By Erica Taylor for The Island Connection
What might our education system and our community look like in 2035?
For the past four months, a 30-member team from across Charleston County came together as part of the Shared Future project to co-create a set of four scenarios to answer that question.
This diverse group bridges race, sectors, geography, politics, age, and roles. This Charleston Shared Future team took into account previous studies, like the Clemson Study on Diversity and Inclusion, Post and Courier’s “Minimally Adequate” series, The Avery Institute’s Racial Disparity Study, the 1998 Harvard Study on Charleston’s Education System, the recent Charleston County School District’s (CCSD) strategic plan, and other relevant data and experiences.
After several months of work, the scenarios were shared with educators, CCSD parents and community members at the CCSD Board of Trustees meeting on Jan. 28. The meeting was held in the Burke High School auditorium to accommodate the number of attendees.
The scenarios present four different stories about what the future of education might look like in 2035 in Charleston County and some possible paths to get to those endpoints.
In summary, they include:
1835: A fixed point in time, with no movement forward
Sweetgrass Basket: A slow and intensive process like that of making a basket. The sweetgrass must be processed before it is pliable enough to produce useful products.
Reconstruction: The need to reconstruct a system that was designed not to benefit all
. Techtowne: Technology drives the future.
The scenarios are not predictions, nor are they a vision, proposal, or plan. However, they are plausible – the events and actions in the scenarios make logical sense and could take place.
They are challenging as they offer a chance to notice blind spots and may present ideas or insights not considered before. They are relevant – they take into account what is happening and has happened in Charleston County.
Finally, they are clear – each scenario incorporates critical certainties – things known about 2035, and then uncertainties – things that could change over that period and cause different things to happen in each scenario, which is what makes the four scenarios distinctive and clear.
One of the participants, Vanessa Brown, Principal of Baptist Hill Middle High School, said she hopes that this creates a sense of urgency in the Charleston community to examine the CCSD system and make drastic system changes and process.
“We have become so used to this being the way we do things, and we don’t understand that our system has some flaws,” Brown said.
“Through this, I hope we create reaction (and cause action), and people will want to do things differently and make decisions that to impact our children now and impact our city – because we are Charleston.”
Eric Thome, Director of Venture South Charleston, also participated in the process. He hopes the scenarios will change the dialogue and how people think and talk about the future of education in Charleston.
“We know we have a segregated school district and we know we have failing schools,” Thome said. “Yet we don’t change. So we have to understand that this is a system that is failing our community. It is not a failed system. It is a system working exactly as designed.”
Local businessman and team member Craig Ascue, a local paint and body shop owner, also acknowledged that the local education system is broken.
“What we found was that it was set up for certain people to be successful and what we found was a lot of people ended up not being successful,” said Ascue. “I hope the results will be that more people are intuned to what the Charleston County School system looks like.”
Three high school students were also included in this Shared Future process. “I hope this is not something thrown to the side after a while,” said Early College High School Sophomore Kyra Freeman. “I hope people take the results we are bringing to them, and they use it to better our schools, our community, our kids and, our teachers.”
Burke junior Anthony Brown has hope for the next steps of the process. “I want the community to get involved. I don’t want this to die off. I want this to keep going, so someone can solve this solution,” Brown said. “Not as minorities, but as one Charleston. Because we are all Charlestonians, we are all South Carolinians.”
Academic Magnet High School Junior Sully Gholson was impressed to see such a diverse group come together and put aside differences.
“It also helped me realize that there are students out there that do not have the same opportunities as I do,” said Gholson. “There are inequities in our district that need to be solved. But with this group, I truly believe we can make that happen.”
What happens next belongs to the community. While CCSD represents a key part of the education system, Charleston County, its people and its organizations are as critical to this effort as the school district is and will help decide and facilitate next steps.
Additional information on Charleston Shared Future can be found at CCSDSchools.com/ about_us/shared_future_project.