The school choice and charter school movements have taken it on the nose in recent discussions related to reformation efforts in the Charleston County School District. A great many conversations have been generated following the publication of the Post and Courier’s recent series on school choice. While most of the attention has focused on the unintended consequences to some area schools, we need to balance the conversation and not lose sight of the positive impact that school choice has had across Charleston County.
The need for greater diversity in the downtown schools is a common thread heard at each Charleston County Board of Trustees Meeting. While everyone embraces the concept, little headway has been made to ensure that district schools reflect their surrounding neighborhoods. While a principal in a traditional public school, I came to view public charter schools as somewhat an enemy of public education. Today, as I begin my second year at the helm of a successful charter school, I have come to recognize that charters are not the problem, but rather an important part of the solution to fixing what is troubling the public schools. Can they help address the issues facing downtown schools in CCSD? We believe they can. Our charter is successfully making inroads to help reknit the social fabric in this city we so proudly call home.
Carolina Voyager Charter School, located downtown at 30 Race Street, is offering school choice to a diverse group of 130 children and their families, many of whom have had few choices in the past for their children’s education. Located in the same downtown zip code as the district’s schools with the highest percentage of minority students, Voyager’s student body is one of only nine CCSD schools (out of a total of 84 schools) that come close to mirroring the demographics of the school district. Our current student population is 48% White, 40% African American, and 6% Hispanic. Over 40% of our children qualify for free or reduced lunches. While our students come from all over Charleston County, nearly half reside in downtown or in North Charleston neighborhoods. Our parents come from all walks of life; single parents struggling on public assistance, doctors and nurses, street sweepers and sanitation workers, law enforcement and firefighters, account executives, and restaurant and hospitality workers. Our children are learning to participate and contribute effectively in an environment that reflects the society in which they will need to grow and prosper in their future lives.
In our first year of operation, significant growth in student achievement was recorded in both and reading and math. The overwhelming majority of our students exceeded one year’s growth in their reading skills as measured by the Fountas and Pinnell Reading Benchmark Assessment. Students reading on or above grade level in Kindergarten increased from 25% in the fall to 71% in the spring. In First Grade, students meeting or exceeding expectations for reading increased from 16% to 74% over the course of the year. The percentage of second graders reading on or above grade level increased from 64% to 85% from the fall to the spring. In Math, Student Growth Percentile Scores on the STAR assessments exceeded expectations in all three grades.
In addition to the pride we feel about our students’ achievements, we are proud of our diversity and our sense of community. They provide me with daily reminders of the feelings of unity and togetherness that followed the tragedy at Mother Emmanuel. Unraveling segregation in our schools is no simple task. No one single approach will work. There are islands of hope and promise right in the midst of our community. Our charter school is one such place. Readers can learn more about Carolina Voyager by visiting our website at http://www.carolinavoyagercharterschool.org/ or our Facebook Page at . I also invite interested readers to call the school at (843) 203-3891 to arrange a tour.
Harry Walker, Ed.D
Founding School Leader
Carolina Voyager Charter School