The Jasper County School District has a well publicized problem.
Test scores show it to be one of the poorest-performing districts in a poor-performing state.
Yet when the school board earlier this month extended the $165,000 contract for superintendent Vashti Washington, it revealed a less talked about problem: its animosity toward the public.
After a closed meeting of almost three hours, board chairwoman Berty Riley uttered one sentence for public consumption: "Our superintendent is doing a great job as superintendent of our school district."
The superintendent would not comment after the meeting.
The school district was to send out a written statement the next day, but the board and superintendent missed a chance to engage the public in the long process of school improvement, and to regain lost trust.
As for the evaluation of the superintendent, in which she was rated as "satisfactory," the school district attorney said the process was rigged to be secret.
Ken Childs said that in past years this district and others around the state would fill out evaluation forms. But "having the evaluation forms resulted in (Freedom of Information Act) demands for the forms," he said, "and that became embarrassing for the superintendents, so they don't have forms anymore."
The secrecy adds to the frustration for those seeking more tangible signs of improvement in the schools, and more accountability.
School leaders seem to be hunkering down in a "we vs. they" mode, when they should be welcoming with open arms all signs of interest in the schools.
It appears that the board has bought into the superintendent's bogus argument that the district's back-to-back "F" grades on federal accountability standards have "no meaning" and are based on "bad data."
Why so much animosity? The public could appreciate the fact that no superintendent can turn the Jasper schools around quickly.
Washington was hired in 2010. Before her came a parade of superintendents who struggled in a poor district beset by geographic rivalries and bad facilities.
Now the district has shiny new schools, and that may be one reason more people than ever have stepped forward to demand better results.
In large part, the test scores are a measurement of society as a whole as much as what a superintendent can do in the classroom.
Schools in poor counties up and down the Interstate 95 corridor in South Carolina are struggling today, as they have for decades.
Turning that around will take many tools, and the question of whether state support is sufficient in these schools has been in the state courts for 20 years.
One tool that is instantly available to Jasper County is open dialogue with the public. It is a shame to see an "F" on that report card, as well.