Following construction delays, Oceanside Collegiate Academy to open in old McClellanville Middle School

Oceanside Collegiate Academy will begin classes at McClellanville Middle School in August.

A historic, nearly century-old school building will see students in its hallways for the first time in seven years when a new public charter high school begins classes this August.

Since August, Oceanside Collegiate Academy, a statewide charter school combing high-level academics and athletics, has been planning to open in a brand new building on 20 acres of land in Carolina Park, just 2 miles northwest of Wando High School. Following the Charleston County School Board’s recent decision to close Lincoln Middle-High School and send those displaced students to Wando, many Lincoln parents have eyed Oceanside as an alternative to behemoth Wando, the county’s largest high school with more than 4,000 students.

But construction on Oceanside, financed through a tax-exempt school bond, probably won’t begin until July or August, said Board Chairman Marvin Arnsdorff, “mainly due to red tape in everywhere you could possibly imagine.”

“We started looking for Plan Bs even before the year began,” Arnsdorff said.

In May, the Charleston County School Board agreed to lease McClellanville Middle School to Oceanside for about $14,000 a month. Built in 1921 to serve the rural fishing community’s white children, the old middle school — a stately Colonial Revival brick building flanked by palms trees — closed in 2009 due to low enrollment and district budget constraints.

“Most charter schools that are opening in a building that is ground-up construction start in a temporary facility,” said Traci Bryant-Riches, a representative from Pinnacle Charter School Management Group, the Florida-based company overseeing operations at Oceanside. “Our plan is to move over (to the new building) by the Christmas holiday.”

Until then, Oceanside plans to bus students to McClellanville Middle from Carolina Park.

“It’s going to be so worth it,” Principal Brenda Corely said. “I know going to McClellanville is not what any of us wanted, but it’s so worth it.”

As a dual-enrollment high school, students at Oceanside will have the opportunity to earn up to two years’ worth of college credits. Oceanside will use a split schedule, meaning students can choose to take classes in the morning (between 8 a.m.-noon) or afternoon (12:30-4:30 p.m.), in addition to two hours of online electives each day.

This model allows students to take advantage of Oceanside’s complimentary tutoring, to go to work, do internships or community service and to participate in sports. The school plans to field teams in football, baseball, basketball, soccer, golf, tennis, lacrosse, cross country, swimming, competitive cheer, girls volleyball and softball. For some sports, practice already has begun.

As a statewide public charter school, Oceanside can accept students from any county in South Carolina and is funded through a combination of state and federal dollars instead of local taxes. Public charter schools also have greater autonomy and more flexibility compared with traditional public schools in making staffing, budget and curricula decisions.

“We get to do our own thing — whatever’s is best for the kids, we get to do that. When it comes to red tape, I don’t have any red tape. It’s just a beautiful thing,” said Corely, a former administrator at Wando. “I’ve never been given that kind of empowerment and freedom.”

So far, Oceanside has accepted 582 students from 16 cities in the tri-county region, including several from McClellanville and Awendaw in the wake of Lincoln Middle-High School’s recent closure.

Carolyn Simmons, president of the Lincoln Middle-High School PTSA, said she plans to send her 16-year-old twins to Oceanside next fall instead of Wando. Her sons played basketball and football at Lincoln, and Simmons hopes they’ll go to college on athletic scholarships.

“Wando is such a big school... I’m just afraid they won’t get that playing time and stuff,” Simmons said. “I know a bunch of people who play sports there and in 11th grade, I wouldn’t want them sitting on the benches.”

Oceanside will still accept student applications on a first-come, first-served basis until enrollment reaches 600. To apply, go online at oceansidecollegiateacademy.org. School starts on August 18.

Reach Deanna Pan at (843) 937-5764.

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