Former Principal MiShawna Moore was credited with raising test scores at Sanders-Clyde Elementary School, a low-performing, predominantly black school. At the time, Charleston County School District officials unceasingly applauded Ms. Moore for her effort to bring parents, faculty, and students together to produce improved academic performance where previously there had been educational chaos.
I, too, was impressed.
I started first grade at Sanders-Clyde during the era of segregated public schools. I went on to attend other public schools — Mary Ford and Columbus Street elementary schools and C.A. Brown High School, all predominantly black schools. The thing they all had in common was that they each provided me with a great education.
But over the years most predominantly black schools experienced almost uniform drops in academic performance. With few exceptions, predominantly black schools are failing schools. To identify low-performing schools in Charleston County, one merely has to look at the schools’ racial demographics.
The more racially integrated our schools, the better their students perform academically. The education department’s school report cards attest to the fact.
So it was with great pleasure that I learned test scores at Sanders-Clyde were improving under Moore’s administration. The local news media and school officials lauded her innovative administration, and last year Moore was assigned to duplicate Sanders-Clyde’s success at neighboring Wilmot Fraser Elementary. She served as principal of both schools.
However, Moore abruptly resigned her position with the district and took a job as an assistant superintendent in Halifax County, N.C. Initially, I thought she was reacting to the backlash from a Fraser community that felt the low-performing school needed a full-time administrator.
Then the whispers started anew. For several years I’d heard them. One District 20 Constituent School Board member alluded that the test scores at several downtown elementary school had been tampered with. The board member couldn’t confirm the suspicions, but intimated that those involved included not just staff at the school level but at the constituent district level as well.
I failed to pursue the story. County school officials didn’t.
On Sept. 9, the school district turned over the information it had collected to SLED. Officials are tight-lipped about the investigation, but all indications seem to imply that if test scores were tampered with, it occurred with the knowledge of the school’s administration.
The people I’ve talked with since the announcement of the investigation believe the children at Sanders-Clyde have been cheated. The public has been led to believe those children have the skills they apparently don’t possess. The tragedy, they say, is that those children could have been given the skills. They say it’s not the children who are failing at low performing schools, but those who have accepted the task of teaching them.
Kids can learn. From the day they’re born, children suck up knowledge, and they can learn under adverse conditions.
When I started school at Sanders-Clyde, we had outdated textbooks and few resources the teachers themselves didn’t provide. What we had plenty of were teachers who were committed to our education. They studied us, learned our weaknesses, and taught us how to overcome them. On more than one occasion I’ve heard a teacher say, “I wish I could just open your head and pour the knowledge into it.”
Those educators didn’t have to tamper with our test scores; they tampered with our brains.