CHARLESTON, S.C. — A private academy for low-income students that dedicated a new building in Charleston on Monday and opened a campus in Spartanburg last week is a model for schools across South Carolina, Gov. Nikki Haley said.
“If we can get every school in South Carolina to work like Meeting Street Academy, we would be in a much different situation when it comes to education,” she said after the ribbon was cut on the academy’s new building.
The academy, which opened its doors in 2008, charges low-income pupils nominal tuition. In return, parents and family members pledge to help with their homework and volunteer at the school.
Donations come from individuals and businesses. Though it costs an estimated $12,500 a year to educate each pupil, the tuition for families is $10 a week.
There are 112 pupils, from 3-year-olds to third-graders, in Charleston. Last week, 37 3- and 4-year-olds enrolled in Spartanburg. Both schools will eventually
serve students through fifth grade.
Last year, first-graders at the Charleston school recorded reading and math scores well above the national norm and on par with private and suburban public schools.
“This is what I want every school in South Carolina to look like,” Haley said. “It’s results-driven where children and the parents are involved. They are not teaching to a test, but teaching to what makes them smart as they go through life.”
State Superintendent of Education Mick Zais said low-income pupils deserve the same chance as other kids for a good education.
“High-income families do that by sending their children to private schools. Middle income families do that by moving to the suburbs, and far too often it’s only our low-income students who are stuck in failing schools,” he said.
He noted that countries with higher levels of poverty, places like China and Korea, outperform American schools. “We know that low income kids can learn and that poverty is not an excuse for failure,” he said.
Charleston Mayor Joseph P. Riley Jr. called the academy “a wonderful glowing light right in the middle of our community” and that other schools in the community will benefit.
He said public school officials will be consulting with the academy and “we all benefit from seeing best practices.”
Too often, he said, schools are challenged because often parents aren’t involved.
“We know that throughout America that often happens. Our society said the kids are the schools’ problem. But they are everybody’s problem. This is a reminder where the best model is where parents are engaged in the children’s education,” he said.