Photo by MChe Lee on Unsplash

We still don’t know why former Superintendent Gerrita Postlewait is no longer in her chair as leader of Charleston County Schools. But the recent saga that saw Postlewait unceremoniously headed for the door at the end of 2021 seems to be standard operating procedure for a school district that’s grown rife with secrecy and closed-door dealings that continue to shortchange Charleston’s students.

State and local schools have a host of problems that needed to be fixed yesterday. But this much is clear: Charleston County School District’s next superintendent must be a public education reformer committed to building trust and bringing along school communities with new programs that help enrich our struggling schools.

The numbers in Charleston County School District paint a clear picture of a district that seems incapable of improving schools where student success rates often mirror household poverty levels. Each year, we hear about Academic Magnet High School’s U.S. News and World Report ranking, but not the 89.9% poverty rate at North Charleston High School nearby, where just 22.9% of students earn Cs or better in English.

District leaders’ shortcomings have not been for lack of trying. Every school year, parents and students are pitched some new-fangled “innovation” that promises to turn things around, many times by inviting unknown, unelected and unaccountable outside operators and dark-money groups to step in. 

It’s this kind of wrongheaded, politically minded run-government-like-a-business nonsense that buys mile-wide leeway for do-nothing elected leaders to show any progress at all. Yet, struggling schools still struggle. (All while big corporations get nice local news stories for stroking multi-million-dollar checks to Meeting Street Schools.)

Charleston County School District has long had a bad habit of executive-session meetings where public school affairs are discussed in secret without the transparency public meetings are supposed to provide. Postlewait’s departure alone included three hours of secret meetings that yielded no public explanation why the district now has to endure an expensive, drawn-out superintendent search. (A City Paper Freedom of Information Act records request to the district for employment documents discussed Dec. 29 remained unanswered at the time of publication.)

And the pandemic has made it even easier for district trustees to hide from parents frustrated by clunky COVID-19 precautions and behind-the-scenes machinations. Some of the anger is immature, but you can’t blame parents for feeling like their kids’ futures are out of their control.

So here we are, in need of a new district superintendent, set to be chosen by a school board dominated by a majority of trustees endorsed by the Charleston Coalition For Kids. Pressure will be strong to pick another leader eager to cede control to public-private arrangements.

District leaders: Don’t relinquish the “public” in public education.

District parents: Don’t let them do it.

Public schools funded by public money should be led by public officials devoted to students, not wannabe do-gooders with no obligations to academic standards and public accountability.

Conduct a proactive national search that will yield quality candidates. Probe deeply into their backgrounds and affiliations. Give the public a chance to have a say. And finally, discuss and select the new superintendent in the open. No more secrecy.