Archives for category: Rural Schools

Jan Resseger writes here about Montana Senator Jon Tester’s deep and well-grounded belief in public education. He says that Democrats would have greater success in red states if they talked about the importance of public schools and the elites who are trying to privatize them.

Think about it. The vast majority of students in the United States attend public schools even when school choice is offered to them. Only 6 percent choose to attend charter schools; about 2 percent use vouchers. By now we know that neither charter schools nor vouchers offer a better education than democratically controlled public schools. Yet the billionaires continue to fund failure.

I hereby add Senator Jon Tester to the blog’s honor roll of champions of public education.

Resseger writes:

In mid-December, the NY Times‘ Jonathan Martin interviewed Montana Senator Jon Tester about his new book, Grounded: A Senator’s Lessons on Winning Back Rural America. Tester, a Democrat and U.S. Senator in his third term, represents a deep red state.

Tester tells Martin: “Democrats can really do some positive things in rural America just by talking about infrastructure and what they’re doing for infrastructure, particularly in the area of broadband. And then I would say one other policy issue is how some Republicans want to basically privatize public education. That is very dangerous, and I think it’s a point that people don’t want to see their public schools close down in Montana…”

Many hope President Joe Biden’s administration will significantly reshape federal education policy. During last year’s campaign for President, Biden, the candidate, declared a public education agenda that contrasts sharply with what happened to federal policy in public education beginning in the 1990s and culminating in the 2002 No Child Left Behind and later in 2009 in Arne Duncan’s Race to the Top.  Jack Schneider and Jennifer Berkshire describe the past couple of decades: “Together, led by federal policy elites, Republicans and Democrats espoused the logic of markets in the public sphere, expanding school choice through publicly funded charter schools. Competition, both sides agreed, would strengthen schools.  And the introduction of charters, this contingent believed, would empower parents as consumers….”

Now with Biden’s election, many are looking for a turn by prominent Democrats back to the urgent needs of the public schools as a new COVID-19 recession compounds funding problems lingering in state budgets from the Great Recession a dozen years ago and as school privatization through charter school expansion and vouchers continues to thrust public schools deeper into fiscal crisis. Senator Jon Tester believes Democrats can rebuild support in rural America by attending to the needs of rural public education.

Tester’s new book folds policy ideas into memoir, with the back story a tribute to small town public schooling.  An indifferent high school student, Tester was encouraged by a debate coach, “who taught me how to articulate political arguments” and “taught us how to structure speeches to build an arc of suspense. He taught us the importance of clarity and simple language.”  Tester was elected student body president at Big Sandy High School: “For Government Day, on behalf of Big Sandy’s students, I invited one of our area’s most familiar elected leaders to visit with us about his long career in public service… Senator James was a tall, soft-spoken old farmer who accepted my invitation graciously and visited with us Big Sandy students for the better part of a day. He made the art and war of state politics sound fun.”

A trumpet player and college music major, Tester taught elementary school music at F.E. Miley Elementary School but was forced to resign when the paltry salary, even on top of what he could earn from farming, made it impossible for his family to get by. Tester ran for the local board of education and served for nearly a decade, including stints as vice chair and chair: “To this day, I’m asked about my most difficult job in politics. Without a doubt, my answer is the nine years I spent on the Big Sandy school board; it seemed everyone had strong opinions about public school policies, disciplinary actions, money, pay, taxes, ethics, graduations, grades, teacher performance, coaches, bullies, scholarships—it was a nine-year roller-coaster ride, and I loved every twist and turn.”

There is more. Open the link and read the rest of her piece about this wonderful Senator from Montana.

Arnold and Carol Hillman were educators in Pennsylvania. They retired to South Carolina and, instead of golfing and relaxing, they became involved with rural public schools. They created clubs for high school boys and girls and helped steer their kids towards college. I wrote about their work with students in rural schools several times. See here. Arnold wrote me recently to tell me about the devastating impact of the pandemic on rural students, and I asked him to write it up for the blog. He wrote the section about Rasheem, and Carol wrote about LaRonda.

They wrote:

Rasheem and LaRonda are two students in a rural South Carolina county. A review of county statistics will show that the county is 700 square miles. It is one of the poorest counties in the state. Over the past five years, the education system has declined in quality. The ACT scores have descended 15.8%. Even the state’s average ACT scores have gone down from 18.6 to 18.1. 

When you travel around the county, you are struck by the endless roads that seem to include only a forested area on both sides and a town or two with some stores and maybe a gas station. You must travel to the county seat to go shopping at a supermarket or travel to the other urban center at the bottom of the county.

Choices in any aspect of normal life are limited. There is one dentist in the area. He is a homer, comes from one of the towns. Other medical facilities such as a hospital are close to Route 95 near the bottom of the county. The rural districts that occupy both sides of Route 95 have been dubbed, “The Corridor of Shame.” That was also a documentary film done in 2007 to describe the area and the public schools.

We have visited 21 of the 41 (will be 37 districts when certain consolidations take place) rural school districts in the state. There are many Rasheem’s and Laronda’s in those areas. Having traveled to see away basketball games, we can also point out that there are many similarities up and down these counties.

The school district personnel are well aware of the problems of both of these students. Rasheem lives with his grandmother. His parents have had other children and could not handle Rasheem too. So, when he turned seven, they transferred responsibility for raising Rasheem to his maternal grandmother. Zelda provides all of the necessities of life, as much as she can, to Rasheem. She lives on a pension and social security.

Rasheem’s parents were divorced sometime after Rasheem went to live with his grandmother. They both have new families with new spouses or live-ins. Rasheem is a senior in high school and like many kids his age, has dreams of getting away from home and making a better life for himself. He wants to go to college or join the air force or maybe become a racecar driver. He works part-time at a local Piggy Wiggly and has a used car he bought from an uncle. His earnings cover his car insurance, gas, and the $200 he must pay in South Carolina annual car tax. Anything left over covers his school clothes, which he keeps outgrowing. He plays basketball and hopes to win a scholarship. The coach thinks he’s good enough for a Division I1 school. 

However, his dreams may not come true. This Covid-19 year, a number of schools have cancelled football and other fall sports, as well as the winter sports seasons Therefore, as hard as it was for scouts to come down to see him and others playing, it is now just a dream.

Rasheem has a 3.4 GPA (Grade Point Average) and he works hard to keep his grades up, so he has become pretty good at time management. The one subject he struggles with is math. It’s not really the math that is so hard, it’s that he can’t always understand his math teacher. Rasheem’s school, like many South Carolina rural schools, is very isolated and very poor. They can’t afford to pay teachers well and there are no places for teachers from outside of the county to live. So, when the high school principal tries to fill vacancies with certified teachers, she often needs to recruit teachers from India or South America, people looking for any job they can find in America. These teachers may know their subject matter, but their grasp of American English and even their understanding of American students is often lacking. 

When Covid-19 appeared last March, schools in South Carolina closed. Everything went virtual. This fall there has been a back and forth between virtual and in-person education. Because of senior students wanting to play some kind of ball, both girls and boys, some of them have transferred to private schools. 

Rasheem’s guidance counselor has been trying to talk to him about his future plans since he was a junior, but it wasn’t until he hit his senior year that he paid much attention. The guidance counselor has a big case load. She has students with many different and sometimes pressing problems.  She tries to remind her seniors about college applications and financial aid forms. The burden of staying on top of all this is up to the students. Rasheem does not have anyone in his family who has been to college, in fact, his grandma did not graduate from high school.

Neither Rasheem nor his grandma are familiar with anything to do with college, but among the good choices he has made are his decisions to join the basketball team and ROTC. Colonel Manning and Coach Phillips are both very caring, capable individuals who have Rasheem’s best interest in mind. They have been trying to talk to him about what he needs to do to realize his dreams. 

Working with the group that I have been mentoring for 5 years has become almost impossible. Many of the students have gotten jobs and are really not calling or Zooming with me. When I do hear from them, it is a short call with me asking them if they have filled out their FAFSA forms, if they have any intent of going to college. 

Rasheem is planning to take the ASVAB. The Armed Services Vocational Aptitude Battery is a test you must take to get into the armed services. You need a score of 31 out of 99 to get into the Army and a 36 for the Air Force. He took the ACTs (American College Testing) last year and scored a 16 out of 36 on the test. He will need to bring that score up to somewhere in the mid 20’s, which is not a score that many students get in rural South Carolina. While students from some of the advantaged districts come from families that prepare them for college, most rural parents are not aware of steps to take to help their children. Many of the parents have not gone to college and are not familiar with FAFSA (Free Application for Federal Student Aid) forms. 

Students from families with college experience have been preparing for the transition from high school to college from the time their children were born. Their children have visited colleges and taken practice tests of both the ACTs and the SATs. Rasheem has done none of that because he didn’t have a family helping him. This is only one challenge Rasheem is facing.

Other challenges are the fact that his high school does not have a high rating on the South Carolina state tests. They do not have a high graduation rate. Many of Rasheem’s classmates do not see education as a priority and so he competes for his teachers’ attention with disruptive students. Some of his teachers are burnt out from dealing with the Covid -19 problems and don’t provide the best possible instruction. 

On days when school is in session, Rasheem eats a free breakfast and lunch at school. When he gets home, after school and before work, his grandma gives him supper. On weekends and over vacation breaks Rasheem doesn’t always get three meals a day. Even working in a grocery store does not entitle him to free food.

His family has been generous enough to help him pay for senior pictures and the prom (if they have one), but he will not be attending the senior class trip (if there is one) because he can’t afford it.

LaRonda is a junior at the same high school.  She is smart, quick with a quip and talented in art and writing. Last year, LaRonda played on the basketball team. She is skilled, agile and has a burning competitive spirit. She has a 4.0 Grade Point Average and has taken all the AP (Advanced Placement) Courses the school offers.

Her family situation is not the same as Rasheem’s. LaRonda has a mom and dad. She has two brothers and a new baby sister. She is responsible for taking care of her younger brothers, as well as helping with the baby. This restricts her from getting a job or having any social life.

Transportation is a real problem. LaRonda’s family has one car and it serves Mom, Dad, Grandma and LaRonda.. She has started a small business of her own “doing hair.” Because of COVID and the baby sister, she cannot do hair at home. She needs to travel to clients. Again, the problem of sharing the car.

LaRonda is angry. She resents her mother for having more children whom LaRonda needs to care for. Her friends advise her to “have it out” with her mother and say she is going to get an after-school job so she can have her own money. LaRonda really wants to do that, but then she thinks, “what will happen to my baby sister”?

LaRonda is in the gifted program She has taken Algebra I three times. The first time was when she was in 7th grade. She was in the gifted program so she, along with other gifted 7th graders, was put in Algebra 1 (usually given in 9th grade). You only get credit for a course if you pass the final exam. She and her friends got all “A’s” in the class but were told that because they were only in 7th grade, they could not take the test. In 8th grade they took Algebra I, again getting “A’s”, but were not allowed to take the final exam because, “since you took Algebra 1 before it’s not fair to the other students who were taking Algebra 1 for the first time.” In 9th grade, when the non-gifted students had gone on to Geometry, LaRonda and her cohorts were taking Algebra 1 for the third and final time. They all passed the final exam with flying colors! 

Before COVID-19 made meeting in-person impossible, Carol and Lynn met with the 10 girls they mentored weekly. They shared lunch, laughter, sometimes tears and always hello and goodbye hugs. Together the group has mentored younger students and run fundraisers that have enabled them to go on trips and exciting overnight adventures. All that is missing now. 

Carol and Lynn try to stay in touch with the girls they have been mentoring, but, like Rasheem and his friends, COVID is making that difficult. Carol and Lynn call the girls individually. That works sometimes. When LaRonda desperately needed a computer, Lynn found a computer and printer for her that had been refurbished by a friend. 

LaRonda has always said she wants to go to college to become a pediatrician, but her older friends who were in college are now dropping out. They loved college in person – spending time with friends on campus, but they are so turned off by the virtual learning and so unsure of their futures that they are no longer willing to scrimp and save to pay for college. That makes LaRonda think maybe she should go into the military.

She told Carol, “I wanted to be the first to tell you I might not go to college, because I thought you’d be disappointed in me. I took the ASVAB test and got a 56. Is that good? My friends are going into the Army so I might do that too.” Carol reminded LaRonda that she would never be disappointed in her, that it was her life and she needs to make her own decisions, but that she should keep up her schoolwork and take the ACTs so she has options. She asked LaRonda, “What does your mom say?” LaRonda, “She says, ‘Whatever you think, is fine with me.’ “

When they talk about the future, LaRonda is not the only one who says, “I pray every day that I can get out of here and not end up like my mom, but I love my mom. It’s in God’s hands and whatever happens will be for the best.

Through no fault of their own, Rasheem and LaRonda have very uncertain futures.

​​​

Peter Greene writes about a new push to expand charters in Maine by the same-old group that has failed in the past to disrupt the state’s devotion to public schools. Wake up, Maine! Don’t be fooled. They want you to divert money from public schools to privately managed schools run by entrepreneurs and corporate chains.

He begins:

Maine has suffered through its own brands of education disruption. Most notably, they became the target for a bunch folks who wanted to use Maine as a proof of concept state for proficiency based learning grafted onto standards based grading. At best they showed that a poorly implemented and underfunded disruption of this sort is disastrous; at worst, they showed that re-organizing education around the needs of data miners is a terrible idea. However you slice it, Maine’s little experiment failed hard.

But what education in Maine hasn’t had to deal with much is the rise of charter schools. The charter industry hasn’t infected Maine as badly as, say, Ohio or Indiana. There are ten charters, with fewer than a total of 3,000 students enrolled. There are plenty of possible explanations, not the least of which is that once you get away from Theme Park Maine on the coast, Maine is pretty rural (I have an old friend who used to describe his central Maine high school as fifteen miles and an hour and a half away from the nearest rival). But that limited role for charteristas may be about to change.

Like every state where charters are legal, Maine has a group that promotes, advocates, lobbies and generally cheerleads for the charter industry– the Maine Association for Charter Schools, whose stated purpose is to promote “high-quality options for all children within Maine’s public education system.” But last year the legislature indefinitely extended a charter school cap

So what’s a chartery education disruption group to do? 

How about renaming yourself? And rebranding yourself with a whole new mission by declaring yourself the leaders of the state’s education community?

So let’s meet a fun new group launched just a few months ago. It’s the Education Action Forum of Maine and it is, well– from their About Us page:

The Education Action Forum of Maine operated for twenty years as the Maine Association for Charter Schools. On June 17, 2020, the MACS board voted to change the name and expand its mission to adapt to the realities influencing the education landscape in Maine.Think of them as the Pandemic Down East Opportunist Society. Also from their About Us…

The time is ripe for an organization, such as ours, to provide leadership to assist the education system to move forward safely, and to develop strategies to restructure the system in ways unimaginable before the pandemic struck. 
It takes its “inspiration” from “analogous” groups like the Mind Trust of Indianapolis and Education Evolving in Minnesota. I’ve written about the Mind Trust before (you can read about them here and here), and they are the same old disruptor model. Declare the public schools a mess, and then declare yourself “leaders” in the education space by virtue of the fact that 1) you say so and 2) you have collected some money and political connections. Mind Trust was, in fact, saying a couple of years ago that they wanted to scale up their model to other states. 

So when EAFoM says that they are “designed to amplify the voices of families, students and teachers,” you can take that with a few tons of salt. When they talk about “restructuring the education system,” assume they mean dismantling and privatizing the public system. And when they say they are looking to develop some “critical partnerships,” pay attention to the people they partner with.

The Alabama Charter School
Commission decided to revoke the charter of Woodland Prep, which had not yet opened.

Blogger Larry Lee has the inside scoop.

He wrote:

In the end, it was as much a story about a very rural community that simply refused to quit fighting and standing up for what it believed in strongly. It was about a community that takes pride in its public schools and refused to be bulldozed by a group of education “experts” from out-of-state who were far more intent on making money than helping children.

It was widely believed that the charter was part of the Fetullah Gulen charter chain, one of the nation’s largest. For unexplained reasons, the charter decided to open in a small rural community where sentiment ran against it, commitment to the local public schools is strong, and local people look askance at Muslims (and possibly other religions).

Larry Lee wrote many posts about Woodland Prep. See here and here.

It is really dumb and insensitive for out-of-state people to plant themselves in a rural community, announce that they intend to open a school to compete with the local school and expect to be welcomed.

This powerful article appeared recently on the front cover of the New York Times Week in Review section.

Nicholas Kristof and his wife Sheryl WuDunn returned to his hometown of Yamhill, Oregon. They discovered that an extraordinary percentage of the hardworking, ordinary working class people Nick grew up with had died an early death. They asked “Who Killed the Knapp Family?” I regret that they include the obligatory swipe at “failing schools,” since the schools attended by this family did not fail them and did not kill them, but the rest of the article is indeed an indictment of the vast social, cultural, and economic unraveling of our society, as represented by this one community.

YAMHILL, Ore. — Chaos reigned daily on the No. 6 school bus, with working-class boys and girls flirting and gossiping and dreaming, brimming with mischief, bravado and optimism. Nick rode it every day in the 1970s with neighbors here in rural Oregon, neighbors like Farlan, Zealan, Rogena, Nathan and Keylan Knapp.

They were bright, rambunctious, upwardly mobile youngsters whose father had a good job installing pipes. The Knapps were thrilled to have just bought their own home, and everyone oohed and aahed when Farlan received a Ford Mustang for his 16th birthday.

Yet today about one-quarter of the children on that No. 6 bus are dead, mostly from drugs, suicide, alcohol or reckless accidents. Of the five Knapp kids who had once been so cheery, Farlan died of liver failure from drink and drugs, Zealan burned to death in a house fire while passed out drunk, Rogena died from hepatitis linked to drug use and Nathan blew himself up cooking meth. Keylan survived partly because he spent 13 years in a state penitentiary.

Among other kids on the bus, Mike died from suicide, Steve from the aftermath of a motorcycle accident, Cindy from depression and a heart attack, Jeff from a daredevil car crash, Billy from diabetes in prison, Kevin from obesity-related ailments, Tim from a construction accident, Sue from undetermined causes. And then there’s Chris, who is presumed dead after years of alcoholism and homelessness. At least one more is in prison, and another is homeless.

We Americans are locked in political combat and focused on President Trump, but there is a cancer gnawing at the nation that predates Trump and is larger than him. Suicides are at their highest rate since World War II; one child in seven is living with a parent suffering from substance abuse; a baby is born every 15 minutes after prenatal exposure to opioids; America is slipping as a great power.

We have deep structural problems that have been a half century in the making, under both political parties, and that are often transmitted from generation to generation. Only in America has life expectancy now fallen three years in a row, for the first time in a century, because of “deaths of despair.”

“The meaningfulness of the working-class life seems to have evaporated,” Angus Deaton, the Nobel Prize-winning economist, told us. “The economy just seems to have stopped delivering for these people.” Deaton and the economist Anne Case, who is also his wife, coined the term “deaths of despair” to describe the surge of mortality from alcohol, drugs and suicide.

The kids on the No. 6 bus rode into a cataclysm as working-class communities disintegrated across America because of lost jobs, broken families, gloom — and failed policies. The suffering was invisible to affluent Americans, but the consequences are now evident to all: The survivors mostly voted for Trump, some in hopes that he would rescue them, but under him the number of children without health insurance has risen by more than 400,000.

 

 

 

The federal Charter Schools Program handed out $440 Million this year. Betsy DeVos uses this money as her personal slush fund to reward corporate charter chains like KIPP ($89 million), IDEA (over $200 million in two years), and Success Academy ($10 million). Originally, it was meant to launch start-up charters, but DeVos has turned it into a free-flowing spigot for some of the nation’s richest charter chains.

Last March, the Network for Public Education published its study of the ineptness of the Charter Schools Program, revealing that at least one-third of the charters it funded had either never opened or had closed soon after opening. About one billion dollars was wasted by this federal program.

Despite the program’s manifest incompetence and failure, Betsy DeVos asked Congressional appropriators to increase its funding to $500 million a year, so she could more efficiently undermine public schools across the nation.

House Democrats responded by cutting the Charter Schools Program to $400 Million ($400 million too much), but $100 million less than DeVos asked for.

Senate Republicans want to increase the funding for the destructive Charter Schools Program to $460 million, giving DeVos a boost of $20 million. The Senate Republicans added a special appropriation of $7.5 million for charter schools in rural districts. Is there a need for charter schools in rural districts that may have only one elementary school and one high school?

The best remedy for the federal Charter Schools Program would be to eliminate it altogether.

Charter schools are amply funded by the Walton Family Foundation, the Gates Foundation, Reed Hastings, Eli Broad, Michael Bloomberg, the Koch foundation’s, hedge fund managers, and a bevy of other billionaires on Wall Street and in Silicon Valley.

 

 

Larry Lee writes about a small town in Alabama called Fruitdale. He describes the central role of the public schools in that community. It is the anchor of the community.

The charter lobby doesn’t care about Fruitdale, its history, its people, its future. They have dollar signs in their eyes.

He begins:

Sweet Jesus. It was hot, like really, really hot. But what do you expect on an August afternoon in the middle of a football field just 90 miles from the Gulf of Mexico?
I was there to watch the 2019 version of the Fruitdale Pirates practice. Fruitdale is one of five high schools in Washington County. It’s a 1A school, the smallest classification in Alabama high school sports. There are dozens and dozens of such schools across the state, places where Dollar General coming to town is a big deal. (Fruitdale recently opened one.)

Places where community and school are joined at the hip. Take away the school and you’ve jerked the heart from the community.

This August afternoon coach Johnny Carpenter was getting his 32 players ready for their first game against A. L. Johnson of Marengo County. Carpenter grew up just down the road in Citronelle, played football at Mississippi State and met a cheerleader in college who later became both his wife and an M.D. This is his first year as a head coach.

When you coach at this level, you do it all. From teaching class, to cooking ribs for a fund-raiser, to lining the field, to selling signs to merchants to help pay the bills and to actually coaching. His staff is another teacher/coach, John Hobbs. Former player Michael Dubose is a volunteer coach.
There was a pep rally before the first game. Elementary, middle and high school students sweated and yelled. Cheerleaders cheered. Players were introduced. Later that afternoon, fifth grade boys went home and ran around their yard with a football dreaming of the day they could be a Pirate scoring touchdowns and making tackles. Fourth grade girls jumped and pumped their arms and yelled for their team.

I know about dreams and memories. Fifty-nine years ago this fall number 83 of the Theodore Bobcats scored the only touchdown of his high school football career. Quarterback Charles Bryant threw a short pass to his left end, a 160 pound farm boy, standing in the end zone. That touchdown catch will always be mine. No one can take it away from me.

More than anything, that is what Fruitdale is all about. A small school in a small place where dreams are realized and memories are made.

 

I have written before about Arnold and Carol Hillman. See here and here. They were educators in Pennsylvania who retired to South Carolina. Being educators, they couldn’t really retire; they got involved. They created an organization called the South Carolina Organization of Rural Schools, to raise awareness of the schools that are underfunded in impoverished rural areas (check out its Facebook page). They visited the public schools of Jasper County, met the students, and discovered their new purpose in life. Arnold created a club for boys called the Jasper Gentlemen. Carol created a club for girls called the Diamonds and Pearls. They raised money to pay for trips, experiences, blazers, pizza, and college visits. I hear from them from time to time. They are wild about these kids and want them to have good lives. They love them.

Here is their latest report:

 

Benefits of the ROSO (Reach One Save One) Program

By Carol and Arnold Hillman founders of SCORS (South Carolina Organization of Rural Schools)

Four Years Ago:

In 2015 Carol and Arnold Hillman approached Dr. Vashti Washington, then superintendent of the Jasper County Schools. They said, “We just moved from Pennsylvania to South Carolina and want to learn about public education in our new home. She directed them to Dr. L.R. Dinkins, who described his idea of the ROSO program (Reach One Save One). His vision was for a group of high school students to learn leadership, problem-solving and important life skills that would not only benefit them but teach them to mentor 5th graders who were in need of some special attention.

Diamonds and Pearls and the Jasper Gentlemen were born.

Today:

May 22, 2019, was an exciting and tiring day. We took Carol’s group, “Diamonds and Pearls,” to the University of South Carolina. The 10 girls, who are freshman and sophomores at the Ridgeland-Hardeeville High School in Jasper County, SC, spent a wonderful day learning about the University in particular and about higher education in general.

Dr. Pedersen, Dean of the College of Education at the University, is a member of the SCORS steering Committee and is frequently in touch with us and other members of the committee. Carol had been describing her work with the young ladies to Dr. Pedersen when he extended an invitation to them.

We were fortunate that the Jasper County school district, on rather short notice, arranged for a small bus which allowed us to wend our way two hours plus across route 95 and then route 26 to Columbia.

After what the girls felt was an “all too short” visit to one of the USC’s bookstores, they had opportunities to interact with many of the members of the USC College of Education. They took a tour of the campus and even meet Pierce McNair, who is the legislative aide to Chairperson Rep. Rita Allison, chairman of the SC House Education Committee.

The girls, who had never visited USC before, were thrilled. It was so reassuring to learn about the many programs that are in place to help minorities succeed on this big campus. We learned that African American women have the highest completion rate of any group attending the University and saw an exhibit about major events that struck our country in 1968- assassinations of MLK and Robert Kennedy. Perhaps most impressive were the stories members of the Education Dept. shared with us about their own backgrounds and the many different jobs they held as they made their way to their present positions.

The Associate Dean of Academic Affairs, Dr. Hodges, offered that he and his staff would be happy to come to Jasper County to speak to our students and staff.

Not only did our girls get to know the University, but the visit gave the Jasper County School District an opportunity to showcase some of their outstanding students.

The University is looking for good students, and our students are looking for good colleges. A visit such as the one we made is more meaningful that just completing on online application or reading that application.

You may have read an article posted on the scors.org website about how colleges, very frequently, do not mine rural students, either scholastically or athletically. We are hoping our visit opened new pathways and an understanding of our students, who are fair representatives of our part of rural South Carolina.

Diamonds and Pearls and the Jasper Gents have been at this work for four years, many of the senior boys have become so competent that this year, the elementary school gave the Gents an additional group of fifth grade boys who were very troubled. The seniors did a special job with those boys and from what we can tell, had some positive impact.

We are pleased to report that next year will be our fifth year working with these two groups. This year was especially gratifying because out of the seven senior Gents, six will be off to college and one will enter the Marine Corps.

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Larry Lee is a native Alabamian who is an expert on rural schools. A few years ago, he wrote an excellent report about the rural schools of the state and how communities help them, take care of them, treasure them.

When he learned that the state charter officials granted a charter to a Gulen school in Washington County, he did some checking and this is what he found. 

“If you are looking for peace and quiet and not many neighbors, my advice is to head for Washington County, AL.  The first county north of Mobile County and bordered on one side by Mississippi and the Tombigbee River on the other, the last census showed only17,629 population.  For a county that covers 1,080 square miles, that is a density of 16.3 people per each one of them.  By comparison, density in Jefferson county is 592.

So it meets all of anyone’s definitions of “rural.”  And like most rural counties, its public school system is a major part of community life.  The Washington County school system has seven schools in five communities.  Communities that are remote from one another.  Chatom is the county seat.  From Chatom to Fruitdale is 14 miles, to Millry is 13 miles, to Leroy is 21 miles and to McIntosh is 26 miles.  These are where schools are located.  It’s easy to understand why 59 buses travel 3,200 miles a day ferrying students.

And I can testify from personal experience that there is not much except lots of pine trees, a few houses and some small churches between any of these sites.  Like the majority of rural school systems, Washington County is losing enrollment.  Twenty years ago there were 3,798 students.  Over the next ten years this decreased by six percent.  But in the last ten years, the decline was 24 percent.  During the last decade McIntosh high school dropped from 344 to 272.  That is 43 percent.

All of which leads to this question: why does Washington County need a charter school?

It’s a question on the minds of many local residents, the majority of whom don’t think they do.

Yet, because folks on the Alabama Charter School Commission apparently failed to do their homework and realistically consider the impact of a charter on a declining system, Woodland Prep has been approved to open this coming school year.

At best, it is a very questionable decision and one that leaves lots of people in Washington County wondering who is setting the rules and who are abiding by them.

For example, the charter law passed in 2015 says the charter commission should “take into consideration the quality of school options existing in the affected community.”  Washington County got a B on the state’s latest A-F report card.  The same score as Shelby and Baldwin counties, two of the top systems in Alabama.  (Of the state’s 67 county systems, only ONE received an A.)

So this is not a failing system, nor a C system or a D system.  It has an excellent career tech program with the only pipe-fitting program in Alabama.  They offer health science, building science, welding and  pre-engineering/drafting.  They also have dual enrollment courses with Coastal Alabama Community College.  Enrollment  has grown from 112 in 2013-14 to 192 last fall.

The law also says the commission should “require significant and objective evidence of interest for the public charter school from the community the public chart school wishes to serve.”   However, such support is almost non-extent.

Harold Crouch is in his sixth-term as mayor of Chatom.  He told me that not a single parent has told him they plan to send their child to the charter.  “I am opposed to the charter, my council is also and I don’t know a single public official in the county who supports it,” says the mayor.

Crouch also thinks those involved with the charter school have been overly secretive about what they want to do.  He  met with the charter board one time.  They wanted the city to give them a prime piece of property for the school site.  He told them they would have to make a proposal to the city council.  They refused to do so.

“This is not in the best interest of the county,” he adds.  “Our resources are too critical now.  We are struggling to do the things we need to do now.  Bringing in another school and taking money from the system we have makes no sense.”

The school system’s annual budget is $27.3 million.  Because a charter gets money intended for the local system, at 260 students (which is what their application says enrollment will be the first year), this would be a hit to the system of at least $1.5 million or more.”

Larry Lee went to Washington County and talked to local residents. No one understood why their county is getting a charter school run by a guy from Texas.

It will be interesting to see how many people sign up for this charter. Wouldn’t it be great if it opened with 2 students? Then it wouldn’t have the funds to pay Mr. Soner Tarim the $300,000 that he expects. And the charter school would go away and give up on its plan to grow its portfolio in rural America, dividing communities and defunding their  public schools.

Peter Greene noticed that Reformers have turned ttheir attention to rural communities, where they have a hard time getting established.

Imagine a guy or woman from New York or Chicago or New Orleans arriving in a small town or a rural community and telling the locals what they need to “save” their children from the local schools.

Greene explains why their pitch usually falls on deaf ears and why they don’t welcome corporate chains.

He gives four reasons why the charter operators get the cold shoulder.

Here are two of them:

“My children went to school in a tiny village where the two central institutions were the elementary school and the volunteer fire department. In rural and small town areas, grown adults still identify themselves by what high school they graduated from. Sporting events, school concerts, art displays–these are attended by all sorts of people who are not actual parents of the participants. Launching a charter school in this setting is about as welcome as having a guy move into the house next door and inviting your children to call him “Dad.”

“Rural Schools Run On Tight Budgets

“One does not remove a few hundred thousand dollars from a rural school budget without really feeling it. Most rural districts are lean operations already, without fifteen jobs like Assistant Vice-Superintendent in charge of Paper that can be easily absorbed. Transportation may be a huge chunk of the budget, and there really isn’t any way to tighten that particular belt. The minute a charter starts “redirecting” tax dollars away from a rural district, that district will feel the hurt.”

But he does have one example where a charter works. Let him tell you.