Tuesday, April 22, 2014
The Blue Ribbon Committee of the Council on Education met for the first time last week to form a mission statement and create directives on which they will focus.
Members want to pinpoint the town's school needs ahead of a possible referendum in November to extend a 1 percent sales tax aimed at funding the school district's building program.
County voters approved the six-year sales tax increase in 2010.
The Legislature must pass a bill allowing a referendum this year to extend that tax. If not, the school district can't hold a referendum until the tax expires in 2016.
The House passed a bill last week allowing the referendum to take place this year, but the Senate still has to take up the issue.
And an answer to a lingering question was finally provided as well.
Many have wondered if Mount Pleasant would ever have two high schools.
One group has been looking at elementary school options to try and offset the impact of overcrowding in Park West schools until a new school at Carolina Park opens. The other work group is looking at high school and middle school options.
Wando High School is overcrowded. That's no secret. And while the new Center for Advanced Studies at Wando will add 600 seats, the forecast still says Wando will be hosting almost 4,300 students by the 2019 school year.
What they have concluded is that East Cooper is ready for a second high school – a smaller high school at the old Wando South facility.
“We looked at a lot of options and recommendations from the (School) Blue Ribbon Committee that served in 2008,” said Committee member Kate Darby, who also serves on the Charleston County School District II Blue Ribbon work group (of which there are two). Her committee is where the idea of Advance Studies originated.
The recommendation to the Charleston County School Board will be that CCSD put in their next building plan – a directive to build a brand new nine-12 comprehensive high school. It will offer everything from AP courses to special education, she explained. The school will have band, a newspaper and other extra-curricular activities.
Darby said the facility would likely hold 1,400-1,500 students with space to expand to 2,000 when needed.
“To do that, the stadium will have to go and a new stadium built at Wando. We would like to have the facility open for the 2020 school year, open with attendance zones,” she said.
But even with this new revelation, the Mount Pleasant committee moved forward with their task. In addition to Darby, members included Rebecca Imholz, also a local education activist, and Mount Pleasant Town Council members Thomasena Stokes-Marshall, Chris Nickels and Committee Chairman Paul Gawrych, who initially recommended the committee be created.
“We know CCSD is working on extending the bond referendum,” Gawrych said.
“The primary directives of this review shall be all tied to that and how it applies to Mount Pleasant schools – now, short term, and long term,” he said.
Nickels agreed, saying the focus would be “laser beam” and a much more narrow look than past committees created to look at education needs.
Essentially, the committee's focus will be on bricks and mortar.
Meetings will only last an hour. The committee will meet in two weeks based on member schedules then set other meetings as they move forward.
“Quality education is what we're all striving for,” said Gawrych. East Cooper schools are at the top of the rank and we want to maintain that. But at the same time there are issues that need to be addressed to do that.”
This committee will help identify those issues and move East Cooper forward in a collaborative effort with CCSD, he added.
The town's planning staff will report to the committee regarding residential building projects and approvals and district officials will be invited to the table, Gawrych said, to join the discussion.
Rezoning for East Cooper schools will go into effect for the 2015-16 school year to address severe overcrowding prior to any new buildings being constructed.
It is the Constituent School Board's responsibility to draw the lines, which has not been done for quite some time.
“The district wanted to avoid doing it until the new Laing and Jennie Moore were built,” said Imholz.
But overcrowding dictated that it be done sooner than later.
“If we rezoned more often, it would not be such a big deal to parents – it might not be such smoking gun,” she said. “It's about neighborhood buy-in and educating the public.”
The need for another elementary school in the town is immediate. The school district already owns land near Carolina Park. But funding must be secured for construction.
In addition, Darby said that CCSD staff has been urged to begin discussions immediately, with Carolina Park representatives to acquire additional property for future high school expansion or an addition middle school. “We know we need a fourth middle school,” she said.
As it stands now, Darby said, officials at the district know an elementary school at Carolina Park is top priority.
“No matter what we do at Carolina Park, we are four to five years out,” she said. “Hopefully, we can use the Jennie Moore and Laing campus as a model.”
As for a second high school at the old Wando site, the idea would be to provide enrollment options for both schools. Both would provide a comprehensive program of studies and the second high school would offer majors and programs not offered at Wando, such as public health, maritime, aerospace and vet tech studies.
The Center for Advanced Studies would be open to students from both schools.
What is offered at a new high school will be driven by a really strong principal,” said Darby. “We can put down the framework, but as laypeople, we don't need to be mandating curriculum study. We can mandate on the need for a new school.”
Public input will be sought on these suggested high school options and meetings held at the three local middle schools.
In addition, Darby said that no new magnet concept schools are being suggested due to the fact that East Cooper already boasts top-performing schools with varying partial magnet options.
The Montessori school at I'On has expressed interest in leasing the old Whitesides facility now housing Sullivan's Island Elementary.
“We're very lucky to have strong principals here who hire strong teachers. We've got great parental involvement,” Darby said. “That's why we said we don't want ‘one size fits all.' We can be different in Mount Pleasant and we're continuing to say that to the district.”