Burke High School’s history reveals a powerful legacy of long-term contributions and struggles to secure quality education for African Americans in the Charleston area before desegregation, and for all Burke students following public school integration in the 1950s, 60s, and 70s. Today, Burke continues to serve the Charleston community as the largest public high school on the downtown peninsula, but it also confronts major challenges in the twenty-first century. Statewide assessments have ranked Burke High School as below the state average and, additionally, as an institution at-risk of closing.
Burke’s struggles connect to a much larger problem with public education in a city undergoing major demographic and racial shifts. Starting in 2001, the No Child Left Behind Act introduced a controversial school assessment policy that deemed Burke to be one of many schools across the country to be “at risk” schools. Burke High School serves as a local, state, and national reminder of the imperative to continue to improve public education for all students of all academic strengths and economic backgrounds.
Despite recent challenges, Burke alumni, faculty, students and the local community demonstrate great pride in this school and its history. The school facility is highly regarded and the Burke High School Marching Band, the Steppin’ Bulldogs, is renowned throughout the state. Most importantly, Burke’s supporters remain deeply committed to providing access to a quality education for all students, much like their historic predecessors. Burke’s long history of offering educational resources for disenfranchised communities in Charleston continues to guide reform efforts today.