two teachers in professional development

Charleston: Getting Results from Coherence


Written by Laura Troxel

Charleston: Getting Results from Coherence

A New Approach to School Turnaround

Charleston County School District is on the rise despite national trends due to strategic investments in helping teachers and students continuously learn.

Three years into an ambitious turnaround initiative known as Acceleration Schools, Charleston County School district saw significant improvement in math and ELA learning, countering national declines.

  • 100% of schools supported by Leading Educators in ELA surpassed their 2019 (pre-pandemic) state scores in 2023, maintaining progress through focused work on instruction.
  • The average yearly growth for Acceleration Schools in ELA was 21 points, matching the growth of all other schools in the district. In math, Acceleration Schools students achieved double the growth rate of other schools, 13 points per year.
  • Half of the Acceleration Schools were removed from the state improvement list.

Behind the Change

The district’s 2019 strategic plan named a mounting imperative to close gaps in students’ experiences to ensure all students can access Charleston County’s rich assets and plentiful opportunities.

As a result, CCSD launched Acceleration Schools, a comprehensive, multi-year school turnaround effort focused on serving the community’s most vulnerable schools. Acceleration Schools brought in Leading Educators as a key partner on instructional infrastructure and leadership priorities.

CCSD and Leading Educators have built a dynamic improvement system that allows teachers to practice their craft continually, adjust to using high-quality instructional materials, and receive targeted mentorship. Unlike traditional one-off professional development days, this effort has built true capacity for continuous improvement, and students are achieving at unprecedented levels.

Charleston County School District theory of action for student success.

Kristen Lewis, an ELA instructional coach at Morningside Middle School, shared:

Morningside was the only middle school in South Carolina that was removed from the state improvement list. But our first reaction, outside of being super excited, was, ‘Oh my goodness, does this mean we’re not going to be an Acceleration School?’ because of the support, the building of our capacity, and the empowerment of teachers.

It has built so much confidence throughout our building that we don’t want to go back to feeling unsupported. We still have much to do and more room for growth, but we always want to have this experience.”

Acceleration Schools’ partnership with Leading Educators has centered on implementing a research-backed instructional improvement approach and curriculum-based professional learning.

Unlike the traditional professional development workshops or one-time programs teachers commonly experience, this strategy builds lasting structures, expertise, and habits that support ongoing and frequent collaboration to build content-specific and standards-aligned teaching practices. Simply put, teachers gain the capacity to become experts in “what” and “how” to teach well. The benefit is that systemic improvement continues to build beyond the duration of the partnership.

Key System-Level Changes

Key shifts at the system level have changed the support around teachers, allowing for more frequent collaboration, greater alignment between quality materials and the lessons teachers provide, and more targeted individual support from coaches.

System-level changes happening in Charleston County School District

Leaders to Learn From

Jacqueline Haynes, the Associate Superintendent for Charleston County School District’s Acceleration Schools, came into her role with a big job. Finding support that would address root challenges and scale was a necessity. She shares,

I think this is the first time I’ve ever seen professional development work so seamlessly. The teachers go back, principals are present, APs are present, and our district office is present. There’s that throughline.

Now, I have other principals and other teachers who want support from Acceleration Schools, and it’s all because of the great professional development that is given by Leading Educators.”

Stay Engaged!

Charleston County School District is just one of a dozen partnerships across the country that are pushing the boundaries of what schools can offer students. Learn more about how we offer tailored support packages to help visionary districts, networks, and states go further faster.

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