• Teachers Preach The Gospel Of Grit To Their Students At Meeting Street Schools

    Teachers preach the gospel of grit to their students at Meeting Street Elementary @Brentwood, a unique public school under private management in an impoverished section of North Charleston.


    What’s grit?


    “That means you’re never giving up,” said 7-year-old Kayla Jackson, who recently transferred to the school. “You just work hard.”


    Administrators are quick to give students praise for strong academic performance, but part of their success may also be ascribed to an infusion of private money and a blue-sky approach to innovation — facets of Brentwood that could represent a new model of public education for low-income and minority students.


    “Burns has been a poster child for the achievement gap, and we want to take them off that poster as soon as possible,” said Ben Navarro, founder and CEO of Meeting Street Schools.


    The Brentwood experiment


    Opened as a neighborhood school in fall 2014 on the former Brentwood Middle campus, Meeting Street Elementary @Brentwood exists in a league of its own, offering two teachers per classroom, an extended school day and school year, and an in-house crew of therapists and social workers.


    Meeting Street Schools, which also operates private schools in Charleston and Spartanburg, gets leeway from the district to spend public money, make curriculum decisions and hire and fire teachers at Brentwood.

    The Brentwood leadership has made some bold hiring decisions, including an on-staff speech therapist and Pamela Pepper, the school’s director of student and family support. A doctor of clinical psychology, Pepper — yes, Dr. Pepper — works with students on behavior problems, helps families navigate Medicaid paperwork and helps enroll hungry children in the Lowcountry Food Bank’s BackPack Buddies program.

    Last school year, the school gave its kindergartners the MAP (Measures of Academic Progress) test in the fall, and only 34 percent scored above the national median for their grade level. When they took the test again in the spring, 85 percent beat the median — including 60 percent who made it into the top quartile.

    Just a year after a shaky start, the students had blown the test out of the water.

    “If they can stay in that quartile, that means USC, that means Clemson, that means a Life scholarship, that means they’re absolutely employable,” Navarro said. “That means, to some extent with these kids, the world is their oyster.”

    The Burns plan

    At Burns Elementary, district Superintendent GerritaPostlewait said she hopes to expand on “a partnership that has proven to be tremendously successful.” Following the pattern set at Brentwood, the school would be governed by an executive board consisting of herself, Navarro and Brentwood Principal Sarah Campbell.

    Navarro said that while startup costs can be high at his schools, education leaders won’t be able to argue with the strong results.


    “People are looking for solutions, and if we can be that solution, then all of a sudden it becomes pretty powerful,” Navarro said.


    Big money


    When Meeting Street Schools first took control at Brentwood, it was reported that private donors furnished $1.3 million to help renovate the aging campus. But that wasn’t all of the private investment in the public school.


    The district gives Meeting Street Schools about $10,000 per pupil to spend as it chooses. That’s not enough to meet the school’s intensive staffing demands, particularly with a school day that lasts until 5:30 p.m. for most students.


    Meeting Street Schools had nearly $30 million in assets in 2014 and spent nearly $2 million that year, including $35,000 on lobbying, according to IRS paperwork. It has received sizable donations from Navarro’s own financial services company, Sherman Financial Group.


    Despite the unspecified startup costs, Campbell said the Brentwood model can be replicated elsewhere.

    “All the things we’re doing can be replicated in schools within the district,” Campbell said. “Whether it’s a Meeting Street Elementary @Burns type of school or it’s another type of pilot that Dr. Postlewait comes up with, the idea is that you have to do something different for kids who need more.”


    For More About Ben Navarro Charleston Click https://www.pinterest.com/ShermanGiving/meeting-street-schools-in-the-news/


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