Monday, May 5, 2014
In a 4-2 vote (one abstained), the Williamsburg County School District Board of Trustees officially converted D.P. Cooper Elementary School to a public charter school. The board adopted the motion to include seventh and eighth grades without school choice, during an April 28, meeting. The boardroom brimming with students, family, and others interested in the conversion responded to the board’s adoption in celebratory fashion with D.P. Cooper Principal Dr. Kerry Singleton leading the way. “I just want to thank everyone,” said Singleton in a telephone interview. “First and foremost our students, parents, our staff members and the people from our community.”
The road to conversation began in early 2013 with the preparation of the application. D.P. Cooper will have the distinction of being the first K through 8th grade conversion public charter school in the state. D.P. Cooper Charter School will serve pre-kindergarten through grade seventh beginning 2014-2015, school year. Eighth grade will be added in the 2015-2016 school year.
According to the South Carolina Charter Schools Act of 1996, a public charter school is considered a public school and part of the South Carolina Public Charter School District, the local school district in which it is located, or is sponsored by a public or independent institution of higher learning. The local school board of trustees sponsors shall distribute state, county, and school district funds to a charter school as determined by a formula.
Because charter schools are afforded greater flexibility and autonomy they have the pleasure of implementing innovative and unique programs that may not be available in traditional public schools. However, charter schools are held to greater accountability standards. Since inception, charter schools have simultaneously been under fire and praised. Where there are failures (nationwide, 200 charters closed during this school year) there is also growth. Over 600 new public charter schools opened in the 2013-14 school year. In South Carolina, approximately 22,000 students are enrolled in 60 public charter schools.
Charter schools avoid government regulations and are not confined to specific forms of teaching. However, concerns include little oversight, and according to a UCLA Civil Rights Project study, increased racial segregation. The study found higher levels of segregation for black students in charter schools than in public schools, even though public school segregation has been growing steadily for two decades. The study also noted magnet schools offer a great deal of experience in how to create educationally successful and integrated choice options.
Over the past few years, legislators across the country have been working to improve public charter school laws. In 2013, three states partially or entirely lifted caps on charters. Other states have strengthened their authorizing environments and support for funding and facilities.
Work will continue to realize the goal to create high-quality public charter schools. More information can be obtained by visiting the National Alliance for Public Charter Schools at www.publiccharters.org and the Public Charter School Alliance of South Carolina at www.sccharterschools.org. The South Carolina Code of Laws regarding Charter Schools can be accessed by visiting www.scstatehouse.gov/code/t59c040.php.