Once troubled teens graduate, but school faces its own troubles

NORTH CHARLESTON, SC (WCSC) - From once being considered at risk youth, to walking the stage for high school graduation, 24 seniors from Greg Mathis Charter High School achieved their high school diplomas this year.

The students admit it was not an easy road.

"I dropped out of school, I came back, just to come here," Trevell Bellman said.

"I can't do that well in a big school," Shanrrika Gregg said.

"I was so bad inside school in 9th grade. When I came to alternative school I realized that school was more important than anything else," Ronneisha Wright said.

GMCHS principal Eleanor Hardy says the students may not have been successful in a traditional school setting, but they needed the second chance at the alternative school.

"It's all sorts of things that they've been though, you name it they've done it. We try to help them see you can overcome, we call them challenges," Principal Hardy said. "They finally get it that it's important for you to do things for yourself, not me."

The school accepts students who were expelled or couldn't succeed in traditional schools, from freshman age, and if they can earn enough credits, they have until age 21 to graduate high school.

"This is like the best feeling in the world. I thought I wasn't going to make it, but I did," Wright said.

"It's awesome. I feel successful," Gregg said.

Fourteen of the 24 graduates have been accepted to four year colleges.

The school for troubled youth is not without troubles of its own. Right now the school is facing a revoked charter from Charleston County School Board, but the school is still operating because it is appealing in state court.

"I get choked up thinking about where were last year and where we are today," Greg Mathis School board chairman Jack Richardson said.

Since 2008 the school has faced financial troubles, poor academics, low attendance, and the possibility of closure each year. Richardson says the appeal at the state level could take more than two years to settle.

"We've been able to turn this school around and head in the right direction with it, with very little money. We were on a half a shoestring budget," Richardson said.

Greg Mathis officials say the county school board members wanted to see proven increased attendance rates and increased graduation rates before renewing the charter and sending more county money to the school.

Richardson says the Greg Mathis will write a letter to CCSD board members asking them to reverse the revoked charter.

The school will have support from school board members Mary Taylor and Elizabeth Kandrac, who attended the graduation.

"It was an unfortunate vote that did that, but this school is successful. It gives a great home to dozens and dozens of area students who would be out in the streets floundering anyway," Kandrac said.

If the school board doesn't reverse the revoked charter – the school says future of the school may ultimately be decided by the state Supreme Court.

The school had 92 students enrolled for the 2010-11 school year. Even without charter approval from CCSD board, the school still plans to reopen next school year.

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