The neighborhood Facebook group convulsed. Alarmed that their children were about to be rezoned out of St. Andrew's School of Math and Science, the moms of Parkwood Estates canceled wine night and showed up en masse at the Charleston County Constituent District 10 school board meeting last Thursday night.
Families had bought homes in the small West Ashley neighborhood specifically so their children could attend St. Andrew's, a high-performing, partial-magnet elementary school, but the word on the block was that they could be rezoned for nearby Stono Park Elementary as soon as this fall.
Desperate for information from the school district, but finding little, they passed around attendance maps, revisions of maps and rumors of maps to come.
They are caught in an awkward time of expansion, construction and faltering attempts at racial integration in the Charleston County School District. Stono Park, an award-winning school with high levels of student poverty, is in dismal physical condition and long overdue for a promised demolition and rebuild. The county school board has approved construction of a new building for Stono Park, but only on the condition that the District 10 board — a less powerful elected body within the county school district — redraw some attendance lines to increase the number of students zoned for the school from about 450 to at least 667.
In the end, the Parkwood Estates families' fears were put to rest. The District 10 board voted Thursday on a revised map that kept them at St. Andrew's.
But other parts of the St. Andrew's attendance zone will be moved into Stono Park's, as will swaths where students currently attend Springfield Elementary.
Board members said they were careful not to reduce the student populations at Springfield or Oakland Elementary, moving lines elsewhere to balance out the numbers. Finalized maps of West Ashley attendance zones for 2017-18 are available on the Charleston County School District website's District 10 page.
An elusive goal
The magic number was 667 for the district to finally tear down and rebuild the old school.
It was no small task. Few political decisions face as much intense, block-by-block scrutiny as school rezoning, and for the past two weeks, parents attended tortuous nighttime constituent board meetings to make sure their voices were heard.
"We would be crossing Betsy, which is a major busy road coming out of the neighborhood," said Tracee Lund, who bikes to St. Andrew's with her first-grade son on the West Ashley Greenway.
"One of the factors in buying a house was the school, and a math and science field was important," said Elliott DeMerell, the father of a St. Andrew's second-grader.
Not everyone who is zoned for a school will actually go there. Nearly 40 percent of the students currently zoned for Stono Park go elsewhere in the district, while others go to private schools. Some parents were already making exit plans to the magnets in case they were rezoned to Stono Park on Thursday night.
Few parents addressed the elephant in the room. St. Andrew's is diverse, but majority white. Stono Park is majority black and is designated a Title I school because many of its students receive free or reduced-price lunch. Rezoning could mean creating racial and economic diversity at Stono Park, but only if families get on board with the idea.
Stono Park Principal Michelle Simmons pleaded with parents Thursday night to visit her school and see it themselves. Stono Park outperforms most schools with comparable levels of poverty, and it has been named a statewide Palmetto Silver and a national Blue Ribbon school.
"While we do have high poverty, we have high achievement to match it," Simmons said. "Our position is that if we had greater diversity, the school would be even better."
An old promise
Jamilah Frazier hoisted little Langston by the waist, flipping him upside down in a fit of laughter as she stepped away from the makeshift constituent board platform in the old St. Andrew's Middle library. Langston, 2, will soon become her third child to attend Stono Park, and she's getting tired of waiting for a rebuild.
"Maybe this 2-year-old will not go to kindergarten in a trailer. Fingers crossed. It'll be the first time out of three babies," Frazier said.
Stono's reconstruction is a long time coming. The squat 66-year-old building on residential Garden Street isn't the oldest in the district, but it has been plagued by mold and mildew, termite infestations, moisture-damaged floors, tiny classrooms, bad plumbing and a faulty air-conditioning system.
Before they moved into a swing space at St. Andrew's Middle this year, students wore puffy coats indoors all winter as the cold seeped in through window chinks.
Charleston County residents voted in 2010 to raise taxes to fund a series of school construction projects, including what the district described in 2011 as a $26.6 million "construction and equipping" at Stono Park by the fall of 2016. The school board reneged on that promise in November 2014, prompting a backlash from Stono Park families and Charleston Mayor John Tecklenburg, before finally agreeing fund a $24.8 million Stono Park rebuild in September 2016. The latest estimates have the new school opening in August 2019.
Kate Darby, chairwoman of the county school board, said she's looking for broader change in the long run.
"I hope we get to the point where all of our schools may have a little difference in what they offer, but we want them to be equitable in overall offerings and achievements so families want to send their kids to any of our public schools. ... That’s the goal I need to get to," Darby said.