Compass Collegiate Academy founders

Members of the Compass Collegiate Academy (left to right) Eric Strickland, Hunter Schimpff and Marcus Bryant asked the Charleston County School District to sponsor their proposed charter school at a hearing on Monday, April 8, 2019. Paul Bowers/Staff

The backers of a proposed charter school told the Charleston County School Board that they could help address some of the district's ongoing problems with inequality and racial segregation.

But the school board turned down their offer Monday.

In its application, the charter committee of Compass Collegiate Academy proposed opening a school with 100 students in kindergarten through first grade, eventually expanding to serve 720 students in kindergarten through eighth grade.

The proposed school would have accepted students from anywhere in the county, but would target its recruiting in North Charleston and downtown Charleston. Organizers said they would recruit for diversity, provide bus transportation to give all students a chance to attend, and provide an academically rigorous environment focused on college readiness.

"I can tell you and speak very candidly: Some charter schools in South Carolina, and even some here in Charleston County, are white flight schools. I can tell you and assure you we are going to be as far from that as possible," said Hunter Schimpff, Compass charter committee chairman at the hearing. 

He and other backers said they hoped the new school would address some issues highlighted in last year's Clemson diversity study of the school district.

“I’m just deeply disturbed as I send my children out into the world and these communities," said Marcus Bryant, vice chairman of the charter committee. "We need schools that are academically performing at a good or excellent level.”

After meeting behind closed doors, the school board voted 6-1 to reject Compass' application. The Rev. Chris Collins cast the dissenting vote, and Joyce Green was absent at the time.

The rejection came despite the school board's history of favoring charter schools. Charleston has more than any other county-level school district in the state. In the current school year, 9% of the Charleston County School District's general operating fund, $47 million, is going to charter schools.

But board member Priscilla Jeffery said this charter application was deficient in its plans to educate students with disabilities and to provide transportation and facilities. She also noted that approving yet another charter would deprive the district of "resources we can otherwise apply to our own schools."

The proposal took a few ideas from Meeting Street Schools' lauded partnership with the school district, which has gotten strong academic results with students from high-poverty North Charleston neighborhoods. Compass would feature a teacher and an instructional assistant in every K-2 classroom, and it would use the STEP assessment to track students' progress in literacy.

Schimpff previously worked as director of policy and analytics for the S.C. Public Charter School District, but left that position before applying to create the new school. He opened his comments to the school board Monday by complaining that the district only gave two business days' notice about the charter hearing despite having the application in its possession for months.

"This process quite frankly has been a total joke. Providing 48 hours notice to our group to present today, debating behind closed doors, and not allowing any public comment is all consistent with the fact that the decision was made prior to ever receiving the application," Schimpff said.

Schimpff said his committee will consider appealing the county school board's decision. Compass' committee has also submitted an application to the S.C. Public Charter School District.

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Reach Paul Bowers at 843-937-5546. Follow him on Twitter @paul_bowers.

Paul Bowers is an education reporter and father of three living in North Charleston. He previously worked at the Charleston City Paper, where he was twice named South Carolina Journalist of the Year in the weekly category.

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