MOUNT PLEASANT — While thousands of students arrived on high school campuses across the Lowcountry ahead of the first period bell, Joey Boylston was soaked in sweat as he and his lacrosse teammates wrapped up an intense morning practice at Park West Fields.
Practice was cut short on this muggy morning because Oceanside Collegiate Academy was hosting a lacrosse playoff match against Hilton Head later in the evening.
“Those guys play physical, and that’s how I like to play. So it should be fun,” Boylston, a junior at Oceanside, said with a smirk.
Boylston still had time to shower and grab a late breakfast before his first class, which began at 11:30 a.m.
He says the unique academic/athletic approach at Oceanside is a good fit for him. He likes how his class schedule works around his lacrosse and football practices. Team workouts and practices start his day, then there are two or three hours of class divided by a block of free time.
By 2 p.m., he’s usually on his own. Free to grab some food, relax or find a computer so he can get work done for his online accounting class.
It’s a far cry from the more traditional schedule his sister, Maddie Boylston, has at Wando High School just a few miles away. There, she’s on the volleyball team and is thriving in sports and in the classroom.
“It’s a great school and she’s doing really well there,” said David Boylston, their father. “But my son is different. OCA is really a great fit for him because of smaller classroom sizes and just a different environment.”
Now in its third year, including its first in McClellanville before moving to a new campus in Mount Pleasant, Oceanside is knocking it out of the park when it comes to athletics. That includes two state titles and deep playoff runs in multiple sports.
Academically the school is performing well, on par with Charleston County and the state but lagging behind nearby Wando on standardized test results.
‘Meat and potatoes’
Rachel Rich, also a junior at Oceanside, doesn’t miss the days of required electives like physical education and health. These days, her main focuses are core classes and golf.
With the latter, she’s already earned a scholarship to Western Kentucky University. Rich verbally committed in December and will officially sign later this calendar year when she’s a senior.
The Landsharks are members of Region 6-AA, which includes Burke, Garrett, North Charleston, Philip Simmons and Timberland. However, they compete against AAA and AAAA schools in golf and lacrosse because only a few schools at the Class AA level field teams in those sports.
After winning back-to-back state titles in golf, Rich wants to finish high school with a third championship. Her schedule at Oceanside helps with that.
Oceanside is a public charter high school that puts equal emphasis on academics and athletics. Students’ schedules make room for both, with neither taking a back seat, said Principal Brenda Corley, who spent five years as an associate principal at Wando.
Rich's schedule is typical for a student at Oceanside:
Mondays, Wednesdays and every other Friday she takes English, Biology and Spanish — all dual enrollment courses through Trident Tech — and Algebra II. On Tuesdays, Thursdays and alternate Fridays, she has Algebra II, Biology and Western Civilization, which is also a dual enrollment class. Dual enrollment classes allow students to earn college credit while in high school.
Rich is never in class more than four hours a day, which provides plenty of time for golf practice or competition.
“There aren’t so many mandatory electives, and that’s really helpful because there isn’t such a heavy load,” she said.
David Boylston says the schedule is perfect for his son. Joey gets most of his academic work done in class and sets aside time at home for his online course and studying. The schedule is especially beneficial during lacrosse and football seasons.
“He’s taking more of the meat-and-potatoes classes," Boylston said. “And that’s by design since the kids are focusing on the core educational requirements and the dual enrollment.”
Teachers teach and coaches coach
Teachers and coaches at Oceanside say it makes sense to have true professionals in both fields. The alternative would be asking a teacher to reluctantly coach a sport. Or vice versa.
That’s why Corley is hands-on in the hiring process, screening each applicant and learning everything she can about them. It’s why coaches aren’t teaching electives or core classes. Instead, they come with their own resumes, filled with professional experience.
Take Quentin Hollis, an Atlanta native who played four years of basketball at the College of Charleston before graduating in 2004. From there, he spent more than a decade coaching AAU and high school basketball in Atlanta before returning to the Lowcountry.
Hollis spent one year as a basketball assistant coach at Oceanside before being promoted to head coach in April 2018. In his first season at the helm, Oceanside went 23-5 and finished one win shy of the state championship game.
For Hollis, Oceanside is the first high school job he's had that doesn't require him to also teach in a classroom. Coaches at the school are part-time employees and most have other jobs.
“I jumped on the opportunity,” Hollis said. “I don’t have to worry about grading 300 papers while trying to be successful with coaching.”
That dynamic is also why Chad Grier, Oceanside’s athletic director and head football coach, came on board in March 2017. Similar to Corley, Grier likes to screen every coaching hire to make sure they’re the right fit for the Landsharks.
In the classroom, teachers are committed to making sure every student has the merits to pursue a college degree. In sports, Grier wants to arm his athletes with the tools to play for a college team.
Oceanside has earned state championships in boys' lacrosse and girls' golf, and has been state runners-up in volleyball, swimming and girls’ tennis.
“In theory, this is every coach’s dream,” he said. “Teachers teach and coaches coach.”
Jenny Cassell agrees. She taught at Wando for 13 years and is now in her third year at Oceanside. She loves teaching math and jokingly says she couldn’t imagine being asked to teach a sport.
“It wouldn’t make sense for me,” she said. “The coaches are experts and have played at a college or professional level. And teachers are experts too. It's a partnership and we all have our own individual goals.”
Oceanside received a rating of “Good” on its South Carolina school report card for the 2017-18 school year. That’s the second-highest rating a school can receive on the grading scale — excellent, good, average, below average, unsatisfactory.
The overall rating and most of the specific numbers that go into determining it fall below Wando High School but are in line with other schools in Charleston County School District and across the state.
For example, about 53 percent of Oceanside students scored a C or higher in their end-of-course tests for reading, compared with 77 percent of Wando students.
The school also tested below Wando in math and several other categories, including college and career readiness. However, Oceanside ranks ahead of Wando and other district schools in several areas of student engagement, including participation and behavior.
The Charter Institute at Erskine, the group that oversees Oceanside and 13 other state charter schools, has been satisfied with OCA's performance. The institute started monitoring Oceanside's curriculum and performance in Fall 2018, after OCA spent two years under the S.C. Public Charter School District.
Cameron Runyan, the CEO of the Erskine group, said OCA is performing better than the 13 others under their purview. Runyan's group represents 8,500 students and will expand to 17 schools and 11,000 students next year.
For the Mount Pleasant school to be a credible charter, its curriculum must meet state education standards, and must also provide an innovative approach for parents and students. For OCA, that includes high level sports and their dual enrollment program, Runyan said.
Plus, he added, 40 percent of last year's graduating class at OCA was eligible for the Palmetto Fellows Scholarship. That bested the Charleston County School District and the state of South Carolina.
"They're putting millions of dollars back into the hands of families," Runyan said.
Corley agreed, pointing out that Oceanside has sent students to quality colleges in the state and across the country.
Of the 77 students who graduated last year, at least 60 received an academic scholarship of some kind, whether it was through the state or from their college. Another 10 received athletic scholarships.
And they’re leaving Oceanside with plenty of college credits under their belts because of the dual enrollment program with Trident Tech.
“This past fall semester, our Landsharks earned 2,350 college credits,” Corley said. “At the current average cost of $595 per college credit, our school families saved a possible $1,398,250 in college tuition.”
When Oceanside first opened its doors at the McClellanville location, the school was shelling out $45,000 a month in transportation fees to bus students from Mount Pleasant to the building that once was McClellanville Middle School.
That was the 2016-17 school year, when Oceanside only had 305 students. The school now has 650 students and will expand to 700 next school year.
That increase hasn't impacted Wando. The school had 3,918 students in OCA’s first year in 2016-17, and has 3,889 kids this school year.
As Oceanside secures its placement in Mount Pleasant, Corley and Grier say they still have a ways to go, especially with athletics. They envision on-campus facilities, featuring a new football stadium, soccer and lacrosse fields, tennis and beach volleyball courts. All of that could cost up to $10 million.
Plans for football, soccer and lacrosse facilities are on schedule for 2021, with hopes to build for the other sports in later years.
For now, things are spread out. Football and lacrosse are played at Park West Fields about 2 miles from OCA. Baseball is played 7 miles away at Shipyard Park, and soccer is played at Carolina Park, also 2 miles away.
“We have land but no fields. And that’s a little frustrating because the county school district is getting our tax dollars, but we have to fundraise to get our facilities,” Grier said.
Those issues won’t stop OCA from becoming an integral part of Mount Pleasant, Grier said. It’s why their sports facilities will also be open for public use.
“We’re not here to build fences,” Grier added. “Ninety-five percent of our students live in Mount Pleasant so we’re very much a part of this community.”
As they continue working on facilities, the players on the field are thriving. The boys and girls lacrosse teams played Tuesday night for a chance to advance to the state championships this weekend.
Meanwhile, teachers are bracing for 2019-20 when Oceanside adds another 50 kids to the classrooms. And that’ll increase in the coming years.
More than 300 kids are on the Landsharks’ waiting list.