With a promise of diverse classrooms and a college-focused curriculum that begins in kindergarten, a new public charter school is set to open in the Charleston area in the fall of 2020.
Compass Collegiate Academy will open despite objections by the Charleston County School Board, which rejected the school's charter application in a 6-1 vote on April 8. On Tuesday, just eight days later, it won unanimous approval from a non-elected statewide entity: the board of the S.C. Public Charter School District.
The school plans to enroll 100 students in kindergarten through first grade when it opens, gradually expanding in later years to include 720 students through eighth grade. While the school will accept lottery applicants from anywhere in the state, its founders are looking to secure property between the Charleston Neck Area and Interstate 526 in North Charleston.
Charleston County School Board member Priscilla Jeffery said she worries about the lack of local oversight at the new charter school. At the meeting last week, she read a list of deficiencies in Compass' application, which included the school's plans for transportation, facilities and students with disabilities.
"We knew that they would go somewhere else," Jeffery said Tuesday. "Who are we and why do we exist?"
Hunter Schimpff, chairman of Compass' charter committee, said he expected rejection from the local school board. Despite submitting an application to both the local and statewide districts on Jan. 31, he said he received only two business days notice that the Charleston County School Board would hear it. He had to scramble to get supporters together.
By contrast, he said the statewide district's application process was "very rigorous," with multiple interviews.
"As a group of diverse Charleston citizens who have worked hard to bring a high-quality public school option to Charleston families, we're still perplexed by the lack of process leading up to last week's ruling before the Charleston County School Board and multiple CCSD board members who refused to meet with us or even consider our vision," Schimpff said.
"We're thankful for the state charter district's objective process that placed the best interests of students above politics," he added.
Schimpff previously worked as director of policy and analytics for the S.C. Public Charter School District. He said he left that position before applying to create the new school.
To try to draw diverse students, Compass will provide bus transportation — a rarity in charter schools because state law does not provide transportation funding for charters. The school also will take a few ideas from Meeting Street Schools' academically successful public-private partnerships in North Charleston: two instructors in every K-2 classroom and STEP assessments to track students' growth in literacy.
One of the Charleston County School Board's objections was the financial strain of all the district's charter schools. It budgeted $47 million, about 9 percent of its general operating fund, for payments to charter schools this year. While Compass' funding will be provided by the statewide charter district, Charleston County schools will lose state funding for any students who leave to attend Compass.
"It’s draining our schools. Every time a new charter ... opens, those are kids that would have been in our public schools," Jeffery said. "We still have to keep the buildings open and keep our teachers, we have the same expenses, but we have fewer kids."
Schimpff said he hopes to provide a high-quality option to families frustrated with the slow progress of improvements to public schools, particularly downtown and in North Charleston, where eight Charleston County public schools are on the brink of a state takeover due to persistent academic failure.
"We have a crisis on our hands given the abysmal outcomes for students in many of Charleston's public schools," Schimpff said, "and this administration continues to fiddle while Rome is burning."
Parents interested in Compass Collegiate Academy can fill out an interest form at cca-chs.org. Applications will open in early 2020.