, administrators, School Improvement Councils, Constituent School Boards and parents will lead in developing improvement plans for 23 schools in our community. Together, as appointees of community commissions, they will assess all available options and ideas, and then put forth a plan for each school based on that community input. The funding and resources set aside by CCSD will then be used to implement each school’s plan after they’re approved by the CCSD school board.
2. Why does the proposal cost $32 million and how will that be spent?
The Reimagine Schools proposal requests that Charleston County School District spend $580,000 upfront on the community engagement process and the formation of commissions that will create the improvement plans for 23 schools. The rest, about 98% of the $32 million, would be set aside by the school district to be used at the end of the commission process to implement the plans created for each school, which would provide resources to students and teachers and training and recruitment for educators.
All the funding will be held at and allocated by CCSD directly to fund the school’s improvement plans. Coastal Community Foundation is not asking to hold or control any of those funds; it all remains in CCSD’s hands until it is allocated directly to these schools.
To be clear, Coastal Community Foundation is not requesting any public dollars. The request is for CCSD to spend its own funds on CCSD schools directly. In fact, Coastal Community Foundation is proposing to contribute additional dollars to ensure school improvements are supported long term.
From the outset, our goal has been to engage and empower administrators, teachers, students and parents to create the desired changes that are appropriate for their specific needs.
3. Why did the Coastal Community Foundation not engage the public?
Reimagine Schools was our response to the goals outlined in CCSD’s ESSER III Engagement Overview. The CCSD ESSER III Program Partner Application for Community-Based Organizations was the result of months of community engagement and feedback, and as instructed by the request for proposals, we developed the Reimagine framework with this input in mind. Based on the direction of CCSD, the plan was to begin community engagement after the framework of Reimagine Schools was voted on, if approved by the school board.
Coastal Community Foundation’s proposal includes a plan for robust community engagement with the communities, educators, students and other stakeholders for each of the 23 schools. Reimagine Schools cannot succeed without input and engagement from the community. This engagement would identify the challenges and opportunities at each school by going directly to the people that know them best.
As a community foundation, we are not in the business of doing anything to our communities. We believe very strongly in doing everything with our communities. While Reimagine Schools was meant to center perspectives of educators and parents, we regret that the process over the last six months didn’t allow for adequate communication and collaboration with our community about this proposal before it was formally introduced.
4. Is this a proposal for the privatization of public schools?
There is no outcome of this process that will lead to the privatization of any public schools. Even Public Schools of Innovation operated by a nonprofit education organization are approved by and supervised by the District’s board, mandated by state law, which was voted on and supported by a majority of our local legislative delegation.
Even if the Charleston County School Board at the end of this process decides to approve a Public School of Innovation with management of the school delegated to a nonprofit organization, the school will remain a public school. Here is CCSD’s policy and process related to Schools of Innovation.
This is not the only option, though. There are several possible recommendations the community commissions working with the 23 identified schools could make to the school board following the planning process:
- They could request that a school become a Public School of Innovation, which would allow it to implement a customized model with more freedom and flexibility while still under the same management structure under control of the school board. According to CCSD’s policy, “A School of Innovation may be a small program within a school or a school-wide program. The program may be simple or complex… (and) must demonstrate that it is new, innovative, and more flexible than current district programs, strategies, or approaches, per state law.”
- They could also request as part of the Public School of Innovation designation that a school partner with a nonprofit school management organization (an Innovation Management Organization) through the Public School of Innovation law to operate the school. In this case, the organization would remain accountable to the school board.
- They also could recommend no change in management structure at a school and instead suggest improvements outside the framework of a Public School of Innovation – or even suggest no changes at all.
There is one more essential point to make here. Whatever recommendations come from the community commissions, the Charleston County School District board must vote to approve any and all proposed changes before they happen.
All of these options are options that schools can already pursue. What we are saying is that any potential change should first be fully understood and vetted by the surrounding community of a school.
5. I’ve heard Reimagine Schools would get rid of most teachers working at these schools. Is that true?
No, that’s not true. Reimagine Schools is about making sure all educators, community members and parents know what options are available as they decide how to improve their schools. Any plan and changes will be decided locally by each individual school, including staffing and will have to be approved by CCSD as it always has been. Reimagine Schools does not, nor has it ever included a component that would give Coastal Community Foundation or any outside organization the ability to fire or dismiss educators and school personnel.
The references in the news and community forums to this proposed cut to staffing levels originates from the Foundation’s efforts advocating for greater teacher protections in the state law regarding Public Schools of Innovation, which was overwhelmingly supported by the local legislative delegation. We advocated for an amendment to the bill requiring Public Schools of Innovation to retain at least one-third, but ideally two-thirds, of the existing teaching faculty and expanding professional development and training opportunities. While the legislature did not include these additional protections for teachers, we have continued advocating to protect teachers and provide them with the resources they need.
6. Why did the Coastal Community Foundation submit this proposal?
Last fall, CCSD put out a call for proposals from community-based organizations to address key goals the district identified in summer 2021 related to federal COVID-19 recovery dollars (ESSER III funds) following extensive engagement and feedback from the community. Coastal Community Foundation was among 70 organizations that submitted ideas, and Reimagine Schools was crafted to specifically address the well-known educational disparities students face throughout the district.
The Foundation has worked for nearly 50 years to bring together people, ideas and resources to address vexing issues that cannot or have not been solved by dollars alone. We responded to this call because it aligned with that experience and our stated mission to create communities rich in equity, opportunity and well-being by uniting people and investing resources so that all community members have a pathway to achieve their goals.
7. What will the role of Coastal Community Foundation be?
The Foundation will solely be involved as a convener to ensure an inclusive and transparent process that is led by educators, administrators, School Improvement Councils and Constituent School Boards and parents, along with additional support from experts in education and facilitate the planning process for each of the 23 schools identified in the proposal.
It will not be the Foundation’s role to dictate outcomes of the commissions, to hold or control public funds or to be involved in operating schools.
8. Are there other options?
Yes, there were 71 proposals submitted to CCSD including Reimagine Schools. These proposals address a wide range of ideas and suggestions to address key goals the district identified in summer 2021 related to federal COVID-19 recovery dollars (ESSER III funds) following extensive engagement and feedback from the community.
The past two years have been highly disruptive to students, teaching staff and our community and we, along with others, believe we have a unique opportunity to address decades-long challenges that have plagued our schools and our communities.
No matter what happens with Reimagine Schools, Coastal Community Foundation looks forward to supporting any solutions that align with our goal to create communities rich in equity, opportunity and well-being, as we have for nearly 50 years in the Lowcountry.
Please note, this resource will be updated periodically to reflect new information and new questions as they arise.