Charleston County school community task forces make recommendations for school closures, changes

One group thinks Jane Edwards Elementary on Edisto Island should be shuttered, and another group wants a new high school built for McClellanville.

Those are some of the final recommendations from Charleston County's school community task forces on ways to improve district schools, but it's too early to say how many of those will become a reality.

The task forces' suggestions are being presented to the county school board, and district leaders are weighing in on the financial and academic feasibility of the ideas. What one community wants might not be the best decision for the entire district, said Schools Superintendent Nancy McGinley.

"We have to be educationally sound and fiscally responsible," she said.

The county school board created the task forces in an effort to improve the efficiency and operating effectiveness of schools across the district. Each group considered proposals specific to their geographic region.

Four of those reports covering District 1 (McClellanville), District 9 (Johns Island), District 10 (West Ashley) and District 23 (Hollywood) were presented to the board's strategic education committee on Monday. Two more final reports for District 20 (downtown) and District 2 (Mount Pleasant) are slated to be received in coming weeks.

The District 4 (North Charleston) constituent school board also has requested that the district create a task force to consider changes in that area.

Some of the task forces' ideas would require significant capital investment, while others could be put into effect as soon as the upcoming school year. The board committee discussed one of the four proposals, and it plans to revisit the others soon.

"These issues are pretty heavy and massive, and it does take time to vet and communicate what the message from the district will be (to the task forces)," said board member Michael Miller, who chairs the strategic education committee.

McClellanville

The District 1 task force wants: a new, state-of-the-art high school building; sixth grade moved to Lincoln High, which already serves grades 7-12; increased bandwidth to ensure students can make better access and use technology; offer a STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) course on environment and society; and the ability to offer a business partnership program.

The board committee talked at length about the community's desires, and McGinley said she was supportive of moving the sixth grade and offering a STEM course, although she would need more clarification on the kind of course it would be.

The biggest issue would be the new building. The high school enrolls 149 students, and it would grow to only 171 students if sixth-graders were moved. The district's position has been that new schools need to house at least 500 students.

"We agree that something has to be done, but it has to be a compromise for a community that desires to stay in its neighborhood school and what is really equity," McGinley said.

She suggested possibilities such as expanding St. James-Santee Elementary into a K-12 campus, and enabling high school students to travel to Wando High for elective courses. The new high school site would need to be closer to Mount Pleasant to attract more students.

She offered to come up with a counter-proposal, and that will be presented to the board in coming months.

Board member Craig Ascue said McClellanville has a similar problem to downtown in that its schools lack diversity, and "there is a lot of work that needs to be done on bringing the community together."

He thought moving the school closer to Mount Pleasant would be a positive move, and that the board should commit to providing some sort of improved facility for the community.

Johns Island

The District 9 task force wants to: convert Angel Oak Elementary into an integrated creative arts magnet, and convert Frierson Elementary on Wadmalaw into a technology-themed magnet school.

The board committee didn't discuss this proposal, but McGinley questioned how much additional general operating fund money Angel Oak would need to offer that kind of program. She also questioned what would happen if the 288 students who had left its attendance zone returned to the school; the school already is near its capacity.

"Where would we put them?" she said.

As for Frierson, she said the school is part of the federal Race to the Top grant and receiving an infusion in technology through that money. She wondered what specifically the school would want to change and how it would be different from Angel Oak, which also is part of the same federal grant.

District officials had asked the task force to consider pairing the schools and converting one into a pre-K through second-grade site and the other into a grades 3-5 site after Angel Oak is renovated. The task force shot down that idea.

West Ashley

The District 10 task force recommended merging West Ashley Middle with St. Andrews Middle for the 2014-15 school year and creating an advanced studies magnet program for the new middle school. They suggested that the new middle school be housed at West Ashley Middle, and it would cost about $3.4 million to renovate that site.

The board committee didn't discuss their proposal, but McGinley said she supports the task force's suggestion. The changes would have significant positive benefits for students, and it would help boost enrollment so it could offer more, similar to the middle schools in Mount Pleasant.

The district can't afford to build two new middle schools for West Ashley in its next building program, but it could develop a single, state-of-the-art middle school.

The recommendation will go before the board committee before it moves to the full county school board for consideration.

Hollywood

The District 23 task force has suggested closing C.C. Blaney Elementary and Jane Edwards Elementary schools; redrawing the attendance lines between E.B. Ellington and Minnie Hughes Elementary, which would be up to the constituent school board; reopening C.C. Blaney Elementary as a District 23 magnet school, similar to Buist Academy downtown; and moving the sixth grade to Baptist Hill High, so it would become a 6-12 campus.

As a contingency plan, the task force recommended doing all of those changes with the exception of those pertaining to Jane Edwards. Instead, the small Edisto Island school would remain a stand-alone campus, but its sixth-graders would be moved to Baptist Hill High.

The committee didn't discuss any of these recommendations.

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

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