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James Weiters (from right), Kamauri Gaillard and Synsere Frazier learn about mixtures and solutions in a fifth-grade science class at Prestige Preparatory Academy charter school on Thursday, March 8, 2018. File/Wade Spees/Staff

Three years after opening, another Charleston County public charter school appears likely to close its doors for good. 

Prestige Preparatory Academy opened in 2016 as a public charter school sponsored by the Charleston County School District. The all-boys school was created to provide a unique, "boy-specific" curriculum with a focus on literacy and wellness. 

Most of its students are black and from low-income families. 

Since opening, Prestige has faced problems related to funding, enrollment and teacher turnover; its charter was revoked by the school board June 30. 

It wasn't the first time the district considered revoking Prestige's charter.

In March 2018, the school board held a hearing to address the school's charter status. The board alleged  the school violated "the conditions, standards, performance expectations and procedures" with regard to finances and academic standards laid out in the charter school contract, according to a hearing document. 

After the hearing, it was determined that Prestige would be allowed to remain open for the 2018-19 school year, as long as it provided the district with the following:

  • A plan by June 30, 2018, to recruit at least 85 students.
  • Its current financial information through February of 2018.
  • A revised budget and recovery plan by May 1, 2018.
  • An academic plan for success for each student that was currently enrolled at the school by June 30, 2018.

According to Andy Pruitt, a district spokesperson, the board members decided Prestige did not meet the required conditions. On March 1, Prestige Prep was told its charter would be revoked. 

Joyce Coleman, executive director of Prestige, filed a lawsuit in late June against the Board of Trustees. 

The suit alleges that Prestige met the criteria and standards set within the guidelines for charter schools. Coleman was reached last week but declined to comment on the lawsuit. She did not return requests for comment Thursday.  

It's unclear what the future holds. Prestige's website has not been updated to include information on 2019-20 registration.

Prestige could seek a new charter through the S.C. Public Charter School District or through the Charter Institute at Erskine  in Due West. Cameron Runyan, CEO of Erskine's charter institute, said Prestige has not submitted a charter application. 

"We have not been communicated with by that school, and I doubt we would have any interest at this point at pursuing authorization," he said. 

A spokesperson for the S.C. Public Charter School District could not be reached for comment.

Since charter schools receive funding on a per-pupil basis, one obstacle charter schools often must overcome is low enrollment, according to Ryan Brown, a spokesman for the S.C. Department of Education. 

A statewide headcount report that lists enrollment by school showed that on the 135th day of the 2019 school year, Prestige's total headcount was 45. 

"They definitely have some unique challenges to getting started and being successful," Brown said. "I would say starting a charter school isn't for the faint of heart." 

Brown said this is why some charter schools initially are housed in churches, community centers or old school buildings.

Prestige has had its campus at 2415 Avenue F, on the former Charleston Naval Base. The school's property is owned by Palmetto Railways and is rented on a monthly lease, according to Chris Drummond, a Palmetto Railways spokesperson. 

Drummond said the lease will probably end in December, in accordance with a construction schedule for the new Navy Base Intermodal Facility.

"Now that Palmetto Railways has received the final permits from the Army Corps of Engineers, identifying financing for the project has begun. The building will likely be razed sometime next year," he said. 

Advocates for Prestige and members of the National Action Network shut down a school board meeting in March, alleging that the district had treated the school unfairly. 

Charleston County has more charter schools than any other district in the state.

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Jenna Schiferl is a Columbia native and a reporter at The Post and Courier. She has previously worked as an editor at Garnet & Black Magazine.

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