By Barney Blakeney
It’s hard to get a handle on what’s going on at Garrett Academy of Technology. Some school board officials say the county-wide careers academy is underperforming and should close to make room for the new Center for Advanced Studies that will accommodate high school students in North Charleston. Some constituents say Garrett should remain open and the new Center for Advanced Studies should be located at its campus in the Brentwood community. Caught in the tug-of-war between the contending adult factions are students who desperately need the resource a quality careers academy can provide.
Like North Charleston’s three other predominantly Black high schools, Garrett, despite being a county-wide magnet school, continues its struggle for academic acceptability. With about 450 students, less than half its capacity enrollment, Garrett struggles to meet its mission of providing career vocational training to Charleston County students. Former Charleston County School Board member Tom Ducker said the Garrett dilemma is part of a larger puzzle.
When the school district several years ago decided to create regional career academies one each on the Charleston peninsula, East of the Cooper River, West Ashley and in the North Area, Garrett was a floundering enigma. Its premise solidly offered vocational training in the district that had stripped individual high schools of that capability. Constituents quickly noted however, Garrett never received the resources it needed to fully accomplish its mission. The Lowcountry Tech Academy on the peninsula was created to help fill that void. A 2014 referendum was approved to fund three additional regional career academies. Decisions have been made on locations east of the Cooper River and another is set for construction West Ashley. The North Area academy is caught in a controversial snag over location.
Ducker said as adults in the district fight to see which side comes away victorious, students need a comprehensive plan to acquire vocational training in the area’s industrial environment. Time is of the essence, Ducker said noting that the referendum calls for the new center to be online by 2020. He asked what’s changed since the district decided the issue nearly two years ago.
As county school board members delay the process, board member Todd Garrett in a September 26 email to other members wrote, “Garrett Academy: Zero students passing AP courses, and one of the lowest SAT averages in the whole state. The “corridor of shame” has better scores. And we think Garrett Academy is a good thing for the students there? Whatever we are doing is not working for kids. I would assume that their work keys scores are in the same ballpark, which means likely no kids graduating from Garrett, will be at a level for Boeing, Volvo, or Mercedes Vans to even consider them.”
Board member Kevin Hollinshead challenges Garrett Academy’s closure. Tuesday he said, “I’m not against the center for advanced studies, I’m against sacrificing Black schools and making them the scapegoat when the district fails to put resources into them to help them improve.”