CHARLESTON COUNTY, S.C. (WCBD) – South Carolina’s second-largest school district will welcome 49,000 students back to the classroom next week. But the return comes after big changes within the Charleston County School District’s (CCSD) leadership team.

Don Kennedy, who previously served as Chief Financial Officer, was named the district’s interim superintendent earlier this year. It’s a role he plans to have for a least a year and a half.

“That’s not up to me, that’s up to the school board,” he told News 2’s Octavia Mitchell. “I’m assuming I’ll be in this role at least a year and a half. During that year and a half, my work is to actually put in the structures and systems that whenever the permanent superintendent comes on board, after June of next year, that person doesn’t have to start over. Right now, my focus is on doing the work for the time period I have.”

Kennedy made sweeping changes to the district’s leadership team prior to the start of the new school year, even eliminating the Chief of Staff position.

“It’s a refocus on how we address student needs. I’m optimistic,” he said. “Every decision I make on organizational changes is academically based.”

Kennedy went on to say, “We have a new deputy superintendent, new chief academic officer, the new chief of schools, those are the leaders in the district from the academic standpoint, and so I do not plan on making additional changes at that level.”

He said any organizational change he makes is associated exclusively with “trying to make sure we are aligned properly to support schools and students.”

With 87 schools, Kennedy said the district has a lot of work to do.  Right now, 51 percent of students do not read on grade level.  Kennedy consulted with Mississippi’s Secretary of Education about significant educational gains.  He hopes to replicate the same results for Charleston County.

“When she took over in Mississippi in 2014, Mississippi was 50th in the nation in terms of states, ranked at the bottom in reading on the national assessment. As of now, the state of Mississippi is number thirty-five, so I know this work can be done.  I would say to the community, to families, and even to students we know we can do the work.”

No new schools will open within the Charleston County School District this year; however, the district will begin construction on Morningside Middle School next year, and plans are in the works for a new elementary school on Johns Island.

The district purchased land for a new school in Awendaw, but there are no concrete plans for the school in that area. CCSD also made major renovations at Mitchell Elementary, Stoney Field, and James Island Charter.

As the new year approaches, CCSD continues to work to fill teacher vacancies. As of Thursday, there are 45 open positions. But there is good news when it comes to bus drivers: “We have a bus driver for every route. We have no shortages of bus drivers, the contract calls for a little bit of overage, and we’re short that number, but in terms of being able to have a trained driver in every bus that goes on a route.  We have that covered,” said Kennedy.

Kennedy said the work to make improvements within the district is intensified as they also work to increase the level of family and community engagement.

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