James Island Christian School seniors donned caps and gowns for one final graduation ceremony earlier this month as the last graduating class of the small private school.
A total of 13 students graduated from the school on May 17 after the school’s board of directors voted last year to no longer serve high school grades.
Valedictorian O’Connell Duggan said the graduation ceremony was a celebration of the school’s accomplishments. And while the students were thoughtful about being the last graduating class, they weren’t sad, the 18-year-old said.
“It’s not weird being the last class,” Duggan said. “The school has already done so much with the people it’s impacted.”
Board member Bill Read said the board made the decision to close its high school after a steady decline in enrollment and an announcement by First Baptist School of Charleston that it was planning to relocate its high school to James Island. James Island Christian has a total enrollment of 175 serving students from pre-kindergarten through 12th grade including 74 students in grades 7-12.
“It was not a decision that we took lightly,” Read said.
But a new partnership with First Baptist will give enrollment preference to rising freshman from James Island Christian who meet admissions criteria, Read said, saying the two schools’ philosophies are “compatible.”
“We feel like this partnership will be a good thing in the long run,” he said.
Tommy Mullins, First Baptist’s head of school, which is similar to a principal, said the idea made sense given First Baptist’s plan to relocate its high school to the island in the next two years. A new athletics and performing arts center for the school is already up and running on 62 acres at George Griffith and Riverland Drive.
Mullins said his school anticipates enrolling around 30 high school students from James Island Christian in the fall. The school had 168 students enrolled in grades 9-12 this school year.
“We hope to share resources and fully develop this partnership in ways that ideally serve all of our families,” Mullins said.
Jeremy Schwartz, head of school for James Island Christian, said his focus will turn to refining his school’s services for younger students, which includes a multi-age model where students of different ages and grades learn in the same classroom.
But ending the school year last week was bittersweet, he said, knowing that the older students wouldn’t be there in the fall.
“It is emotional and it has been an emotional time all throughout the semester,” Schwartz said. “Our school has always been such a family, a tight-knit school.”