The Lowcountry has become one of South Carolina’s most fertile sites for charter schools, and two new options will be available to students this fall.
The state will see a nearly 20 percent growth in its number of charter schools in 2013-14, adding 10 more to its roster. That figure likely will expand again, with about 40 groups having signaled their intention to apply to open in 2014-15.
“A lot of it is community driven,” said Mary Carmichael, executive director of the Public Charter School Alliance of South Carolina. “Some of it is educators who are retired and looking for ways to continue the work they’ve done in classrooms, and they know there is a different way to do it.”
Charter schools are public schools that are run by boards of parents, community members and educators. They don’t have to follow the county school board’s mandates; they have separate boards that decide their budget, policy and curriculum.
Charter schools are funded with taxpayer dollars, and their critics say they divert money and students from traditional neighborhood schools. Their advocates say they provide much-needed choices for families.
Ten charter schools already call Charleston County home, and at least five more groups have expressed interest in opening by August 2014.
Opening this fall
Two schools will open their doors to students this fall: Fairfield Charter High in West Ashley and Lowcountry Leadership Charter in Hollywood.
Both will accept any South Carolina student who can arrange transportation to the school. One of those new schools, Fairfield Charter, wants to be different, and that’s immediately apparent by its location — an office complex off of Sam Rittenberg Boulevard.
Fairfield hopes to blend traditional and online instruction to create a nontraditional learning environment.
Ninth- through 12th-graders will have to be on campus for only three hours each day. They will learn their English and math lessons through a combination of online and in-person instruction, and all of their other classes will be taken online through the Florida Virtual High School program.
“Not every kid is built for a traditional high school,” said Robert Cook, a former West Ashley High assistant principal who will lead the school. “We want to give them something different to go to.”
The school plans to have a coffee-shop-style room where students can do their work or socialize. Students can move as fast or as slow as they need to through courses, but they will need to be independent, self-motivated learners who want flexibility, he said.
“We’ll be able to offer them a lot of support,” Cook said.
In rural Hollywood, Lowcountry Leadership will open in the St. Paul’s Academy school building and serve 400 students initially in kindergarten through ninth grades. Its goal is to develop leaders through project-based learning, which is an inquiry-based process for teaching.
Both schools are accepting applications.
At least five groups have said they plan to apply to open for the fall of 2014, and three want to be in downtown Charleston.
“The need for other school options downtown is being driven by ideas from downtown families,” said Jennifer Metts, interim chairwoman of the charter committee for Carolina Voyager School. “They want more options for all students.”
Carolina Voyager wants to serve grades K-8 in a downtown blended learning setting of traditional and online instruction.
The Charleston School for Musically Inspired Minds hopes to serve sixth- through 12th grades in a downtown location. It plans to partner with the Charleston Symphony Orchestra and enable students to study a range of music.
Lighthouse Charter School hopes to serve 240 students in grades K-5 in North Charleston, and it would offer year-round schooling and foreign language.
Burke Community Development Charter School of History, Culture and Global Economics would be a sixth- through 12th-grade school. Organizers said they want to operate on the Burke High campus, but the school board would have to approve that request.
J. Briggs Academy of Excellence would serve students in grades 6-8.