By Barney Blakeney
Opposition against the proposal to locate the Allegro Charter School for Music at the Burke High School campus has reached a fever pitch. Charleston County School District officials Monday removed it from the agenda as an item for discussion at the regular meeting of the board of trustees.
Allegro Charter School for Music currently is located at 120 Broad Street on the Charleston peninsula where reportedly it pays about $175,000 annual rent. Allegro, students focus on music education that places a premium on each student’s creativity through music integrated with a rich academic curriculum. Its mission is to produce inspired 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.
Burke High has struggled academically the past several decades. Its enrollment has declined from nearly 2,000 students 30 years ago to fewer than 350 today. But its boys’ basketball teams and marching bands are award-winning successes. And Burke’s facility is a state of the art modern facility renovated in 2005 to accommodate about 1,200 students. Already serving Burke students are advanced placement, CTE-culinary arts, and JROTC courses. And the district’s Lowcountry Tech Academy and Constituent Dist. 20’s Pinckney-Simmons Middle School are located at the Burke campus.
Charleston County School Board member Todd Garrett who represents Constituent Dist. 20 last week noted the proposal to move Allegro to Burke was not district-led. Allegro approached the district administration, he said. “I think it will be a win for Burke and Allegro,” he said.
But several other board members in addition to public schools advocates Quality Education Project vehemently are opposing the proposal. In a statement issued last week QEP said, “The Quality Education Project (QEP) stands against the Burke-Allegro merger proposal. We strongly feel that moving forward holds the potential to negatively impact the academic and social integrity of Burke High School.
“The Allegro/Burke merger will allow the sharing of public school spaces by a charter school. The proposed merger will also increase student attendance by 200 students at Burke. 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).
CCSD sponsored a community meeting March 25. District officials apparently heard the protests. Board members were set to discuss the proposal Monday, but the agenda item was removed.
Board member Michael Miller said he wouldn’t have supported the proposal anyway. It doesn’t pass the ‘smell test’, he said. In addition to the economic incentive Allegro has to reduce its housing costs, the whole idea seems like another social experiment to gauge the willingness of white parents to send their children to Burke’s predominantly black campus. But more importantly, Miller said he doesn’t see any advantage in the deal to Burke students.
Board member Rev. Chris Collins missed the March 25 community meeting because he was in Denver, Colo. attending a national school board conference, but he emailed a statement saying, “To move Allegro Charter School inside of Burke will be most difficult. There has to be more community engagement and involvement. We need to hear from the parents to see if this is a merger that all parties want.
“The students have the greatest sacrifice to make,” Collins said. “They have to give up their rights to space and possibly resources. Charter schools often receive private donations and have sponsors that provide field trips, equipment and other resources that Burke children will not have. In some cases, Burke students may feel inferior to Allegro students who are mostly comprised of middle and upper middle class families. At best, the only thing the children will have in common is a school building. Backgrounds will be incompatible.
“The questions for me are what can Allegro give to Burke students they don’t have now? What more is Allegro willing to do? How will the merger improve student outcomes? When Allegro student population grows, what happens to Burke students?”
Board member Kevin Hollinshead said he feels the proposal is being rushed through. While he supports the idea of increasing student enrollment and racial diversity at the Burke campus, Hollinshead said without assurances that a true merger will take place, two autonomous schools on the campus would not benefit Burke students.