A unique public-private partnership is looking to provide a quality education for low-income students at a new North Charleston elementary school opening next month.
If you go
What: A barbecue and open house will be held at Meeting Street Elementary School for parents and students.
Where: Meeting Street Elementary, 2685 Leeds Ave., North Charleston.
When: 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. Aug. 2
Meeting Street Elementary at Brentwood will be in the former Brentwood Middle School building on Leeds Avenue as a joint venture between the Charleston County School District and Meeting Street Schools, which operates the private Meeting Street Academy in downtown Charleston that specializes in serving children from low-income families.
The school, which will operate as a free public school, will serve an area in the city with high poverty. The attendance zone will draw from seven neighborhoods - Brentwood, Oakridge, Bonair, Wando Woods, McKeever Place, Green Grove and Lake Palmetto.
"We are excited to serve every single kid in our attendance zone," said Sarah Campbell, principal of Meeting Street Elementary. "We are developing a program that is rigorous so that all students can make academic gains."
The school will open in the fall with classes for pre-kindergarten, kindergarten and first grade. It will eventually serve students through the fifth grade with one grade added each year.
The district will provide standard funding for the school based on enrollment. Meeting Street Schools will provide supplemental funding for additional programs and staffing. The education group is also investing a little over $1 million to upgrade the former school, including expanding six classrooms.
Where the school will really differ is in its academic program, which Meeting Street Schools has discretion over. Unlike other public schools, Meeting Street Elementary will offer pre-kindergarten classes for 3- and 4-year-olds, and there will be two teachers in every classroom. The school also will offer a free after-school program and there will be a longer school year.
"It's not that we gave the school away," said Charleston schools Superintendent Nancy McGinley. "This is a unique public-private partnership that is enhancing what we can do for these children."
Support for Meeting Street Elementary is gaining momentum in the community.
"I think anything that gives parents - especially parents who have minimum resources - the opportunity to put their children in the position to take advantage of the kind of quality education they're doing down at Meeting Street, I think is great," said Joyce Nesmith, community volunteers coordinator for the North Charleston nonprofit group Beyond Our Walls, which supports families at three of the poorest schools in the city.
Interest is especially high among families at Burns Elementary School, which is among the district's lowest-performing schools. Nesmith said some Burns Elementary parents are disappointed their children weren't zoned to go to the school, while others are wondering whether they can apply to send their children to the school through the district's voluntary transfer process. Other parents have expressed frustration over a lack of communication from the district.
"I'm hoping our organization can be more of a catalyst as a place for parents to come and get more information and help make that transition," Nesmith said.
North Charleston City Councilwoman Dorothy Williams, whose district includes Burns and Meeting Street elementaries, said she is disappointed the Waylyn subdivision, a predominantly black neighborhood close to the new school, was not included in the attendance zone.
"The kids in Waylyn, they would benefit from this program," Williams said. "That is a high-crime area where a lot of parents are absent."
Chris Allen, chief of staff for Meeting Street Schools, said the school district's constituent school board for North Charleston drew the attendance zone for the new school and that his group was not part of that process. Meeting Street Elementary will not accept any transfer students during its first school year, Allen said, but a transfer process will be worked out with the district for the 2015-2016 school year.
"We wanted to make sure everybody in that attendance zone had a space in the school (before transfers are allowed)," Allen said.
Meeting Street Elementary will tackle educating its students through a multifaceted approach that includes rigorous academic standards as well as social and emotional learning. Campbell said the school will use its own curriculum for math and reading as well as lessons that build character strengths like empathy and curiosity.
Campbell acknowledges the school is located in a high poverty area but said that the school isn't meant to exclusively serve that population.
"We are not targeting a certain type of kid or family," she said. "This is for all kids. We just have unique supports for the families that need it."
McGinley is hopeful those extra supports will yield results.
"Our ultimate goal is to show that if given the appropriate supports we can get children from low-income homes to the same academic levels (as other children)," she said.
If the results are positive, McGinley hopes the state will fund similar programs at other district schools with similar demographics.
"We want to try to replicate elements of this program in other similarly challenged schools," she said. "It's the way I believe we need to conduct educational business in highly economic challenged areas."
Reach Amanda Kerr at 937-5546 or at Twitter.com/PCAmandaKerr.
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