Orange Grove Elementary Charter will have to wait to find out whether expansion is a go

The Orange Grove Elementary Charter School community had hoped to know this month whether they would be able to expand to middle grades, but that might not happen.

It’s not clear when the Charleston County School Board would take up the issue, and that’s disheartening for those who want to see more high-quality middle school options in West Ashley.

“We are making a positive impact in the lives of our students and their families, and I want to see that success continue at the middle school level where it so desperately needed in our community,” said school Orange Grove Elementary Charter Principal John Clendaniel. “I feel like everyone, including the (Charleston County School Board) supports this amendment, so yes, I’m disappointed that we are still waiting on approval.”

Orange Grove, an “excellent”-rated school, has asked permission to add sixth through eighth grades and to increase its enrollment to serve about 350 middle schoolers.

The county school board’s strategic education committee has to sign off on the request before it goes to the full board, and its members don’t want to make a decision on the charter school’s request until they receive a report from a District 10 (West Ashley) task force. That group of parents, community members and educators is considering a proposal that would merge West Ashley Middle with St. Andrew’s Middle.

Task forces across the district have been asked to look at under-enrolled schools and recommend changes. Many West Ashley families don’t enroll in their neighborhood middle schools because they aren’t as strong academically as the elementary schools, and Orange Grove wants to be a new middle school option.

The board committee’s chairman, Michael Miller, said although the District 10 report won’t involve Orange Grove, it makes sense to wait for the information so the board can see the total picture for the future of District 10 schools.

“We’re not saying ‘No,’ we’re just saying we want to wait until we hear back from the community (task force),” Miller said.

No one wants to hold the charter school hostage, but he said the board has been criticized for making decisions and later changing those.

“I’m in favor of amending (the charter), but it doesn’t make sense to amend it then turn and have to say that’s not the best thing,” he said.

The charter school didn’t ask for a building, but it would accept a vacant building should one become available. Miller said it’s the district’s job to see what comes out of the task force and decide whether that could be a possibility.

Clendaniel said he hasn’t gotten any indication that it could using a district building. He wants to have the new middle school open by the 2016-17 school year, and it takes time to find property, secure funding and hire quality teachers.

“You need time to get it done right,” he said.

The task force should present its final recommendations to the superintendent within the next two weeks, and that information then would go to the board. But the strategic education committee still must approve the charter school’s proposal before the full board votes on it.

Miller said he hoped to have the charter school issue resolved by Christmas. The board only has two more scheduled meetings until then: Nov. 25 and Dec. 9.

Reach Diette Courrégé Casey at @Diette on Twitter or (843) 937-5546.

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