By Barney Blakeney
From the beginning Prestige Preparatory Academy has struggled to survive. Since opening to serve boys in grades K-5 in 2016, making the school successful has been a challenge. At the root of its struggles are issues of enrollment, says Principal Joyce H. Coleman. But her vision of a school to serve young boys though at times seems opaque, the mission remains clear.
After months of preparation, Coleman said her dream of opening a school to serve young boys became a struggle to overcome ever increasing hurdles that included repeated changes in the demand for enrollment and transportation to facilitate that enrollment. The school she conceived in 2006 and started the process of opening in 2014 had to fight for a home at the former Charleston Naval Base and then for students to meet the district’s enrollment requirements.
When it opened two days after others in the district, her teaching staff of five was disillusioned. All but one teacher quit. Students also left. Of the 70 she began the year with, only about 60 remained. Since charter schools are funded based on their enrollment, it quickly became evident to school district officials Prestige Preparatory Academy seemed a financial albatross.
Last year’s challenges affected the board’s outlook for the school this year, and in December citing the poor academic performance of the students, Charleston County School Board members voted to put the school’s administrators on notice its charter is in jeopardy. Coleman said most of the issues from last year have been resolved. There are teachers and assistants for the classes in each grade level. And regarding their students’ academic performance, most recognize that the academic performance of Prestige’s students mirrors that at other schools in the district.
But because some statistics show boys achieve more in a segregated learning environment and because her teacher/student ratio is 1:12, Coleman is convinced support from the school district and the community will produce academic success at Prestige. In addition to academic success, she lauds the school’s mission of building integrity, intellect and compassion among its students.
Charleston County School District continues to fail the boys Prestige tries to attract, yet seldom closes those failing schools, said one critic. The same kids Coleman’s trying to serve are the same kids the district has hung out to dry. And while district officials threaten Prestige’s closure, it offers no alternatives. The larger conversation goes beyond Prestige, he said.
As a public charter school for boys that is unique in South Carolina, Coleman laments that the community has not been more supportive. She thinks local fraternal organizations especially, should realize their obligation to boys. One organization has stepped up to the plate. The Charleston Branch NAACP this week sponsored a visit to the Smithsonian National Museum of African American History and Culture in Washington, D.C. for 18 Prestige students. President Dot Scott said the community has to get involved in the growth and forward movement of the school.