HOLLYWOOD — Supporters of Jane Edwards Elementary dominated the conversation at a Wednesday community meeting about what should happen with this community's rural schools.
More than 250 people turned out to the district-organized gathering to discuss the superintendent's plan to move sixth-graders from the four District 23 (Hollywood) elementary schools to the Baptist Hill High campus, which already has seventh and eighth grades.
A majority were there because of their ties to Edisto Island and Jane Edwards Elementary, and they fear it could be shuttered if it loses more students.
They asked for sixth-graders to be allowed to stay put, and they requested that the roughly 125-student school once again be allowed to house seventh- and eighth-graders.
“Whatever it takes to offset the cost, we are willing to do it,” said the Rev. Jimmy Jones, a resident of Edisto Island who has a grandson at Jane Edwards Elementary. “This community surrounds the children. Without this school, we don't have a community.”
The Charleston County School Board signed off on the grade shift for District 23 in January, but the board has agreed to vote again on the change March 25.
The board also will reconsider its decision affecting students on the opposite end of the county. The superintendent requested and the board agreed to move seventh and eighth grades from Lincoln High to St. James-Santee Elementary in District 1 (McClellanville).
Those residents also have been fighting the superintendent's plan for similar reasons.
Some attendees of Wednesday night's meeting pointed out that the superintendent proposed contradicting plans for different areas. Superintendent Nancy McGinley said those are differing circumstances in separate communities, and she's trying to do what's best for students' academically. Jane Edwards doesn't have enough students to support the middle school teachers and offerings they need, she said.
“Being average on the state test that we have this year is not going to cut it for next year or the future,” McGinley said. “What we're facing is a transition of standards, and they are much more rigorous. ... That's why we have a sense of urgency to make these changes now.”
The crowd listened to speakers, occasionally interrupting them with cheers of approval or murmurs of disagreement. Although some faculty and supporters of other District 23 elementary schools were in attendance, most didn't give their thoughts on the plan to move sixth-graders.
James Winbush, one of the district's associate superintendents, discussed District 23's declining enrollment and lower sixth-grade achievement. More than 740 students who live in the community have chosen to attend schools elsewhere, and some community members wanted to know the reason that was so. McKinley Washington, a former state lawmaker and Ravenel resident, said the Hollywood-area community once was branded as “brain dead,” and that perception lingers. “What are you doing to let the folks know that ... all these schools are improving, and that all you need to do is get some help?” he said to school officials. “You can't close all your rural schools ... because the community has an impact on children's education. We've got to put more money into the rural areas.”