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Allegro At Burke: Win/Win, Growing Pains Or Just More Agony?
3/22/2017 4:25:38 PM

Burke High School Building at 44 President Street
By Barney Blakeney

While some hold onto Burke High School’s revered past as if time stands still, a proposal to locate Allegro Charter School for Music at the Burke campus could change its tradition.

The 105-year-old historically black school has been in decline in recent years. Burke’s student enrollment has dropped from nearly 2,000 students in 1982 to fewer than 350 today. It consistently is rated ‘at-risk’ or ‘below average’ by the state education department. But its role as a previously preeminent educational outlet for blacks causes some to be concerned that most black students ultimately will be excluded from the Burke of the future if the predominantly white charter school locates to the campus.

Currently located at 120 Broad Street on the Charleston Peninsula, Allegro, students are engaged through the study and performance of music that places a premium focus on developing each student’s creativity through music integrated with a rich academic curriculum. Its mission is to produce inspired thinkers and creative members of society through the infusion of music into an academically challenging environment. It is chartered for a maximum 350 students in grades six-12. About 40 percent of students are African American.

While Burke struggles academically, there are bright spots in its programs. The boys’ basketball team two weeks ago won the State AA Championship and its marching band is an award-winning success. Burke’s facility is a state of the art modern facility renovated in 2005 to accommodate about 1,200 students. Among the options it offers students are advanced placement, CTE-culinary arts, and JROTC courses. The district’s Lowcountry Tech Academy and Constituent Dist. 20’s Pinckney-Simmons Middle School also are located at the Burke campus.

Leroy Connors, a 1968 Burke graduate and co-founder of The Friends of Burke advocacy group, said that in order to survive, Burke needs more students. But he is concerned that two independent schools on the same campus might be problematic. The previous location of the Academic Magnet High School at Burke led to community rebellion and a division which pushed that predominantly white student body into a temporary facility. And there is the issue of trust. One former Burke teacher said once Allegro gets in the door, it will take over the campus.

Still, Connors believes there are few options for Burke’s survival. “Without more students, it’s like waiting for death,” he said. “There have been some community meetings to inform people, but the people who are most affected - Burke parents - usually don’t attend those meetings. Without buy-in from the community there’s going to be chaos if this goes through,” he predicts.

Public schools advocates Quality Education Project issued this statement, “The Quality Education Project (QEP) is asking to postpone the school board vote on the proposed merger proposed merger between Allegro and Burke High School. Postponing the vote is necessary in order to increase transparency and public input before any final decision is made.

“This merger will allow the sharing of public school spaces by a charter school. The proposed merger will also increase student attendance at Burke. However, while more students are always welcome, we feel that allowing a charter to operate at Burke will severely undermine the integrity of the governance structure between the school administration, faculty, CCSD and the Burke School Improvement Council (SIC). There are other ways to increase attendance at Burke that have not been explored such as an Allegro magnet program, increased resources for recruitment, and other options that have been proposed by the Burke SIC.

Moreover, QEP expresses concern over the lack of transparency and inclusion when it comes to this proposed effort. QEP firmly believes that both parents and students at Burke should have input concerning this proposal. While this proposed merger may not be a conversion of Burke into a charter school, QEP views the effort as laying the groundwork for a future full-scale charter conversion.”

Charleston County School Board member Todd Garrett who represents Constituent Dist. 20 said, “This is not a district-led thing. Allegro approached the district administration, not the CCSD board. We found out about their request after the fact. They are a public charter school, teaching CCSD students. Allegro charter is capped at 350 students from 6-12th grade, and it is not allowed to expand beyond that number. All of that may sound silly, but there's a lot of misinformation out there. Some think it's a private school, and some Allegro folks think this is a CCSD effort to control them.

“I think that it will be a win for Burke and Allegro. Burke brings New Tech, the AP Academy, ROTC, and the Fine Arts Academy, and Allegro offers free music instruction from 6th grade on. Students from each school will have the opportunity to take courses from the other school. If a suitable agreement can be worked out, then I will support it.

The key to its success will be in the execution of it, ensuring that everyone works together to ensure that students succeed in both schools. Principal Cheryl Swinton is one of our very best principals in the district, and if anyone can ensure that the execution of the plan runs smoothly, then it is Principal Swinton.”

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