Plan approved to replace West Ashley middle school to reduce capacity

Published: May. 10, 2022 at 6:57 PM EDT
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CHARLESTON, S.C. (WCSC) - The Charleston County School Board of Trustees has okayed a plan from staff to replace the current C.E. Williams North campus with a new school.

At a Committee of the Whole meeting on Tuesday, the board voted to continue the current middle school configuration in West Ashley dividing sixth-grade students from seventh and eighth-grade students who currently go to C.E. Williams South, near West Ashley High School.

The plan that would replace the sixth-grade campus would also allow Pattison’s Academy for Comprehensive Education (PACE) to fund the design and construction of its facilities on the North campus. PACE is a specialty charter school run by a non-profit for students with multiple disabilities. They’re currently operating out of the former St. Andrews Middle School location.

The board committee also approved the expansion of the seventh/eighth grade C.E. Williams South campus by adding eight classrooms.

Despite the new building for sixth-grade students, the district’s plan does not expand capacity. The current building is underutilized with an enrollment of 363 this year. The building capacity is 904 according to data presented at the meeting.

The new building will be built to hold 600 students, with an expansion capacity of 900. This stands in stark contrast to the South campus which is nearing capacity. That building holds 969 students and currently has 835 students.

However, the district contends West Ashley is not growing as fast as it appears. If current projections remain unchanged the North campus is not expected to exceed 431 students in the next six years. The South campus is expected to peak at 848 students over the same time period.

Former West Ashley High School principal Lee Runyon says the district says the district’s plan is not properly taking into account growth in West Ashley.

“I think that the current plan is again short-sighted and smacks of continued use of taxpayer dollars to try and put a Band-Aid on the problem of systemic growth,” Runyon said. “Anytime you’re running an organization, you’re either growing or you’re dying. If the district is projecting flatline growth in a community that is exploding with residential growth, I think that’s poor leadership.”

Parents like Ragan DuBose-Morris say there are plenty of kids in West Ashley, but many parents are opting to send their middle schoolers out of District 10 to seek out more traditional options.

“West Ashley is the only area in Charleston County that does not have a traditional K-12 pipeline so that you can attend at a traditional elementary, middle and high school configuration,” DuBose-Morris said. “That has been a problem.”

The district’s own numbers suggest only 65 percent of students living in West Ashley attend the two campuses. Despite living in West Ashley, DuBose-Morris chooses to take her children to schools in North Charleston. She says whenever a child has to move to a new school there’s a transitional period that disrupts education. She says she wants to eliminate as many of those transitions as possible.

“They [children] have the knowledge of being in an environment for six through 12th grade,” DuBose-Morris said. “So we have stability, they’re not transitioning between schools. The guidance counselors know who they are. Their teachers know who they are. They’re able to progress through a process in which they have support.”

The current configuration was initiated in part to produce more diverse schools. Constituent board chair for District 10 (West Ashley) Rodney Lewis says the schools are now more diverse and the sixth-grade academy model can work. He says the smaller classes away from the influence of older students are helpful for students to enter adolescents.

“Any time there’s a new program it never just jumps off the first two or three years,” Lewis said. “You got to work it. It’s like a business. You start a business you won’t go to the top automatically. You have to grow there. Allow this to grow and you will see how it works.”

The project is part of the Phase Five Capital Buildings Program that is being funded by a one percent sales tax approved by voters in 2020. The project is budgeted for $40 million and is expected to be completed in 2026.

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