Country school changed to charter school

By Stefanie

HOLLYWOOD, S.C. (WCIV) - Tucked away along with the Spanish moss draped trees and Lowcountry marsh waters is St. Paul's Academy School.

St. Paul's, more commonly known as Country Day, is a private school located in Hollywood with students mostly from Yonges Island, Meggett, and{}Ravenel.

But Country Day is to be no longer.

The school announced in October of last year that it would officially be{}closing its doors in May.{} St. Paul's Academy's Treasurer of the Board, Linda Leatherwood, said the reason for the closing was, "We just didn't have enough kids."

There were only 32 kids to be exact -- just 32 out of a school set for 170 students.

"The economy mostly is the reason for the closing," Leatherwood said. "People out here just couldn't pay."

St. Paul's Academy officials sold the school and property to a company out of Utah, HighMark School Development. The school will say goodbye to its last graduating class in May -- a bittersweet moment, Letherwood said, for the country school and all its alumni.


Superman school to the rescue

An abandoned vacant school is a sad sight, but St. Paul's Academy campus will not have to know what that is like for long.

Enter Lowcountry Leadership Charter School.

Back in 2011, a group of parents in the Hollywood area came up with an idea{}of a charter school for the rural area. The only thing that was missing was a campus for their cause. When the news broke of St. Paul's going out of business, the 10-plus acres of St. Paul's Academy campus was purchased by HighMark Development. {}LLCS leaders say they will lease the campus for their school from HighMark.

"We are not taking over St. Paul's Academy, we are a completely different school," said Chryse Jackson, a St.Paul's Academy parent and co-founder of Lowcountry Leadership Charter School [LLCS.]

On June of 2012, the South Carolina Public Charter School District officially granted approval for the creation of the learning institution.

A charter school, as Chryse Jackson describes it, is known for being a tuition-free public school that has the freedom to be more innovative when it comes to teaching and teaching models. Others describe charter schools as a hybrid between a public and private school.

"We wanted the school to be a leadership school, so it was important for kids when they leave high school to know how to be leaders," Jackson said. "We wanted a strong name to fit a strong charter."

What's of interest may be the fact that the founders of LLCS chose to get approval from the State Charter District and not Charleston County School District.

"We are not involved in this charter. They are a state sponsored charter school, not a district sponsored one," Public Information Officer for Charleston County School District, Jason Sakran said.

But Jackson says the reason for{}the decision to apply with the state rather than the district was simple.

"We didn't apply to Charleston County Charter School District because we wanted Edisto Island and surrounding Island kids to go here," Jackson said. "We don't want to exclude anyone."


It takes a village

One major characteristic of a charter school is the emphasis on community. Charter schools are not the place where parents can kick back their heels and watch the school do all the work.

"Parents are more involved. It is an unspoken requirement," Jackson said. "The curriculum is so rigorous and so different."

"If you don't have parent involvement it wont be as successful."

Hence the 'it takes a village' motto of having the entire community involved in the well-being of the neighborhood school. Lowcountry Leadership Charter School has not yet even opened and already they have a waiting list.

"It shows the need the rural community has," Jackson said. "Parents are looking to be involved in a school.

Jackson said that so many families have fled the rural communities looking for good schools. According to Jackson, another goal of the charter school is to bring those families back to the area who have left and create the feel of a real neighborhood school

"It's an answer to parents who have been looking for something different."

Jackson said the former St. Paul's school will undergoing a complete renovation from the classrooms, to the gym, to the playground.{}

"The entire schoolhouse will be gutted, completely renovated. The gym will be completely gutted and we are adding 3 wings to the schoolhouse building."

"This school will improve the area not only in that it's providing construction jobs," Jackson said, "We hope it will repair the real estate market as well."


From Arizona to an alligator

A one-page application for consideration is required to be accepted into Lowcountry Leadership Charter School.

The school is set to have 400 students -- 40 per grade with 20 per class.

It will start out with K5-9th grade in 2013-2014 and leaders of the school say by the 2016-2017 school year they hope to be a K5-12th grade school with 520 students.

Jackson said the school is still accepting applications but there is a waiting list in place. There are no tests or entrance exams and school co-founders say the institution does not discriminate.

"You do not have to live in the 29449 zip code. We have kids coming from Walterboro, West Ashley, Summerville, Rockville, and even Tucson, Arizona."

"A family is moving from Arizona to attend our school because they want to be part of something big," Jackson said.

The school's mascot is going to be the 'navigator,' a play off of an alligator. More details are sure to come on what that exactly means.

A groundbreaking ceremony for LLCS took place on the old St. Paul's campus in Hollywood on May 3. There will be an open-house meeting on May 18 for parents and interested parties to drop-in.

The school is expected to be open on Aug. 21 or 22. Employment opportunities at the new school are still available.

For more information, you can visit the LLCS website here or call (843) 889-5527.