‘Another option’: Charter school coming to Hartsville

By Samantha Lyles, Staff Writer, slyles@newsandpress.net

At their Nov. 13 regular meeting, Hartsville City Council learned more about a planned charter school that could open in time for the 2020 fall semester.
The proposed Butler Academy would initially serve students in kindergarten through 6th grade then expand all the way to 12th grade, said Jerome Reyes, coordinator of the PULSE (Partners for Unparalleled Local Scholastic Excellence) program at the South Carolina Governor’s School for Science and Mathematics (GSSM).

Reyes discussed how programs like the Hartsville High School International Baccalaureate (IB) and PULSE offer top students unique learning opportunities in fields ranging from molecular biology to aviation. But, he said, such educational resources could be more equitably distributed.

“Our academic success stories do not reflect the demographics of our town,” said Reyes. “Your track and your trajectory is very much a product of where you’re zoned at the elementary school level… then once you get to high school or middle school, it’s a product of what track you’re in. We see a lot of imbalance there.”

Those underrepresented students are not just marginalized on the basis of race, said Reyes. He noted that delayed readers, rural or poverty-stricken students, and non-native English speakers can also get shortchanged. Reyes said these gaps only grow when school programs are high prestige. He cited the HHS IB program, which only has two black males enrolled out of 191 students.
Reyes said that Hartsville families currently have only one public school choice: the Darlington County School District, which he likened to a giant cruise ship designed to meet the needs of the many. Butler Charter School would be a more maneuverable vessel, able to navigate individual student needs.

“If you feel like this is not working for you, whatever category you fall in of being marginalized, underrepresented or underserved, you deserve another option,” said Reyes.

He said that Butler Charter plans to offer small class sizes, capped at 20 students. Also, the 180-day school year would be structured in an innovative way, with two months on, two weeks off, and a six-week summer break. Reyes said this schedule guards against “summer slide” where students lose knowledge over the three-month vacation. Those two-week breaks serve as “programmatic interims” where students will take part in learning camps staged with local partners like, potentially, Coker College and GSSM.

Reyes asked council members for a resolution of support, which could help when Butler Charter School submits applications for state approval in February. Mayor Mel Pennington agreed, and a resolution could be on the agenda for Hartsville City Council’s December meeting.

Also at this meeting, members of two championship teams got a moment in the spotlight. Hartsville’s O-Zone baseball team took the 2018 state championship this summer, and the GSSM women’s volleyball team won the SCHSL Class-A state championship on Nov. 10 with a victory over Branchville.

Author: Rachel Howell

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