The Daniel Island School was designed to hold 1,200 students, but on the last day of school this year, the count was over 1,400, according Berkeley County School District Chief Administrative Officer Deon Jackson.
With still more families moving to Daniel Island and development coming along Clements Ferry Road, the new school year in the fall will mark the opening of a new school on the Cainhoy Peninsula to relieve that pressure and prepare for the future.
“We knew what was happening with Daniel Island, and then we also knew there was major development coming along the Clements Ferry Road area,” Jackson said.
The new school is actually two schools in one: Philip Simmons Elementary and Middle School. The total project cost, which includes $35.9 million in construction costs plus other costs like furnishing and equipment, is about $45 million.
At the same time, students from Daniel Island and throughout the Cainhoy Peninsula travel over the Cooper River to go to Hanahan High School, which Jackson said is not far from being overcrowded as well, so the district is also building Philip Simmons High School. That project is under way now within a mile of Philip Simmons Elementary/Middle School and is projected to be done by August 2017, with a construction cost of $69 million and a total project cost of about $83.7 million.
Jackson said the need for that school is also driven in large part by growth projections for the district.
“Berkeley County is growing, therefore Berkeley county school district is projected to grow,” Jackson said. In fact, he said the district is projected to grow from roughly 31,000-32,000 students in the 2015-2016 school year to as many as 55,000 students by 2035. “A major portion of it will be where the Philip Simmons schools are going in.”
The two schools are being built south of Clements Ferry Road and the Nelliefield Plantation development in an area set to be developed into Cainhoy Plantation in the coming years, potentially bringing as many as 18,000 homes and 45,000 people to the area.
Students on Daniel Island and Thomas Island will still go to the Daniel Island School from pre-kindergarten through eighth grade and then move on to Philip Simmons High School. With the opening of Philip Simmons Elementary/Middle School, Cainhoy Elementary/Middle School will become an elementary school exclusively, which students from the upper Cainhoy Peninsula will attend from pre-kindergarten to fifth grade before going to Philip Simmons Middle School and then high school from sixth grade on.
The 172,000-square-foot elementary/middle school was designed with a capacity of 1,400 students, and the 214,000-square-foot high school will have a capacity of 1,400-1,600, but both have room to expand down the road.
“Between the amount of land they have, the design and the layout, it enables us to go back and add additional square footage if necessary,” Jackson said.
When the elementary/middle school opens in the fall, Jackson said the district is planning on having just under 350 students enrolled in the elementary school and about 300 in the middle school, depending on how many students zoned to go to those schools who are not currently in public schools decide to enroll. He said it is good for a new school to start out small, especially the first year, so that it can work out kinks more easily.
“When you’re small, small problems remain small,” he said.
Those schools already have a principal and are in the process of hiring teachers. The search for a principal for the high school is under way, and the principal will be the first person hired. The elementary/middle school will be the first in Berkeley County to use the STEAM – science, technology, engineering, arts and math – concept of teaching. Jackson said exactly what that will look like at Philip Simmons Elementary/Middle School will be fine-tuned, but it will be non-traditional, get students working in groups and incorporate all kinds of art in spaces throughout the schools. For the sake of cohesion among the schools feeding into Philip Simmons High School, STEAM teaching will be incorporated into the Daniel Island School and Cainhoy Elementary School as well.
The schools are named after the artist and blacksmith Philip Simmons, who worked with iron to create some of the most well-known iron gates in Charleston. Simmons was born on Daniel Island and lived there for the first few years of his life.