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Achievement data, community input led Sumter STEAM charter's shift in opening grades

BY BRUCE MILLS
bruce@theitem.com
Posted 4/18/20

What happened to the technical, advanced studies high school that local private-business owner Greg Thompson was initially considering when he first envisioned a public charter school for Sumter last April?

In Thursday's public hearing with the …

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Achievement data, community input led Sumter STEAM charter's shift in opening grades

Posted

What happened to the technical, advanced studies high school that local private-business owner Greg Thompson was initially considering when he first envisioned a public charter school for Sumter last April?

In Thursday's public hearing with the state Public Charter School District - which unanimously approved Sumter STEAM Charter School's application - Thompson and the school's chief of staff explained that local achievement data and the community's input were key factors for shifting the school's focus to begin with kindergarten and first grade.

State standardized test results from SC READY last year showed roughly only 30% of Sumter School District's fifth- and eighth-graders were reading on grade level or performing on grade level in math at the end of the year.

Those are grade levels where students leave to transition to a new school, such as Sumter STEAM as it was originally conceived, but data showed the typical student who wished to enroll would not be on grade level, as Chief of Staff Trevor Ivey noted.

By comparison, state averages for fifth- and eighth-graders scoring on grade level in those core subjects were roughly 15% higher, according to data.

Test scores from 2018 on SC READY showed similar trends locally.

After its opening year, Sumter STEAM plans to add pre-kindergarten and second grade in 2022-23, according to its approved proposal. Then, one additional grade level will be added each year until the school serves grades preK-12 with a total enrollment of 976 students at build-out.

Ivey, an educator and administrator who left Sumter School District to help lead the charter school, said the charter's planning committee thinks through its curriculum model and standards, it will have higher achievement levels as students reach the upper grades.

In regards to community input, a community needs assessment survey with 655 responses showed 66.2% of respondents wanted the school to serve kindergarten and elementary grade-level students in its opening year.

Additionally, K-3 was the grade-level range that received the most individual support from respondents at 22.7%. Grades 9-12 as a school offering in the first year only received 15.4% support.

"So, seeing what the community actually wanted on top of what the achievement data suggested," Ivey said, "it was a no-brainer for us to take a step back and think, 'Well, at the end of the day, if we're going to do this right, we want to be able to start with the earliest grades possible.'"

In its initial years, the charter plans to operate out of the former St. Francis Xavier High School, located at 15 School St., near the downtown area.

According to state law, charter schools offer alternative educational opportunities unique from traditional public schools and are also tuition-free. Charter schools are publicly funded but independently governed, and they are exempt from some state regulations. Most charter schools in the state are required to admit students from anywhere in their sponsor district using a lottery admissions process.

GOT QUESTIONS ABOUT ENROLLMENT?

Ivey said parents and guardians of students who will be entering kindergarten or first grade in 2021 and are interested in learning more about enrollment can complete an online survey at www.sumtersteamcharter.org.

He added completing the survey doesn't guarantee enrollment. However, it does guarantee that parents will be contacted with information regarding finalized enrollment procedures and family preview sessions to be scheduled in the fall when enrollment applications will begin to be accepted.

WHAT ABOUT OTHER CHARTER APPLICANTS?

Two other proposed charters applied in this year's cycle to open a public school in Sumter County in fall 2021, but they were both unsuccessful.

New Journey Institute - led by Sumter residents Rebecca Brooks, a Richland School District One educator, and Shekia Bradford, a small-business owner - also applied through the state Public Charter School District but withdrew its application in late March/early April, per a district official. New Journey also applied through the Charter Institute at Erskine, associated with Erskine College, and withdrew from that sponsor around the same time, according to an agency representative who spoke on Wednesday.

On April 6, Sumter School District's Board of Trustees voted down a proposed charter - BRAG Literacy STRrEAM Institute of Sumter - that sought sponsorship with the district in a 9-0 unanimous vote. Anderson County resident Gary Burgess led BRAG's effort.