Schools Get New Game Plan

School superintendent rolls out aggressive new targets today that go after teachers, classroom innovation and key student groups.

School Superintendent Nancy McGinley on Thursday rolls out a five-year vision for Charleston County Schools that carries big goals and tough benchmarks all with the hope of improving student achievement.

The Vision 2016 plan doubles down on programs that have shown promise — literacy academies and magnet schools — while also pushing teachers and administrators to deliver.

"This is a real culture change for the district," McGinley said Wednesday. "In a nutshell, we're going to use our time differently, we're going to use technology differently and we're going to have a more rigorous selection of teachers."

Ultimately, the plan is aimed at graduating more students. In five years, McGinley projects that 82 percent of students will graduate, opposed to the 72 percent currently.

To get there, the plan gets on the backs of teachers and administrators, but the plan also goes after specific groups of students, mainly 3rd graders and 8th graders. By 2016, McGinley wants big gains in math and English test scores among these students.

The school system will expand so-called literacy academies to every elementary and middle school in the county, McGinley said. There's a strong correlation between dropouts and literacy.

But the plan isn't just for struggling kids. New data oversight will identify bright kids earlier who are right for honors programs, she said.

The school system will also continue to add school choices, expanding its menu of magnet and schools of innovation, she said. The plan mentions altering the school calendar, potentially with longer days and extended school years, but it does not give specifics.

"We intend to increase choice options that parents like," she said. "We're looking to implement more technology and creative approaches in the classroom."

The new effort rolls out with a handful of billboards that promote the plan. There will be a marketing effort that enlists the public's support.

But Vision 2016 isn't just lip service, McGinley insists. In addition to promising that  "ineffective teachers" will see a swift exit, McGinley's own evaluation is tied to the school system hitting the plan's benchmarks.

"We're aligning employee evaluations to the goals," McGinley said. "The goals have growth targets, and in the next couple years, my evaluation and principal evaluations will be tied to achieving those."

Earlier this school year, McGinley faced friction from her school board when she tried to shuffle administrators, a key part of Vision 2016. This overhaul only passed on a 6-2 vote with one abstention.

She admits getting school board buy-in will be critical when tough decisions are necessary. Though the school board has signed off on the vision, its implementation — and funding — will require a number of school board votes.

"We've made good progress so far, but we can do more. That requires that we make some tough business decisions," she said. "We can't say we want better outcomes and then wait two years to remove ineffective teachers. We have to deal with the issues."

McGinley officially releases the plan Thursday at an 8:30 a.m. State of the Schools Address at Charleston School of the Arts. The event is expected to include school officials and roughly 350 business and community leaders.


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