BY NANCY McGINLEY

Low Country Tech (LCT), our 21st century career program on the peninsula, is finally becoming a reality. This program — five years in development — will open in January 2013 in the Rivers building on upper King Street, offering state-of-the-art career academies in growing industry fields.

Two major program focus areas at LCT are “Green (STEM) Construction” and “Technology Industries.” S.T.E.M. stands for Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math. LCT will also offer career tracks in: Graphic Communications; Information Support and Services; Networking Systems; Computer Service Technology; Home System Technology; and Digital Art and Design. Student recruitment is under way and will continue at our targeted schools. We will invite parents and students to visit the site once construction is complete.

At the Chamber’s annual Business Education Summit held on Tuesday, Lowcountry business leaders emphasized the growing need for skilled workers in these areas. Low Country Tech is the beginning of a high school-to-career pipeline that will fill a void in our business sector and lead our students to careers in growth industries.

The actual program at LCT will encompass hands on, project-based learning and also advanced studies. With the help of business experts we will prepare students to either enter the workforce right out of high school, or proceed to acquire further education through a workplace certification, associate degree, four-year college, or graduate degree. The LCT program will target several zones in Charleston County including the peninsula (Burke High School enrollment zone), West Ashley (West Ashley enrollment zone) and North Charleston High School (enrollment zone). Space permitting, applications will be accepted from high schools throughout the county.

We are opening this program mid-year (January 2013) to generate interest among our middle school students and allow them to begin introductory courses to gain exposure to LCT. Level I courses for high school students will also open. Initially they will include: Graphic Communications, Networking, and Keyboarding/Computer Applications. The advanced course-work, lab, and workshop courses will evolve as students progress. The Green Technology career space has been planned in conjunction with an “executive on loan” from the U.S. Department of Energy who is also providing technical advice on advanced course work.

The program will become one of the first (of many) to offer S.T.E.M. infused courses for career and academic opportunities throughout the county. Our vision, as was articulated in our “Zone Concept” in 2008, is to open a “Career Center/Advanced Studies” program in each geographic quadrant in Charleston County.

I first introduced a vision for (what then was called) “High Tech High” in 2007 as part of a proposal entitled “The Peninsula Project: A Strategic Plan for Schools.” In that five-point plan I proposed that the “Rivers Educational Complex” would one day become a “hybrid” facility housing both a charter school and a district-run technology program. That same year, local architect, former Charlotte mayor and Burke High School graduate Harvey Gantt facilitated a community engagement discussion which identified this “hybrid” idea as the No. 1 choice for the future of the Rivers building. For over two years we worked with community stakeholders to develop and refine the LCT program. The school board formally voted to move forward with first, the seismic stabilization of Rivers, then the upfitting of the internal building encompassing classroom and lab space for LCT and the education specifications for the Charleston Charter School for Math and Science (CCSM&S). Our shared dream is no longer just a dream; it has become a reality.

Low Country Tech on the Rivers campus honors our commitment to the Charleston community and to both current and future students. We have successfully re-purposed a cherished community asset and restored a valuable historic structure to its former glory. Yet, while the bricks and mortar are a visible testament to this community’s commitment to education, it is the co-existence of two innovative educational programs in one refurbished school building that speaks volumes about where Charleston is now and where we plan to be in the future.

By working together, cooperatively and creatively, charter and district-operated schools will meet the diverse needs of children and families. The economic demands of our businesses suggest that our collective energy must be channeled into solutions such as LCT and CCSM&S which move us closer to our goals — that all schools will be assets in this great community.

Nancy McGinley, Ph.D., is superintendent of the Charleston County School District.