Trident Palmer Campus

An aerial view of Trident Technical College Palmer Campus. The Charleston County School District is looking at opening a new Early College High School at the campus this fall. File/Leroy Burnell/Staff

A new high school offering courses for college credit is set to open this fall in Charleston County, possibly at Trident Technical College's campus on the East Side of downtown Charleston.

Charleston County School District leaders say the planned Early College High School will put students on track to graduate high school with an associate degree or industry certification. Graduating with as many as 60 college credit hours already earned through Trident courses, students could save money on college tuition or head straight into a career.

"Basically we're blending high school and college into one," said Richard Gordon, executive director of Career and Technology Education.

Gordon addressed a school board committee meeting Monday, and school board members later gave preliminary, unanimous approval to an agreement with Trident Tech.

The school could open in August with as many as 100 ninth-grade students attending classes at Trident's Palmer Campus. The school plans to add grades in subsequent years until it serves grades nine through 12.

Modeled after similar programs in Horry County, Berkeley County and Dorchester District 2, the Early College High School aims to attract first-generation college students and students who score between the 40th and 60th percentile on eighth-grade standardized tests.

A proposed budget for next school year sets aside $647,000 for the Early College High School. This would cover costs including administrative staff, transportation, supplies and one teacher each in English, math, science and social studies. After completing the courses required for high school graduation, students would focus on dual-enrollment courses provided by Trident. The cost of tuition in those courses would also be covered by the school's budget.

Gordon said he would begin to "recruit like crazy" in middle schools as soon as the board gives the school and its location final approval. Superintendent Gerrita Postlewait said she hopes to expand the program eventually.

"Ultimately, it would be our goal to have an Early College on each of Trident Technical College's campuses throughout the district," Postlewait said. "I hope that we think about it as the first effort, not to exclude anyone."

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Reach Paul Bowers at 843-937-5546 or twitter.com/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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