This time next year, a second high school will open its doors to students in the East Cooper community. Lucy Beckham High School (LBHS) is slated to open with ninth and 10th grades for the 2020-21 school year.
Anna Dassing, principal of the new high school, is eager for students to walk through the doors next August and is working hard at "Building Beckham" to meet the community's expectations. Dassing was named Beckham's principal in March 2017 and calls the former Wando High School Principal Lucy Beckham, the school's namesake, a friend and mentor.
"I’ve been doing a lot of visualizing and what you’ll see is my vision combined with bringing Lucy Beckham’s vision, our community’s vision to fruition. Literally seeing it rise out of the ground has been the most exciting and knowing that this time next year we will have students walking in, it will be all be a total reality," Dassing said.
Dassing moved to Charleston in 2002 and has held various educational roles within Charleston County School District (CCSD). Her first position in Charleston was a teacher specialist role at Military Magnet Academy through the State Department of Education. She then served as a learning specialist for CCSD and later served as assistant principal of R.B. Stall High School. Dassing is most well-known in the community for serving as the principal of Moultrie Middle School for five years. She was then appointed as executive director of College and Career Readiness in the summer of 2016. Shortly after she was called to serve as the acting principal of Burke High School for a majority of the 2016-17 school year.
"When I was named principal of Beckham I felt like I was coming home again. I live in Mount Pleasant but coming back to that Moultrie community knowing that now with zoning being done the majority of our students will come from Moultrie and about 30% of them will come from Laing. It felt like home again so it's super exciting," she said.
The new high school has already embraced its mascot, the Beckham Bengals. A decision that was determined by a survey CCSD administered to students two years ago and revealed at the groundbreaking ceremony of LBHS.
Dassing shared the community loves the phrases "Bengal Pride" and "Bengal Nation" and they've been running with it. They are even referring to younger students zoned for the high school as baby Bengals. Dassing said they are excited to make strong relationships with the elementary schools that will feed into the new high school. She is also relieved the zoning process is over, and applauded the CCSD Constituent School Board for their efforts to accommodate the community's input.
"The process of zoning was a very complicated process that the constituent board took very seriously. They listened to the community. They listened to input from educators and parents and they really did not leave one stone unturned. The hardest part I think was what geographically made sense for every person south of the (Isle of Palms) Connector so to speak; we just didn’t have the capacity," she said.
Dassing said although she'd welcome all of the students to Beckham from the area but they had to make the zoning lines to determine appropriate attendance.
"Everyone is in a win-win situation. Anywhere you live in the East Cooper, you’re going to be going a fantastic high school," Dassing added.
During the 2020-21 school year, Lucy Beckham will open with just ninth and tenth grades, with a projection of nearly 750-800 students. The second year open they will add eleventh grade and the third year they will add 12th grade. Dassing said they are projecting adding the grades each year until they've reached a capacity of 1,500 students. It is predicted that as the number of students increases at Lucy Beckham High School, numbers will decrease at Wando. She explains this will be a transition year for future LBHS students, regardless of whether they currently attend Wando, Oceanside, Academic Magnet, School of the Arts or a private school.
“We have staff on board that is helping with transition for those students. Wando staff has been amazing. We want the students to go to Wando and become Wando Warriors for a year and then just transition over as Bengals the following year. We’ve got a very close relationship with Laing and Moultrie so we’re keeping close communication with them and making sure their students know they’ve been zoned to Beckham and our expectations," Dassing said. "We’re planning to have some community meetings periodically throughout the fall and of course into the spring as we roll into our natural opening to share more information with everybody."
Dassing explained that there are two other LBHS staff members currently on board and that there will be a heavy lift in the spring to bring staff on board before the school opens. Marjie Clark is currently serving as an executive administrative support role and will be the secretary for LBHS. Dan Cieslikowski has been named LBHS's assistant principal. She said CCSD has a hiring process that they will go through to post positions for the new high school. She explains it is logical to understand that as Beckham opens and staff allocations go up, that Wando's will go down. She said that some staff will come from Wando, but the plan is to post and hire for the positions so that anyone in the district and outside of the district may apply.
Dassing and Wando High School's principal, Dr. Sherry Eppelsheimer are working through the recruitment process together. Dassing said that she gets multiple resumes a day from across the region interested in coming to Beckham.
"We’re going to recruit and hire the best,” she said. "One of the most exciting things is that it’s the second high school, it’s another gem in Mount Pleasant’s crown so to speak. We don’t do things second rate around Mount Pleasant so having the opportunity to bring another really high quality high school is super exciting."
Dassing said this is the first new comprehensive public high school (grades 9-12) the district has established since the 1970s when the original Wando High School opened.
"Our schools have gotten bigger, bigger and bigger so being able to bring the size down and to make it a little smaller of a learning community that really focuses on relationships with students and making sure that they have fantastic career pathways and opportunities for college, career or the military when they graduate is a once in a lifetime opportunity for us," she said.
Dassing said they've made an application to the South Carolina High School League to determine their athletic classification. They submitted a projected enrollment for the next few years, will present to the league and then obtain membership. Once they know a classification and what region Beckham High School will fall into, they can start to develop an athletic schedule. She explained the school plans offer every sport that their students want to play. If they have enough students to play a sport, they will try to fill both varsity and junior varsity teams. If they only have enough come out to fill a varsity team, they will do that. She said athletic decisions will be handled on a case-by-case basis and the only sport they will not offer varsity for the first year is football.
"That’s for a safety reason. We wouldn’t want our younger students playing against larger, older varsity teams. The plan is to have varsity by the second year," she explained.
The new high school has not named an athletic director yet, so their assistant principal will serve in that role until they name one.
Dassing said that the decision to build a second high school in the East Cooper area wasn't a rushed decision. At first, the community talked about having a separate, subset ninth grade academy, but CCSD's school board vetted all reasons and approved a second high school to open in the community that was completely independent of Wando High School. She said since their school will only be 38% of what Wando is and that they want to complement each other and replicate the most successful and beneficial things for their students.
A question parents and students are asking LBHS staff is if they will still offer all of the academic levels that Wando offers, such as college prep courses, honors, advanced placement and dual credit.
"The answer to that is yes, we’ll have all of those ranges of levels; we just may not have the breadth of courses. For example we may not have AP Latin the first year, we’ll have to add those," she said.
She said naturally people want to compare the new high school to Wando, but she reminds people that they will be different. She is hopeful that LBHS will offer the same and new elective and career and technology education courses to students. They will work with Wando's Center for Advanced studies for putting up level courses. Dassing said they plan to have new courses such as building construction, homeland security, law enforcement, veterinary technician, and other career education courses. Dassing said they will have to differentiate, but plan to provide the same level of rigor and quality that people are used to from Wando.
“For a while Mount Pleasant didn’t want another high school, they were very happy with Wando, because Wando was able to offer all of the different courses. Lucy was a mastermind at developing the Center for Advanced Studies and really making more opportunities available. The core of her vision was that two schools would work together in conjunction with the Center for Advanced Studies and not limit opportunities but expand opportunities for our students. So that’s what we’ve done," Dassing said.
Dassing is thrilled about the community involvement and partnerships they are developing leading up to doors opening in 2020. She said she's received tremendous support since being named principal from the community and CCSD. She's thankful superintendent Dr. Postlewait put her in the role early so she could work far enough in advance to meet the new school's goals.
“It’s a very well-oiled machine. This isn’t their first rodeo. This may be their first new high school in a while but they have a fantastic plan and we are just working that plan day-after-day," she said.
“Part of what I think has made this so super special because Wando has been such a fixture and educational institution that has served this community for so many years. So many of our leaders, families who still live in Mount Pleasant and even across the country came out of Wando," she said.
Dassing admires Lucy Beckham for transforming Wando from a rural high school into the powerhouse that it has grown into. The old high school building served as a space for Laing, Mount Pleasant Academy, Jennie Moore and a few others before it was demolished. Dassing shared that they saved a lot of the old brick from that building that they plan to reincorporate into the new building. Also, all of the concrete from the old stadium was recycled into the new site instead of pouring new concrete.
"I like to say a lot of times, Wando is not gone – Beckham’s just built on the shoulders of Wando. It’s still there; it’s still up as a fantastic school right in the middle of our community," she said.
She said that the new Wando on the north end of Mount Pleasant is thriving, but the old one is still there and she's happy to continue to build it up to meet expectations.
"Lucy’s vision again is to grow our schools in East Cooper to the point that we were ready for a new high school. And with the tremendous growth and you know great schools attract people to want to move to an area; it was a perfect recipe for us to be able to add to our educational opportunities rather than just increase in size," she said.
Dassing said the concept of Building Beckham is literally taking place as the physical new school is completed, but they're also building an educational community, programs, and relationships among families, students and staff members.
"We’re building new traditions on the old traditions that Wando has, so it’s building in every way that you could think of building. Because they’re so great, we are going to be fantastic as well. Literally and figuratively we are going to be building all year," Dassing said.
The new high school sits on 44 acres and is slated to have 70 classrooms, two gymnasiums, a media center and makerspace, 1:1 technology and a performing arts center. The building will be three stories tall (30 feet), 240,000 square feet and had a $103.7 million budget. They anticipate the building to have staff occupancy by the spring of 2020 given no weather interference.
Dassing anticipates the doors to open well before school starts in time for students to take tours, complete orientation and for staff to prepare the new educational atmosphere. For more information on Lucy Beckham High School, visit ccsdschools.com and select Lucy Beckham High School from the "Our Schools" menu.