COLUMBIA, SC (WIS) - The heads of six charter schools will testify before an Ad Hoc committee of lawmakers Tuesday after questions began to swirl around the transfer of ten schools from one charter “authorizer” – or district – to another. One of those schools is giving WIS an insider’s look at the major transfer.
Gray Collegiate was one of those ten schools to transfer from the Public Charter School District to the Charter Institute at Erskine this past year. WIS asked the heads of both districts why such a large transfer? PCSDSC says lower performing schools were looking for a more lenient district. The Charter Institute at Erskine said the schools needed more support.
Here’s how the head of Gray collegiate responded to PCSD’s characterization:
“I beg to differ on that. And when you hear our presentation on Tuesday, [we’re looking at the] windshield, not the rearview mirror,” Brian Newsome, the principal at Gray Collegiate Academy said. “The reason we went with Erskine was because we felt like the philosophy and the support they’ll provide, and the capacity of staff they have is more in line with what we’re doing.”
Newsome took the helm in 2016. The PCSD was the school's authorizer- and put them on "breach status" shortly after Newsome took over.
"It came down to hey, Brian, let me see how your kids are doing academically,” said Newsome of the PCSD’s superintendent, Elliot Smalley. “That's really the litmus test for everybody. Are your kids moving forward academically? I said fair enough."
Newsome said in the past couple years the graduation rate went up. It climbed from 74 % in 2016 to 88 % in 2017. Last year, the school had a 91 % graduation rate. But, the PCSD still didn't take the school off breach status, citing low EVAAS scores – which is an evaluation tool. Newsome said the tool doesn’t accurately measure their curriculum and influence on students, as the students take the tests before entering high school.
"Our accountability is a number of things. But instead of EVAAS, we use graduation rate,” Newsome said. “I said so can you use graduation rate for us? And they said 'no they can't." And that's really when it became a philosophy issue."
Newsome asked for outside review. In a May 2017 report, commissioned by the PCSDSC, the reviewer found that every standard was met in the 11-page review, except the first. The first mission reads: The school operates in a manner that is faithful to the mission outlined in its approved charter.” The reviewer, listed as Howard V. Coleman, noted this was "partially met."
"It's like everything they wanted to make difficult at times,” Newsome said. “And we kept saying 'we're gonna go back to our mission. We're gonna be safe and small and student-centered. We're gonna work on our students to be successful every day so when they come today they're smarter than they were yesterday and that's our passion moving forward."
Gray was one of ten schools to transfer to Erskine from PCSDSC this past school year. They received a letter of good standing prior to the transfer to Erskine.
Another Ad Hoc committee meeting will take place Tuesday starting at 1 p.m.
Public Charter School District of South Carolina provided this statement: