Originally created 08/25/04

School doesn't reflect county



MERRIWETHER, S.C. - The new charter school in Edgefield County, which was barely completed in time for the first day of school, doesn't have enough minority students and doesn't reflect the racial makeup of the entire county, the school board's attorney says.

Only two students at Fox Creek High School, which serves the predominantly white Merriwether community in southern Edgefield County, are minorities, said Edgefield County School Superintendent Sharon Keesley.

That's roughly 1 percent of the 135 students at the charter school, a figure that falls far short of the nearly 60 percent minority representation at the 900-student Strom Thurmond High School, he said.

To achieve a racial balance that more closely reflects the county's demographics, Mr. Anderson said, the new charter school's population should consist of at least 12 percent minority pupils.

Although the school board doesn't have much say over the quasi- independent school, Mr. Anderson wrote a letter to school administrators asking about recruiting practices after broaching the matter at an Aug. 10 board meeting.

Fox Creek High School Principal John Gratop said the school could have a larger and more diverse population if it had buses or vans.

"Lack of transportation is the single biggest detriment to recruiting students," Mr. Gratop said. "If we had buses, I know that we would pick up 50 to 75 students overnight."

With the addition of a bus and a senior class, Mr. Gratop said he expects the number of students at the school to double by next year.

Fox Creek's transportation problem is shared by South Carolina's two dozen charter schools and represents one of their biggest challenges, said David Church, the president of the South Carolina Association of Public Charter Schools.

"One of the reasons the school was started is because it is in such a large county and some students were on the bus for 45 minutes," Dr. Church said.

While charter schools get the same amount of state and federal money per student as other public schools, the state does not provide buses or money for transportation. Parents bring their children to school and pick them up each day, Mr. Gratop said.

A new bill that has passed the South Carolina House of Representatives and will come before the state Senate next year would create a statewide school district.

This would give charter schools money for transportation, "eliminating the issue of a racial quota" for charter schools, Dr. Church said.

Mr. Gratop said recruiting for Fox Creek High School takes place in middle schools, churches, community groups and on the Internet.

With first-year start-up costs out of the way, Mr. Gratop said he hopes a bus can be purchased for the school next year.

"Our school district is the entire county," Mr. Gratop said.

"We are open to everyone, and we will not turn anyone away."

Reach Karen Ethridge at (803) 648-1395, ext. 109, or karen.ethridge@augustachronicle.com.