As Charleston Mayor John Tecklenburg led an impassioned cry to rebuild and not merely renovate the dilapidated Stono Park Elementary, the school board put off a decision Monday night on the West Ashley school’s future.
The board also approved a plan to hand over management of Burns Elementary in North Charleston to a private group, Meeting Street Schools, that has shown initial success working with children from low-income neighborhoods.
Charleston County voters originally approved a one-cent sales tax increase in 2010 to fund a bevy of school building projects, including a $26.6 million complete rebuild of the 65-year-old Stono Park. The board later reduced the plan to a $6 million renovation in the fall of 2014, with district officials saying that funding had fallen short and the Stono Park attendance zone was not likely to increase in population.
On Monday, the board planned to consider increasing the renovation funding to $9 million, over protests from many parents who wanted a rebuild. But Tecklenburg, in his first appearance before the board as mayor, cited “a real resurgence and a renaissance” in the “DuWap” neighborhood between Dupont and Wappoo roads and urged the board to keep its word.
“Particularly if you want to have another referendum in the future, we need to have what the voters voted for,” Tecklenburg said, drawing loud cheers from the crowd.
Parents, teachers and neighbors called the district’s waffling on the Stono Park project “shameful” and “unconscionable.” Third-grade teacher Alexandra Rodis read a letter to the board from a student named Anna: “You promised we would get a new school, and you broke that promise and broke our hearts, too.”
The board will discuss the future of Stono Park at a March 14 workshop and put it to a vote on March 21.
Board member Chris Staubes said he needed to know if rebuilding the school would bring back the numerous families in the Stono Park attendance zone who have opted to send their children elsewhere. “I just need to be convinced that the families will send their kids to that school,” he said.
At Burns Elementary, the district will expand its partnership with Meeting Street Schools, a nonprofit organization that runs two private schools and also manages the public neighborhood school Meeting Street Elementary @Brentwood in North Charleston.
Under the plan approved Monday, Meeting Street Schools will take on the fall 2016 kindergarten class from Burns at the Brentwood campus, adding one grade level per year afterward. Teachers at the Brentwood campus will be employees of Meeting Street Schools, not the district, and the organization will have the power to hire and fire at will.
The upper grades at Burns will meet in a temporary space at the McNair building on Spruill Avenue as the district builds a new Burns campus. Teachers and administrators at Burns, who heard about the plan for the first time Feb. 3, have questioned the proposal and said that the news dealt a serious blow to morale.
Superintendent Gerrita Postlewait defended the plan to the board Monday night after board member Michael Miller said it felt like the he was giving the district’s children up for adoption.
“I think they’re better equipped at this point in time to serve the children who are scheduled to go to Burns, while at the same time we can learn from their model,” Postlewait said.
The board also solidified the district’s policy on allowing high school seniors to exempt their final exams, hoping to prevent another uproar like the one that occurred when school officials sent conflicting messages to students finishing semester-long classes in January.
Under the new rule, seniors will be allowed to exempt their final exams in any full-credit class where they have a 93 average. Underclassmen will take exams regardless of their scores.
In an effort to boost diversity at Academic Magnet High School, the board voted to offer admission to the top two graduating eighth-graders at each middle school, provided they score at 13 or higher on the school’s 15-point admissions rubric.
Reach Paul Bowers at 843- 937-5546 or twitter.com/paul_bowers.