The New Harbor View Elementary School

Harbor View Elementary School.  Brad Nettles/Staff 

A lot of aspiring Buist Academy parents are going to be disappointed next month.

About 1,879 of them, to be exact.

As Paul Bowers reports, applications for Charleston County magnet and charter schools are through the roof this year. More than 6,000 parents applied to at least one — and probably two or more — of these specialty schools.

Buist had 1,931 requests for just 52 spots.

This is what school choice looks like these days: Thousands of parents furiously filling out forms and standing in line to try to get their kids one of the few seats available in coveted education programs.

Their kids audition, take tests and then wait. It’s college-level stress.

Make no mistake, many of them are worth the effort. Ashley River Creative Arts Elementary, for instance, is among the finest schools in the land.

But getting into these programs is a gamble, and anyone who doesn’t land a spot at Orange Grove Charter or the School of the Arts needs to keep one thing in mind.

Your child has already won.

Having parents that care about education is a big indicator of academic achievement.

And those children can succeed anywhere.

Hiding in plain sight

The demand for magnet and charter schools grows faster than the market can handle.

This year, there were nearly 13,000 applications filed by parents accounting for 12 percent of the district's student population.

This popularity has had unintended consequences, the biggest of which may be that nowadays some people won’t give neighborhood schools a chance.

It’s a self-perpetuating cycle — the popular programs pull good students and resources out of neighborhood schools, which hurts test scores and unfairly tarnishes their reputations.

It’s unfortunate, especially since there’s a smidge of label-envy going on here.

Fact is, a lot of neighborhood schools still produce results just as good as the magnets.

Take Harbor View Elementary on James Island, for instance. By any measure — reading above grade level, standardized test scores — students there do as well as any.

The same can be said for Belle Hall Elementary in Mount Pleasant, Meeting Street Elementary at Brentwood in North Charleston and any number of other schools.

In fact, Brentwood — which is run by an outside group, but is still considered a neighborhood school — is so popular that people move into the attendance zone just to get their children a spot.

The Brentwood program is undoubtedly impressive, but it certainly doesn’t hurt that their parents obviously care about education.

A 2014 study published in the Journal of Educational Review found a consistent relationship between parental involvement and academic achievement across all grade levels, race and socioeconomic status.

That’s why the children of parents who go to the trouble of applying to magnet and charter schools have already won, no matter where they end up parking their book bags.

It's the student

Every school in Charleston County produces students who go on to four-year universities.

“We’ve got good options at every school,” says Charleston County school board member Todd Garrett.

He’s absolutely right.

Not every place is going to be as elite as Academic Magnet High, which routinely ranks among the best schools in the country. But there are great teachers, inspired programs and success stories on every campus in this county.

Yes, some more than others.

Often those results vary for a number of reasons, poverty chief among them. Schools with most of its students on free or reduced lunch come with any number of ancillary issues.

But there are still good students and teachers at those schools. Mitchell Elementary in downtown Charleston is a great example.

Mitchell Principal Deborah Smith has an impressive percentage of her students exceeding one-year growth on MAP reading scores. That’s astounding, especially when you consider the school’s poverty index is nearly 96 percent.

Of course, there's nothing wrong with wanting the best for a child. But in a district with nearly 50,000 students, the competition is bound to be fierce for a handful of specialty programs.

So take solace if the magnet and charter school lottery is unkind. Good students come out of every school, and some of them end up at Harvard. More of them, in fact, than get into Buist.

So don’t fret, and don’t overlook the good school just around the corner.

Reach Brian Hicks at