Most West Ashley parents don’t think their neighborhood public middle schools are good enough for their children, so they find other options.
A task force of school officials and community representatives has a new proposal that they say would change two West Ashley middle schools’ dwindling enrollment by giving families a better alternative.
The task force has suggested combining St. Andrew’s Middle with West Ashley Middle and offering an advanced studies magnet program that would be open by lottery to 100 students annually.
“We have a golden opportunity to do something really good for West Ashley,” said Paul Padron, an assistant associate superintendent for Charleston County schools. “We’re losing our kids and we need to get them back.”
The task force and district officials presented the idea to a crowd of more than 50 parents at West Ashley High on Monday night, and the reception was mixed. Some parents didn’t understand why the school district couldn’t improve both schools and keep them separate, while others thought merging them would be in students’ best interest.
This task force is one of five in different areas of the county that is meeting to discuss under-enrolled schools and ways to attract more students to them. The county school board created task forces to consider potential changes in McClellanville, Johns Island, Hollywood and downtown schools.
The West Ashley task force plans to submit its final recommendation this month to the superintendent, who will decide what proposals to take to the county school board for consideration.
District leaders said the advantages of merging the schools would be the ability to expand curriculum offerings and extracurricular activities. A bigger school would mean an increase in its teacher allocation, and the task force would recommend additional funds to make the advanced studies program a reality.
“We’re not putting them together just for the sake of putting them together,” said Lou Martin, the district’s associate superintendent for secondary schools.
The merged school could open as soon fall 2014, and it would have a magnet program within it that would take up to 100 sixth-graders. The school would accept 100 sixth-graders in the following two years, so it eventually would serve 300 students in sixth- through eighth-grades.
Seventy-five slots annually would be for West Ashley students who meet the admissions criteria, and 25 would be open to students from across the county. The magnet program’s students would have to score in the top 75 percent nationally and have a 3.0 GPA. The concept for the magnet program is based on one that has been successfully implemented at Haut Gap Middle on Johns Island.
Sandra Drayton, who has a sixth grader at St. Andrew’s Middle and is the school’s PTA vice president, was among those who was opposed to the proposal. She said she was concerned about potentially bigger class sizes, and that the district has the money to make the schools better without merging them.
“You don’t have to close schools to give them the education they’re talking about,” she said.
Still others, such as Tammy Canty, whose son attends West Ashley Middle, said they liked the concept and thought it would be good for students.
“I’m going to go for it,” she said. “It’s a change. We need to embrace the change.”
Some prospective middle school parents also attended the meeting. Rikki Davenport’s son is in second grade at Drayton Hall Elementary, and she said she already worries about where he’s going to go. She supports public education and wants him in a West Ashley middle school, but that’s not an option right now, she said.
“I’m glad they’re doing something, and they’re not ignoring the problem,” she said.
Reach Diette Courrégé Casey at @Diette on Twitter or (843) 937-5546.