Lowcountry parents who are dissatisfied with existing public school options are fueling the growth of local charter schools.
New charter schools
The following are the local charter schools slated to open by fall 2014:
Lowcountry Leadership Charter: Slated to open Sept. 5 in Hollywood to more than 400 students in grades K-9. The school will grow to a complete high school, and it is open to any South Carolina student. Its focus will be developing leaders through project-based learning.
Lighthouse Charter School: Slated to open August 2014 in North Charleston to 184 students in grades K-3. The school will grow to eighth grade and is open to any South Carolina student. Its focus will be literacy, year-round school and parent involvement.
Carolina Voyager School: Slated to open August 2014 downtown to about 90 students in grades K-2. The school will grow to eighth grade and is open to any Charleston County resident. Its focus will be individualized instruction, technology and teaching students social and emotional skills.
One school, Lowcountry Leadership Charter, will open its doors in less than a month, while two others recently received the go-ahead to open in August 2014.
Low Country Lighthouse Charter School hopes to focus on North Charleston students, while Carolina Voyager Charter School plans to serve downtown children. Each has a specific theme that makes it different from a traditional neighborhood school.
With the three new charter schools, Charleston County would be home to a total of 13 by next fall.
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 budgets, policies and curricula.
Opening this fall
Rainy weather has caused construction delays for Lowcountry Leadership Charter, which is slated to open Sept. 5 in rural Hollywood. The school will use some of the space previously occupied by St. Paul’s Academy, a private school that closed at the end of the 2012-13 school year.
The charter school is renovating and adding on to the campus, which will house more than 400 students in kindergarten through ninth grade. The school is to expand annually until it has a complete high school.
“Everything is coming together,” said Assistant Principal Julianne Moffatt. “We’re very excited.”
All of the teachers have been hired, as well as its principal, Mache Larkin, who previously was principal of St. Paul’s Academy. The school has waiting lists for students in every grade.
Its goal is to develop leaders through project-based learning, which is an inquiry-based process for teaching. Students also will learn social skills in a daily 25-minute class as part of the national Positive Behavioral Interventions and Support program.
Fairfield Charter High had leased a space in West Ashley to open this fall a non-traditional high school combining online and in-person instruction. A note on the school’s website said it wouldn’t open due to “low enrollment,” and an e-mail address provided didn’t work.
Carolina Voyager Charter plans to open in downtown Charleston in August 2014. It initially will serve about 90 students in grades K-2, and is to add a grade each year until it reaches eighth.
The school grew out of some families’ desire for a better public elementary and middle option downtown, as well as a more diverse school for the peninsula.
“We believe we can be a step in the right direction to meet all of these needs,” said Jennifer Metts, a downtown parent who helped create the school.
It will offer an environment in which teachers individualize instruction and students have tablet computers to work at their own pace, she said. The school also plans to partner with experts on social and emotional learning and incorporate those lessons throughout the school day.
The group hasn’t identified a building yet. It received approval from the Charleston County School Board, which means enrollment will be open to any county student. The school has a marketing plan and intends to put substantial efforts into recruiting downtown families.
Board member Chris Collins was the lone vote against the school, and he said he was concerned about how the school would maintain its geographic focus. Board member Michael Miller was absent.
Low Country Lighthouse Charter School is looking to open in North Charleston in August 2014. It would like to open with 184 students in grades K-3 and grow one grade per year until it reaches eighth and has 414 students.
The school grew out of Bridge of Hope, a community group that ran an after-school program and offered tutoring for students in low-income schools. The husband-wife team of Michael and Latanya Allen ran that group, and they heard from parents who wanted the same kind of program during the regular school day, Michael said. That led them to apply for the charter school.
The school will use a year-round schedule to help curb summer learning loss, and literacy will be a priority. The school will set aside at least 15 minutes per day during which all students and employees will read. Foreign language will be taught as early as kindergarten, and social studies is to be taught in Spanish by eighth grade, Latanya said.
Another major focus area will be parent involvement. They plan to encourage families to be volunteers and a part of their child’s learning, Latanya said.
“We’re coming from the perspective of helping the whole family,” she said. “If you can change the school, you can change the neighborhood.”
The school has not yet identified a building and will be open to any South Carolina student who can arrange transportation to it.
Reach Diette Courrégé Casey at @Diette on Twitter or (843) 937-5546.