Next fall sixth, seventh and eighth grade students from Sanders-Clyde Elementary School will attend classes at Simmons-Pinckney Middle School on the Burke Campus. It commences a controversial transition that’s been experimentally imposed in Charleston County public schools over the past several decades. As yet another phase in the ongoing effort to find the right system for ascension to high school is set to begin, administrators say they are preparing students to make the transition.
Simmons-Pinckney Middle School is Constituent District 20’s first stand alone middle school since Rivers Middle School closed more than two decades ago. District 20’s elementary schools serve middle grade students at various levels in sixth, seventh and eighth grades at the respective schools. Simmons-Pinckney opened as the autonomous successor of the Burke Middle-High component. With 25 teachers it currently serves some 200 students in sixth, seventh and eighth grades, said Principal Nathan Nelson. Sanders-Clyde students will add approximately 100 additional students to the enrollment.
Despite the growth Nelson considers Simmons-Pinckney one of the county’s hidden jewels. The small enrollment translates to small class sizes. And that’s a plus in a school district where according to some reports, only 38 percent of third graders and 58 percent of eighth graders last year were proficient in math. Those smaller class sizes mean students get more opportunity for personalized learning, he said.
A lot of students come to Simmons-Pinckney performing below grade level, Nelson said. Getting them in sixth grade allows middle school teachers more time to move them up in grade level before they go to high school. Simmons-Pinckney offers several academic programs to do just that. Among them are an after school and summer programs that incorporate parents in the process.
Sanders-Clyde School Improvement Council member Radia Heyward encourages parents and the community to embrace the coming transition. It’s an opportunity to give students the tools they will need to become global leaders, she said.
Burke High Principal Cheryl Swinton ultimately will be on the receiving end of the transition. She said, “Students arrive at Burke High School with varying levels of proficiency. However, it is our job as educational professionals to identify where they are and to provide the curriculum and related activities to build their academic success. However, this is not a blame game. We never stop learning so we must look at this process as a continuum, addressing skills each year as the levels of difficulty increase.
“Burke absolutely can provide the instructional strategies to move students towards academic growth,” she said. “Not only can students overcome, they can gain new competency levels at Burke. Our foremost purpose is to teach students the knowledge and skills necessary to succeed at college and/or in a career.
“Therefore, Burke provides opportunities for students to gain knowledge in core curriculum areas, while also enhancing this through cross curricular options that draw upon students’ interests,” Swinton said. “This is precisely why we continue to strengthen our high school with the development of a collaborative K-12 feeder system with Sanders Clyde Elementary and Simmons Pinckney Middle Schools.
“Additionally, we are moving forward with the New Burke concept supporting the AP Academy, Career & Technology Academy, Fine Arts Academy, Academic Studies Academy, and the implementation of project based learning through the New Tech Network instructional model for next year’s 9th and 10th graders,” Swinton said.