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Charleston school board OKs expansion of public-private partnership Meeting Street schools

Path to Success.jpg (copy)

Graduation dates and school values hang on the cafeteria wall as part of Meeting Street Academy's Path to Success at Meeting Street Academy @Brentwood on Friday, Feb. 8, 2019, in North Charleston. File/Grace Beahm Alford/Staff

A public-private partnership school in North Charleston could expand to enroll middle school students next year.

Meeting Street Schools serves students on two North Charleston campuses, Meeting Street @Brentwood and Meeting Street @Burns. The Charleston County School Board voted Monday to allow the Brentwood campus to add seventh- and eighth-graders to its campus off Leeds Avenue.

No action was taken on Meeting Street @Burns, located off Dorchester Road. 

The K-8 school would be the first of its kind for the Charleston-based educational nonprofit that operates four elementary schools across South Carolina. 

Brentwood currently serves pre-K through sixth-grade students. If the proposal gets final approval from the school board later this month, seventh-grade students could attend the school in August, and rising eighth-graders would be added the following school year.

The public-private partnership school has been praised for its strong academic results from high-poverty North Charleston neighborhoods but has faced criticism from others who worry about the so-called lack of public input and oversight associated with public-private partnership schools.

Seven board members voted in favor of the expansion. One board member was not present at the vote and board member Priscilla Jeffery abstained.

The North Charleston schools are funded, in part, by Sherman Financial founder Ben Navarro and receive millions of dollars in extra support from the nonprofit that runs them. They are the only two public-private partnership schools in Charleston County.

They’re still under the jurisdiction of the school district but have much more flexibility and decision-making authority on how funding is spent and the hiring and firing of staff.

Both are public schools with a defined attendance zone, and they’ve both been praised for their ability to accelerate academic growth.

“Across the district, Meeting Street takes more children in poverty and brings them to higher levels of achievement,” said Superintendent Gerritta Postlewait.

Student achievement is “somewhat higher in English Language Arts” and “off the charts higher” in mathematics compared to other schools in North Charleston that have a poverty index of 80 percent or higher, Postlewait said.

There are some things offered at Meeting Street campuses, like longer school days and two instructors in the classrooms, that set the schools apart from traditional public schools.

This greater degree of flexibility is allowed through the state’s designation of Meeting Street as a “school of innovation.”

“Parent and community demand is at an all-time high for us to grow through eighth-grade — and we are humbled to be able to answer that call,” said Meeting Street Schools representative Chris Allen.

The partnership was created in 2014 "to prove that all students, no matter where they live, can achieve at the highest levels," Allen said. 

The school district faced community pushback last year after the board approved a plan to identify 13 low-performing schools as potential partnership schools.

“Our biggest concerns all along with the public-private partnership schools is transparency and accountability,” said Sarah Johnson, co-leader the Charleston Area Community Voice For Education advocacy group. “We just really want to make sure that's front and center because the public-private partnership schools are governed and operated differently from all of our other schools.”

But she’s not opposed to the expansion, “just as long as the process is transparent and accountable."

North Charleston community leader and activist Elvin Speights said everyone he's spoken to who has children in Meeting Street supports the expansion. 

"I get a lot of complaints about a lot of schools, but I don’t get any about Meeting Street," Speights said.

A contract between Meeting Street Elementary @Brentwood and the district obtained by The Post and Courier states the district provides funding for the school based on the average of the per-pupil funding the district provides at other, similar schools. 

Meeting Street's flagship school, Meeting Street Academy, opened in 2008 and operates independently of CCSD. 

The next school board meeting is scheduled for Feb. 24.

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Contact Jenna Schiferl at 843-937-5764. Follow her on Twitter at @jennaschif. 

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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