This wasn’t the opening that School Leader Mache Larkin envisioned for Lowcountry Leadership Charter, but she’s grateful to have finally started classes in the former Schroder Middle School building.
Students’ first day at the Hollywood charter school was last Thursday, more than three weeks after Charleston County students returned to school. Construction on the charter school’s new building is behind schedule, and the charter school didn’t have an immediately available back-up plan.
The county school board agreed to rent the former middle school building to the charter, but a lease wasn’t signed until Friday. Lowcountry Leadership Charter had its first two days in the Wesley Memorial United Methodist Church building, and they started on the Schroder campus Monday.
“It was just a situation where we couldn’t wait any longer,” Larkin said. “Understanding the school district has a process to follow, we had to figure out what else we could do to have a Day 1.”
The charter school’s predicament isn’t one state or local school leaders want to see happen again. Superintendent Wayne Brazell, who leads the state Public Charter School District, said he wants to talk with the state Office of School Facilities about setting more defined benchmarks for schools under construction. If schools don’t meet certain goals during that process, they automatically would be delayed by a year, he said.
“This has just been a really tough situation,” he said. “We’ve had some tight openings, but we’ve never had anything like this before.”
Because Lowcountry Leadership Charter is part of the state charter district, it can accept any South Carolina student, regardless of where they live. It was the only new charter school to open in the tri-county area this fall.
South Carolina schools are required to have 180 days, and Larkin said the charter school plans to have three Saturday make up days scattered throughout the school year. It won’t break for summer until June 13, and two teacher workdays were changed to instructional days.
The charter school’s request to use the former Schroder Middle campus generated significant community opposition, and some tried to stop the school from opening. The county school board agreed to let it use the space only for 60 days, and the school has to pay about $128,000 to cover utility costs. Any leftover money will go to District 23 (Hollywood) schools.
The board also put a number of conditions on the school’s use of the building, such as starting later than C.C. Blaney Elementary, which also is on the campus, and hiring off-duty officers to help with traffic flow.
Board member Chris Fraser, who was tapped to ensure those conditions were met, said those were part of the final agreement. The school’s use of the space won’t cost taxpayers’ money because the charter school’s construction company will cover those costs.
“It was a process, but clearly everyone was working together to get it done,” he said.
Larkin said the school was grateful to the church and the school board for use of their spaces. The former middle school building is clean and well-taken care of, and the nearly 400-student school will be comfortable until it moves into its new building.
The school’s experience can be a good learning lesson for others, she said.
“None of this has been like I imagined the first day to have been … but we have marvelous teachers and the most loyal families,” Larkin said.
Reach Diette Courrégé Casey at @Diette on Twitter or (843) 937-5546.