Danielle Mantek's oldest son, Jacob, is in third grade at Orange Grove Elementary Charter, and she already is thinking about where he'll go to middle school.
She worries that the quality of education he's receiving would drop if he enrolled in any of the existing West Ashley middle schools, and she and her husband started saving money so they could afford to send him to a private school.
That's one of the reasons why she's hopeful that Orange Grove Elementary will be allowed to expand to middle school. The school presented its proposal to the county school board more than a month ago, and it has been waiting since then for a decision.
"My fear is that politics are going to get in the way of our children," Mantek said. "We just want to give our children the best. That's all we want. That's it."
The potential expansion had been discussed by the board's strategic education committee but wasn't slated to go to the full board until the end of January. School Board Chairwoman Cindy Bohn Coats said it will be on the board's Monday agenda.
"We honestly believe all of our items need to be vetted through committees, but we also have an obligation to continue moving work forward to the board for discussion and decision," she said.
The district's administrative staff has recommended that the board conditionally approve the school's proposal with the caveats that it not add any grades to its campus; the district assumes no responsibility to fund, provide, build or furnish the middle school campus; and the school demonstrates that it has a sound financial plan to fund the expansion.
Orange Grove Elementary Principal John Clendaniel said those requests aren't an issue. He has no intention of putting the middle school grades on the existing campus; he said he won't even add mobile units for its elementary grades.
"We're maxed out," he said.
He plans to either find land on which the school would construct a new middle school building or retrofit a vacant building as a school. The prekindergarten through fifth-grade West Ashley school would grow its enrollment by about 350 students to 1,150. The school gives preference to students who reside in its former attendance zone, but it accepts students from across the county.
Although Orange Grove would accept any building or financial help from the district, Clendaniel said the school hasn't asked for it, and it has demonstrated that it is financially sound.
"Orange Grove has proven itself as an excellent school and I look forward to seeing that tradition of excellence continue at the middle school level," he said.
At least one county school board member would like the district to be more supportive of the school. Chris Collins said the district has provided a rent-free building to the Charleston Charter School for Math and Science, but it sounds as if it wants to "close their hands" to Orange Grove.
"I don't want to see that," he said. "If the school gets in a situation where they're short on money or need some support, I'd like to see (the district) offer some assistance if it's needed."
A community task force has been discussing the bigger problem involving West Ashley's middle schools, which have languished academically and are losing enrollment. The task force considered a proposal that would merge St. Andrew's Middle and West Ashley Middle and create a new magnet program of advanced courses, but it hasn't decided whether to make that recommendation. The task force plans to ask for more time to meet and talk with West Ashley residents.
Regardless of the task force's decision, Clendaniel said the sooner the county school board can approve the addition of middle school grades at Orange Grove, the better. He's hoping to have sixth grade open by the 2016-17 school year, which means the school's third-graders would be its first middle school class.
"Time is of the essence," he said. "I want to make sure that we're doing everything right and don't have to rush to get things ready."
Mantek's oldest son would be in the first middle school class, so she's especially interested in what the board will do. Although Orange Grove Elementary never has had a middle school, she said she would send him there without hesitation.
"He's begging to go," she said. "He's already making sure (that's where he'll go) because he's heard us talking about other schools. These children love this school. I've never seen anything like it."
Reach Diette Courrégé Casey at @Diette on Twitter or 843-937-5546.
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