A locally based proposed charter school led by a private business owner is in its ninth week of community meetings canvassing Sumter County and sharing its argument for the need for a public charter school here to increase quality of life.
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BRAG Literacy STRrEAM Institute of Sumter, sponsored by Sumter School District
New Journey Institute, sponsored by Charter Institute at Erskine
Renaissance Academy, sponsored by Sumter School District
Sumter STEAM Charter School, sponsored by State public charter school district
Those needs center on the county's public school district, its current strained relationship with the local military and area workforce development challenges, according to Trevor Ivey, chief of staff of Sumter STEAM Charter School. Ivey spoke Thursday to members of the Rotary Club of Sumter-Palmetto.
The proposed charter has been led since the spring by Greg Thompson, president/CEO of Thompson Construction Group, who is also chairman of the Sumter Development Board.
Ivey's meeting series is titled "Hopes and Dreams Listening Tour," and this was its 67th meeting since starting on Oct. 3, he said. About 20 Rotary Club members attended the meeting at The Restaurant at Second Mill.
Ivey stressed the proposed charter's intention is not to bash the local district but to be an additional option for local students. He said he thinks the district's new superintendent, Penelope Martin-Knox, has done a great job in her new role, but there have been "unintended consequences" since the county's two former districts consolidated in 2011.
In its ninth year since the merger, Sumter School District is on its fourth superintendent, and enrollment is down in recent years, he said. Relatively high poverty, compared to major cities in the state, affects overall student achievement, and the district's current preparedness rate for kindergarten students is 26%. The state average rate is 36%, according to the South Carolina Education Oversight Committee, Ivey added.
In regard to the military, the community's challenge includes poor perceptions of the district and many Air Force families choosing to live in neighboring counties and commuting to Shaw Air Force Base for work, he said.
Related to the local economy, Ivey indicated Sumter manufacturers alone currently have about 450 unfilled jobs because of workforce gaps, and there is no current pipeline to replace many industrial workers who will be eligible to retire in the next five to seven years.
Ivey referred to the current local needs and challenges as "dilemmas" within the Sumter community.
Ivey described those unique dilemmas as the "So What?" part of his presentation.
That leads to a call to action and the "Now What?," which is the proposed charter school with an extensive focus on STEAM education, he said. STEAM stands for a curriculum focused on science, technology, engineering, arts and math.
After initial results from 618 responses to date to a community needs-assessment survey, Sumter STEAM Charter would start in fall 2021 with kindergarten and first grade, Ivey said. One grade would be added each subsequent year until it became a K-12th-grade school. Pre-school grades would also be added through the years, he said.
Before the research, the charter was planning to start as an upper school with grades 6-12.
Core beliefs of the proposed charter, Ivey said, include that all students can learn at high levels and will be called "scholars," and parents will be expected to be partners in the education process.
A longer school day and year would be elements of the proposed school, and like any public charter, Sumter STEAM Charter would not charge tuition, and all demographics would be eligible to attend.
Core values would include accountability and follow-through, excellence and a "no-excuses" attitude, he said.
A target goal would be for all students to be achieving on grade level by the third grade, according to Ivey.
The eventual high school, called the senior academy, would have career pathways that lead directly into the local workforce but also some pathways that lead to traditional college for students.
Sumter STEAM Charter School is seeking sponsorship with the South Carolina Public Charter School District, based in Columbia.
Ivey said the proposed charter would be beneficial to Sumter in many ways.
"At the end of the day, we're on a mission to change the status quo about what's possible for kids in Sumter County," he said. "We believe our strategy is going to be a win-win for everyone. We believe that it's going to positively impact our local public school district, it's going to attract new families to move to Sumter, and it's going to be another option for kids to select from that already call Sumter their home."
OTHER PROPOSED CHARTER THIS CYCLE
Sumter STEAM Charter School is one of four groups that have filed letters of intent in the 2020 application cycle to charter school sponsors for such a school in Sumter County with a start date of fall 2021. The others include BRAG Literacy STRrEAM Institute of Sumter, led by Anderson County resident Gary Burgess, The New Journey Institute and Renaissance Academy.
According to filed letters of intent, BRAG and Renaissance are seeking sponsorship with Sumter School District. New Journey is applying through the Charter Institute at Erskine, associated with Erskine College.
Applications are due to respective sponsors by Feb. 1, 2020. Final decisions would be made in the spring.
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