Options in Charleston

The Charleston County School District has a few alternatives for high school students who aren't successful in traditional classrooms, but none are exactly the same as its proposed Community High School.

Clark Academy is a program on James Island for older students who are behind in their credits, but it's not a place for students with behavior problems.

Almost every district high school offers the Twilight program, which is a temporary, computer-based classroom for students who have poor academic performance, excessive suspensions or disciplinary offenses, truancy or health issues.

Summit is a program that blends a computer-based curriculum and classroom instruction, but it isn't intended to be a comprehensive high school. Summit is offered in North Charleston to no more than 50 county students at one time. Those who are admitted to Summit typically have more serious behavior problems, such as those who have been recommended for expulsion, or they haven't been able to adapt to a traditional high school environment.

Students also can enroll in adult education to earn their GED.

Source: Charleston County School District

Jim Winbush, associate superintendent of the Charleston County School District, has seen the North Charleston constituent school board expel four or five students at a time, and he wished the district offered a place for those students.

The district doesn't have a comprehensive alternative school for at-risk high school students, but that could be changing.

District officials have proposed a $1.9 million plan to address that void by creating a Community High School. If approved, the new high school could start with as many as 200 students in two sites, West Ashley and North Charleston, starting this fall, and it could grow to as many as 400 in coming years.

"It's a one-stop shop," said Winbush, who oversees Charleston County's struggling schools in the Innovation Zone Learning Community. "We're not going to fit the student to the school; we're going to fit the school to the student."

The school district hasn't decided yet where the sites would be, and the $1.9 million does not include the cost of leasing or equipping those sites.

The district has a few options for high school students who aren't successful in traditional classrooms, but none are exactly like this. Students would be assigned to the Community High School, and they could earn their diploma there.

Three members of the county school board's strategic education committee heard the proposal for the school Tuesday, and they unanimously approved sending it on to the full board for consideration.

The proposal was one of more than 10 new ideas that board members will be considering in coming weeks as part of the budget process for the 2014-15 school year. Board members will have to prioritize those issues and decide soon whether to move forward with this and other plans if they want to see the changes implemented by this fall.

The new Community High School would be more than just a discipline high school, which the district has offered in the past. The district hired a private company, Community Education Partners, to operate its discipline school, but the company didn't produce the expected results and its contract ended in 2008.

The $9.1 million building that was built and designed for that program now is home to Daniel Jenkins Creative Learning Center, which serves middle school students with behavior problems.

Charleston students who have been recommended for expulsion would be one of the target populations for the new high school. The school would be open to students who have other problems, such as those who have fallen behind in high school credits, score low on standardized tests, are pregnant or are at risk for dropping out.

Lisa Herring, the district's chief academic officer, said at least 500 of the district's students would fall into one of those categories, and this alternative school would give more students the opportunity to be served.

Lou Martin, the associate superintendent who oversees high schools, said the school would offer students the basic courses they need to graduate, and they could access career and technology education programs in schools across the district.

"Part of this effort, in my view, is to capture kids before we lose them," he said. "What we're trying to do is ... keep kids in high school. This is about keeping those kids in an environment where we can provide them the additional support that we can't provide (in their neighborhood schools) and free up resources in their home schools."

Winbush said he's been thinking about this kind of school since he was principal of Baptist Hill High. Not all kids should be in a regular school environment, he said. This school would give them some of what a regular high school offers as well as specific supports, which could include mental health counselors, social workers who help them transition from jail, and job-skills certification courses.

"There has to be a place for them to go," he said.

Board member Michael Miller said he liked the idea of this high school, but the more he's thought about it, the more concerned he is about how the community will perceive it.

"I'm afraid that the concept of a Community High School ... may come across like a dumping ground," he said.

Winbush countered that most districts the size of Charleston have this kind of alternative. Berkeley and Dorchester 2 school districts, both of which are smaller than Charleston, offer troubled middle and high school students an alternative to expulsion with Berkeley Alternative and Givhans Alternative, respectively.

The district's Community High School would be an alternative for students who might be returning from the juvenile detention center but still need the opportunity to earn a diploma, he said.

Miller asked for more clarification about what the school would do, who it would serve and what it would offer to students.

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