BY DIETTE COURRÉGÉ CASEY
Charleston County School Board members talked Thursday about different possibilities in each constituent district, and officials plan to research those further. Some of the ideas mentioned were:District 1 (McClellanville): Consolidate to one pre-K-12 school; offer core academic classes at Lincoln High but send students to Wando High for career and technology education courses; move middle school students to St. James-Santee Elementary; make Lincoln High a charter school and open enrollment to neighboring counties.District 3 (James Island): Give Murray-LaSaine a Montessori focus and make it a partial magnet; explore themes for James Island Elementary.District 9 (Johns Island): Convert Angel Oak Elementary into a primary (grades pre-K-2) campus and make Frierson Elementary an elementary campus (grades 3-5); give elementary classes more advanced and hands-on curriculum; build community partnerships.District 10 (West Ashley): Combine West Ashley Middle and St. Andrews Middle into one school and give it a theme; put a middle school on the West Ashley High campus.District 23: Move sixth grade to Baptist Hill High; close C.C. Blaney Elementary and disperse students among other schools; talk to Colleton County about partnership for Jane Edwards Elementary.
Downtown Burke High has lost 22 percent of its enrolled students during the past three years, and 47 percent of the students in its attendance zone choose to go elsewhere.
On top of that, it has the second-highest per pupil cost in the district of $17,098 for each of its 479 students, and its building is at 52 percent capacity.
A number of other Charleston County schools are in a similar predicament of declining enrollment, parents choosing other alternatives, under-used buildings and high per student operating costs.
County school board members started talking Thursday about those schools and changes they could make. Some possibilities floated were altering grade configurations and consolidating schools.
It was a preliminary discussion and no decisions were made. District officials plan to research board members’ feedback and return to them with more information.
“This was taking the temperature of this board and seeing what are their ideas,” said Schools Superintendent Nancy McGinley. “We didn’t want to come in with any recommendations. We wanted to hear their ideas.”
McGinley said her staff will look at options to determine feasibility, cost and possible ramifications. The board would make the final call on whether and when to move forward with any suggestion. Her top concerns are whether the changes would provide a better academic environment, result in more equitable per pupil funding, increase program offerings and capture more neighborhood students, she said.
Board members brainstormed a number of options in small groups before coming together to share ideas. Most seemed committed to keeping neighborhood schools, particularly in rural areas.
“We don’t need to close these community schools,” said board member Tom Ducker while talking about Lincoln High. “We need to find ways to attract those kids into the schools.”
Vice Chairman Craig Ascue said the board will engage the community around these issues before making any decisions. The board asked to have this conversation because it wants to make Charleston schools the best in the state, he said.
McGinley also is crafting a more detailed plan for improving downtown schools. Four of the district’s eight schools rated “at risk” are downtown, and four downtown schools will be returning to new buildings on the peninsula in the fall 2013.
“We want to open up the new schools at capacity,” McGinley said. “We need to turn this into a strategic opportunity to reinvent the downtown scene because we’re not getting the quality we want, and we’re not getting the market share of the population.”
Officials are talking to families about why they’re not attending downtown schools, and they’re meeting with parents and residents about changes to the downtown middle schools. Burke High will be discussed this spring.
Board members had specific conversations about each constituent district, with the exception of District 4 (North Charleston) and District 2 (Mount Pleasant). Ascue said he wasn’t sure why it didn’t, other than the issues were different in those areas.