Residents from two of Charleston County’s rural communities turned out in force Monday to make emotional pleas that their neighborhood schools be protected.
The Charleston County School Board agreed in January to shift some grades among some McClellanville and Hollywood schools, but many parents and residents think the change would hurt their schools. They want the decision reversed.
“We’re here because we love our community,” Lasonya Blake, the PTSA president for Lincoln High in McClellanville, told the board. “We’re here fighting for the opportunity for our children to be educated in our neighborhood. We’re wondering when the value of an education can be put before the value of a dollar.”
Some board members acknowledged that they moved too quickly in making that decision, and they promised to hold community meetings to gather more input. The board will take up the issue again after that, but until then, its previous decision stands.
More than 100 people showed up to the board meeting, and more than 20 signed up to speak against the changes and in support of their schools. The majority of those present were connected to either Lincoln High in McClellanville or Jane Edwards Elementary on Edisto Island.
“Just because we are in a rural area doesn’t mean we should get less in this county,” said one man who had grandchildren enrolled at the elementary school. “Jane Edwards is not just a school; it’s the center of our community. You are hurting our community, not just our school.”
Later in the meeting, School Superintendent Nancy McGinley offered her perspective on why she made the recommendation to shift middle-school grades out of Lincoln High to St. James-Santee Elementary, and the sixth grades from District 23 elementary schools, including Jane Edwards Elementary, to Baptist Hill High.
“I seriously question how we could say this (current situation) is the best choice if we’re making the best decision in the interest of children,” McGinley said. “That is my strong, strong point tonight.”
Some St. James-Santee Elementary parents don’t enroll their children in the middle grades at Lincoln High, and McGinley said they would be more likely to do so if those grades were on the elementary school campus. Achievement at the elementary school also is better than the middle school at the high school campus, she said.
Her long-term proposal is to keep Lincoln High open but have it offer only core academic classes. Its building would be renovated or rebuilt, and its high school students would take a coach bus with WIFI to Wando High every morning for elective classes.
“We are not recommending to close Lincoln High,” she said.
Still, the issue was so heated that McGinley was interrupted twice by outbursts from parents in the audience.
“They don’t have books,” one woman shouted. “Worry about that. You’re the superintendent. You should know that.”
In Hollywood, it would be more cost-effective to have sixth grades at Baptist Hill High rather than Jane Edwards Elementary and other elementary schools, McGinley said.
Board members agreed that they needed to be innovative when addressing this situation, but there was no consensus on what the solution should be. Board member John Barter said he was open to more community input, but the board will have to make some difficult decisions.
“Otherwise, we’re not doing the best for students,” he said.
In other business at the four-hour meeting, the board agreed to spend about $4.1 million in 2013-14 to give teachers up to four extra days of training. The board asked a number of questions but had little negative to say about the professional development that will focus on the Common Core Standards. Those are new requirements for what kindergarten through 12th-grade students must learn in reading and math.
Member Michael Miller was the lone vote against the majority, and he said her heard from educators who said they’d rather those days be spread throughout the year, rather than lumped at the beginning.
In other business, the board:
Approved version C of its proposed calendar, which means school will start Aug. 21 and end June 5.
Received information that a downtown taskforce would continue studying options for a middle school and make a recommendation for 2014-15.
Reach Diette Courrégé Casey at @Diette on Twitter or 937-5546.