For Immediate Release: January 9, 2020
Taylor Fulcher, Chief of Staff
Following record-high 2019 academic achievement results for the South Carolina Public Charter School District (SCPCSD), superintendent Elliot Smalley announces May departure
Smalley excited to take on new opportunity as Legacy Early College CEO
Today, with schools in the SCPCSD performing at historically high academic levels , SCPCSD superintendent, Elliot Smalley, announced his plans to transition into a new role as CEO of Legacy Early College in May 2020. “It’s been an incredible honor to serve this district and its students for the last four and a half years,” Smalley said. “I want to thank my Board members for their leadership, my staff for their relentless commitment to our mission, and our school leaders for their hard work. The credit for our district’s turnaround goes to our charter school leaders and teachers: they are the ones making the decisions about what happens inside schools and doing the hard work of educating every child. And now I’m thrilled to get even closer to this work by joining the talented team at Legacy—where we will stop at nothing to ensure that students of color and poverty get the education, dignity and freedom they deserve in the form of an excellent education that prepares them for college.”
When Smalley became superintendent of the SCPCSD in late 2015, the district had been rated “At-Risk” on the state report card-—the lowest rating on the state scale—for four straight years and its graduation rate had never risen out of the 40s. Today, the SCPCSD graduation rate has climbed to 72 percent—representing a 23-point gain over five years, the greatest increase of any district in South Carolina during that period. Math and English scores have risen for four straight years. Over the last two years, the percentage of SCPCSD schools rated “Good” and “Excellent” has jumped from 36 to 49. And these gains have occurred during a time in which the SCPCSD has advanced an aggressive equity and access agenda, resulting in a huge increase in students of color from only 29% in 2015 to 40% today.
“I remember when Elliot was hired back in 2015, and he and the Board and I got together and we said what we wanted to do—dramatically improve our student achievement, bring accountability to our district, and be a model of access and equity for our state,” said SCPCSD Board Chair John Payne. “Now nearly five years later, he and his team—and more importantly the schools under our sponsorship—have accomplished what they said they were going to do, making tremendous progress toward these goals and moving us out of mediocrity. He upset the status quo, and frankly that’s what our charter sector needed.”
Several high-impact innovations were implemented in the SCPCSD under superintendent Smalley’s leadership. The district developed a “replication” pathway for the growth of high-performing in-state charter schools. One charter school performing in the top 25% of all schools statewide replicated its upstate campus at two other locations. Three additional charter schools have recently submitted Letters of Intent to replicate in the next two years, which would translate into thousands more students being served by high-performing charter schools. The SCPCSD worked with its school leaders to create the state’s first-ever “school performance framework,” customizable for each school, to reflect the unique identity of every charter and communicate objective academic, operational and financial data to each school community. Today, the district spends far less on its central office administration, supporting schools with a a much higher percentage of federal and state dollars sent directly to schools than five years ago. The SCPCSD also provided over $1,000,000 in extra financial support to schools last year through prudent financial management and policy-making that prioritized each charter school’s freedom to choose strategies best suited for its unique student population.
Smalley was also faced with difficult decisions while superintendent. He raised the bar on the charter approval process, implementing higher standards and placing great emphasis on community needs, educational programs, and talent. And he recommended the closure of six charter schools that were falling far short of expectations. “Closing schools is always the last resort, but our responsibility was always to the students,” Smalley said. “As a choice system built to innovate and to improve the achievement of students statewide, we needed to ensure that our choices are high quality.”
Smalley has put structures in place and built an environment for lasting success and continued healthy growth. While test scores have increased, so have the number of students and schools in the district. And the SCPCSD received nearly 30 Letters of Intent to open new charter schools this year—again leading the state in interest from prospective charter groups despite competition from the state’s first-ever private college authorizer.
Smalley plans to work closely with the SCPCSD Board and district staff over the next few months to ensure a smooth transition and continued success. “The district and the schools it sponsors are in a far better place than we were five years ago, and we’re thankful for superintendent Smalley’s leadership,” said John Payne. “We’re also excited to build on this success and bring in the kind of leader who can help us take things to the next level.”
Starting May 1, Smalley will begin as CEO of Legacy Early College, a three-school network of charter schools in Greenville. Legacy’s vision is to get every student to and through college. “Elliot is a South Carolina native who shares our vision and mindset and has a history of success fighting for students of poverty and color,” said Legacy Founder William Brown. “We can’t wait to welcome him aboard and to change history in Greenville and throughout South Carolina.”