At Saturday rally, parents, activists call for Jasper County School superintendent's ouster

dburley@islandpacket.comSeptember 7, 2013 

Kathleen Wilson signs a petition asking that the Jasper County School District board to terminate its superintendent while Barbara Bartoldus looks on during a meeting of the Jasper County Education Task Force at Sgt. Jasper State Park on Saturday. The rally was held to address the district's poor school scores -- the lowest in the state on federal accountability standards -- which the school district is currently appealing. The district is the only one in the Lowcountry to receive back-to-back 'F' grades.

JAY KARR — Jay Karr Buy Photo

For parents and community members Saturday, the message to the Jasper County School District was clear: Superintendent Vashti Washington must go.

About 50 people gathered at Sgt. Jasper Park in Hardeeville to discuss what Ridgeland's Barbara Bartoldus called an "educational genocide" in the district.

In back-to-back years, the district has received F's on federal accountability standards. It was the only one in the Lowcountry to receive the failing grade this year.

The district scored 27.3 on a 100-point scale this year, the lowest in the state. The grade is based on schools' scores on the Palmetto Assessment of State Standards, High School Assessment Program and other factors.

Saturday's rally was the second since the scores were released Aug. 1.

Parents and community members complained Saturday of broken computers, what they called rampant bullying and a lack of textbooks. They generally agreed to put more pressure on the school board to remove Washington.

"She's running the district instead of the district running her," said Ransom Dunham, whose son is a junior at Ridgeland-Hardeeville High School.

Denise Davidson, who organized the rally, passed out leaflets she said provided a detailed breakdown of where the failing grade came from.

In 26 of 30 subjects for third through eight graders, fewer than half the students earned a passing score on their 2013 Palmetto assessment test, according to data from the state department of education.

"These numbers we see are attached to children," Davidson said. "I know some people say to remove the person doesn't remove the problem, but if a person crashes a car two times, why are we going to let them drive it a third?"

Washington has lead the district for two years. She could not be reached for comment Saturday.

State Sen. Tom Davis, R-Beaufort, who represents Jasper County and attended the rally, said he's still familiarizing himself with the workings of the county. But he cited the turnaround at St. Helena Elementary which saw the school go from an "F" rating in the 2011-12 school year to an "A" rating in 2012-13.

That turnaround tells him Jasper County should be more open to volunteers, tutors and one-on-one mentors to come into schools to help with reading and math.

Donna Hudson agrees.

She taught first grade at Hardeeville Elementary for 36 years before retiring in 2011. She said she's offered to volunteer at the school, but has been told by administration she's not needed.

"I was in the trenches," she said. "I don't care how they dress or where they live, these children can learn."

On Wednesday, the district asked the state Department of Education to review and recalculate the grade it received.

In asking for the review, the district said the state ignored the consolidation of two middle schools and two high schools between the 2011-12 and 2012-13 school years and failed to account for the students who left the district for a new state-run charter school.

Washington has said the score has "no meaning" and contradicts other awards and measures of progress made by students.

The Jasper County Board of Education sided with Washington last week, saying the score was based on "bad data."

Follow reporter Dan Burley on Twitter at twitter.com/IPBG_Dan.

Related content:

Jasper County School District appeals 'F' grade

Board members show support for Jasper County superintendent

S.C. superintendent makes return visit to St. Helena Elementary to tout its turnaround

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