Garrett Academy of Technology, a once-popular career training high school in North Charleston, will close its doors after 26 years in 2020, school officials announced Monday.
The writing was on the walls for some Garrett parents and alumni. Enrollment has dropped in recent years as the district whittled down its number of career programs from 20 in the mid-1990s to just eight in the current school year.
Garrett, a countywide magnet school, primarily attracts students from the North Charleston High and Stall High attendance zones. It received only 16 applications for 50 available seats for the 2019-20 school year, according to statistics provided by the district.
The centralized career training program at Garrett was controversial when the school district opened it inside the former Gordon H. Garrett High School in 1994. Students walked out in protest at Garrett, which had been a traditional neighborhood school serving the Dorchester-Waylyn neighborhood, while black community leaders worried that the new career program would erode similar longstanding programs at Burke High.
The school district is shifting its approach to career education again, sparking new controversy. It plans to open three Centers for Advanced Studies across the county, starting with the existing site beside Wando High and adding new locations in North Charleston and West Ashley. The North Charleston location is set to open in the fall of 2020 next to North Charleston High, on the site of a now-demolished football stadium.
Charleston County School Board member Kevin Hollinshead, a North Charleston resident, said Tuesday that Superintendent Gerrita Postlewait had not informed the board of the plan to close Garrett. He said he hopes the district can find new homes for some of Garrett's more popular trade programs, such as automotive technology and cosmetology.
"She is making those kind of decisions before getting board approval," Hollinshead said, "and she needs to have the board vet it first."
Elvin Speights is one of several North Charleston residents who have kept a close eye on developments at Garrett in the past two years. He said the district underestimates the neighborhood rivalries and fights that could erupt if some of Garrett's current students are rezoned to attend North Charleston High.
"A lot of kids from North Charleston and Garrett, they don’t mix," Speights said. "North Charleston has its fights already within itself — do you want to have more?"
Garrett Academy Principal Dale Metzger announced Monday that the school would provide additional details Tuesday about plans for the school's closure, including how ' current career programs will transition to the new Center for Advanced Studies or will be moved to either Stall or North Charleston High.
A drop-in information meeting was scheduled for 5 p.m. Tuesday in the Garrett Academy media center.