By Barney Blakeney
Last week Charleston County School Board, after weeks of controversy and complaints from some in the community, continued a course previously decided and voted to follow its original plan to construct a new Center for Advanced Studies at North Charleston High School.
A 2014 referendum was approved to fund three regional vocational career academies. Decisions have been made on locations east of the Cooper River and another is set for construction in West Ashley. The North Area academy was caught in controversy over its location. A push from some in the community advocated the new center for advanced studies be constructed at Garrett Academy of Technology in North Charleston’s Brentwood community.
Some school board officials protested that 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 the North Area. But constituents cited a pattern of closing predominantly Black schools in advocating for Garrett.
Board member Michael Miller joined North Charleston board representative Chris Collins in opposing last week’s vote that carried with seven of the board’s nine members voting to construct the center at North Charleston High. Surprisingly, the North Area’s other representative, Kevin Hollinshead who previously supported opposition to the North Charleston site, voted with the prevailing side.
Miller said a compromise motion from board member Eric Mack spurred the vote to go forward at North Charleston High. Mack’s motion essentially keeps Garrett open two more years until the new center is expected to come on-line in 2020. In the interim, the district will explore options to utilize the Garrett campus. Miller said any expectation that Garrett will remain a school that offers instruction in vocations probably is unrealistic. It wouldn’t make sense to maintain two vocational career academies in the North Area, he said.
Public schools advocates, the Quality Education Project, was among the proponents for Garrett. Kendall Deas, QEP Co-Chair, said their goal now is to develop a plan to achieve academic viability at Garrett no matter how it is reincarnated. Input from parents and school officials can make that happen, he said, but it will require that constituents hold school district officials accountable.
“We need a plan that includes strengthening the curriculum and developing a quality staff which will retain the current students and attract others,” Deas said. But he added that Garrett should not be viewed in isolation. Instead, Garrett should be part of a movement to develop a pipeline which over the long term moves students from pre-kindergarten through higher education. QEP co-founder Jon Hale added that the new center for advanced studies is not the answer to institutional problems facing the school district as it tries to accommodate a transitioning industrial economy.
Board member Priscilla Jeffries said, “I would be in favor of spending the next year and half looking into a comprehensive educational plan for North Charleston. We should look at the student population projections. I’d like to see a CCSD and community committee formed to decide what the future needs are in North Charleston and how Garrett will be an integral part of that plan.”