Months after the Charleston County School District doubled the size of Buist Academy's kindergarten class, the district is still figuring out its next move for the popular downtown magnet school.
Superintendent Gerrita Postlewait presented a possible recommendation that would place Buist kindergarten through second-grade students at Memminger Elementary and keep Buist's third through eighth-grade students on their current campus.
“That could change, but that looks as though it's the best option right now,” Postlewait said at Monday's board meeting. “We are getting a lot of good feedback from parents about some other twists and modifications to that.”
The district could recommend the idea to the board at its Nov. 11 meeting.
This idea differed significantly from a previous suggestion for Buist presented six weeks earlier.
Under that plan, Mitchell Elementary, a Title I school on Perry Street, would be closed to make way for what some parents referred to as a “middle school mall” — a single campus that would house as many as three separate middle school programs.
Buist would be split into two campuses, one for its kindergarten through fifth grade and one for sixth- through eighth-grade students.
Buist’s middle school students would be housed at the renovated Mitchell campus, along with seventh- and eighth-graders from James Simons Montessori and sixth- through eighth-grade students from Charleston Development Academy.
For some parents, the district’s change of plans is disorienting and frustrating.
Maureen McAnnor, who has a student at Memminger, said she and other parents are gathering information "and we're doing it day in and day out. And then by the time the next meeting rolls around it's completely different. And it’s like, 'What did we do all that work for?' ”
McAnnor attended a small group session with about 20 or so other parents from elementary schools downtown last week. That was the first time she and other parents saw the idea to move some Buist students to Memminger.
“Everyone in that meeting, no matter what school they were affiliated with, made it sure that it was known that putting Buist kindergarten through second grade into another school downtown and having it as a school within a school is a terrible idea,” McAnnor said.
Sarah Phillips, who has two students at Memminger, also attended and agreed with other parents skeptical about putting Buist's three youngest grades inside Memminger.
“It would be a segregated school," Phillips said. "It makes no sense to me.”
Buist, the elite countywide magnet school on Calhoun Street, is predominately white and affluent, while Memminger, less than a mile away on Beaufain Street, is a Title I school. Its students are predominantly African American and from lower income families.
Phillips and McAnnor said they learned the plan would keep Buist’s teachers and students in classes separate from Memminger’s.
“Separating the kids just shows our kids, our Memminger kids, and our teachers — it just puts them in such a terrible spot," McAnnor said. "And it’s still just an ‘us’ and ‘them.’ And that’s just not helping anyone.”
Under the new plan, Memminger’s pre-kindergarten students would be relocated to other schools to make room for the new Buist students, according to a district worksheet given to parents at the small group meeting.
When asked if Memminger students would be displaced and if Buist students would have separate classes, district spokesman Andy Pruitt said the ideas presented at Monday's meeting are not final and "have not been developed to the point where details have been determined."
"The final recommendation related to Buist, Memminger and other schools will ultimately be our best effort to provide a course of action for the long-range benefit of Charleston County School District and the students and parents we serve," Pruitt said.
If it were to pass, some parents fear it would open the door for a full takeover of Memminger for use as a second Buist campus.
“They’re going to have to expand the Buist campus in one way or another, and it just seems like Memminger is ripe for the picking,” Phillips said.
None of the ideas presented Monday were identified as formal proposals, only possible recommendations that the board could consider this month.
“I think if the majority of the board feels like we haven’t had time to vet a certain idea, we won’t vote on in it November,” said Kate Darby, the board’s vice-chair.
The board likely will vote on some ideas this month, Darby added.
The board will review recommendations and determine the timeline for voting on various recommendations at the Nov. 11 board meeting, Pruitt said.