Orange Grove Elementary Charter School parents have wished for years that their school would continue to eighth grade, and its leaders are trying to make that happen.
Principal John Clendaniel presented this week to the Charleston County School Board’s Strategic Education Committee a proposal that would grow the prekindergarten-to-fifth-grade school to include grades 6-8. The West Ashley school’s enrollment would grow by about 350 to 1,150 students.
“It’s an awesome opportunity for the community,” Clendaniel said. “It’s going to keep more kids in the community and make the community stronger.”
Many West Ashley families aren’t happy with their neighborhood middle school options, and that’s evident by two of those schools’ low enrollment and high percentage of students who choose to go elsewhere.
“The folks who can send their children somewhere else will find another way ... but that’s not equitable education,” Clendaniel said. “That’s not quality options for all kids. I’m a West Ashley resident, and I want there to be quality options in my own backyard.”
Orange Grove is consistently rated excellent by the state, and it has received nearly perfect marks from parents and teachers for their satisfaction with its learning environment.
Clendaniel pointed out that the school’s test scores exceed the district average, and the achievement gap between its black and white students is significantly smaller than the district average.
Closing the achievement gap is one of the district’s three major goals; the other two are increasing the graduation rate and raising achievement overall.
“We know what we’re doing, and we’re doing a good job,” he said. “If we want to impact (the district’s five-year plan) Vision 2016, let me keep the kids the next three years, get them prepped and move them on.”
District officials have been talking about potential changes to West Ashley middle schools, and a task force is considering a recommendation to close either West Ashley Middle or St. Andrew’s Middle and merge the schools onto one campus.
Clendaniel said he isn’t asking for one of those potentially shuttered buildings, but Orange Grove would accept it should the county school board make that offer. Otherwise, the school will use its existing funds to cover a mortgage for additional space.
Orange Grove’s campus doesn’t have enough room for a middle school building, so Clendaniel said the school is looking to retrofit an existing building elsewhere or to build a new middle school campus. The elementary school campus would stay in its current building, which opened in 2009.
The goal would be for the new middle school to open for the 2016-17 school year, which means the school’s third-graders would be its first middle school class. The middle school would start with sixth grade and expand by one grade a year until it reaches eighth grade.
The school’s fifth-graders automatically would be accepted, and any remaining spots would be decided by lottery. The enrollment increase wouldn’t affect the elementary school. The school gives preference to students who reside in its former attendance zone, but it accepts students from across the county.
Clendaniel said the school has been exploring building options, but it needs at least five of the county school board’s nine members to sign off on its request to expand grade levels and increase enrollment before it can move forward.
Bob Olson, the school district’s liaison for charter schools, said he didn’t see any issue with the proposal, but he wanted district staff to study it further. He plans to bring it back to the committee for consideration, and it likely will be on the county board’s Nov. 25 meeting agenda.
Board members Chris Collins, Tom Ducker and Michael Miller heard Clendaniel’s presentation Tuesday and said they supported his proposal. Miller said the school’s request wouldn’t cost the district any money, and it would expand a successful school.
Ducker said he liked the charter school’s idea, and it reinforced the need to address the other problems in West Ashley middle schools.
“If we can replicate good things in the district, then we ought to do it,” Ducker said.
Reach Diette Courrégé Casey at @Diette on Twitter or (843) 937-5546.