The Charleston County School District has some expensive new school buildings — and an opportunity to tailor the education that goes on in them.
For example, the Charleston County School Board approved a community request to offer Montessori classes in one of the new buildings at James Simons Elementary.
But last Monday, it put off deciding whether to allow Memminger Elementary to offer the International Baccalaureate (IB) program.
The principal wants the program. A large majority of parents surveyed want it. The district supports the idea as a way to improve academics in the “at risk” school and to attract students from families now sending their children out of the district or to private schools.
Buist Academic Magnet School is the only public elementary school in Charleston County to offer IB now.
The rigorous curriculum concerns some board members. Michael Miller worries that Memminger students, who have not performed well academically, will be left behind, unable to do the more demanding work. Certainly it is the school board’s job to ensure that Memminger meets the needs of those students — and does it better than has been done.
But the board also needs to ensure that Memminger offers a curriculum for students whose families want them to be more challenged. IB would do that.
It isn’t just new students who would benefit. Some current students, and their parents, would welcome the program.
Memminger Principal Teresa Turner said all of the faculty at Memminger had to reapply if they wanted to continue teaching there. She expects about half of her teachers will be new hires, and she will make sure they support IB.
As things stand now, the school is about 200 students shy of capacity. Board member Todd Garrett said the school cost too much ($22 million) to let it fail.
He supports the IB program as a way to fill those seats and respond to families who have been unhappy with District 20 offerings.
Other approaches have been attempted at Memminger over the years. As this newspaper’s Diette Courrege Casey reported, a plan to adopt a global studies focus didn’t work out. Memminger lost some teachers who had been trained to teach along that theme, and a curriculum was never developed.
The IB program has specific standards and requirements, which might give families who have observed the school’s failures confidence that their children would be well educated.
It is reasonable that the school board wants to hear more from the community about the IB issue, but the board needs to keep in mind that it can take three years for a school to get approved for IB.
District parents are making decisions about where to send their children to school, if not Memminger. Once they have made those decisions, they might not be inclined to change their minds.
Memminger has been given a rare opportunity to reconstitute itself in a fine new building.
The board should recognize that what has been happening there hasn’t worked adequately.
It should pave the way for a dramatic change for the better.