Downtown Myrtle Beach could see a new K-8 charter school if a “still evolving” partnership between Coastal Carolina University and the City of Myrtle Beach comes to fruition.
Last week, Coastal's board approved a motion to establish a memorandum of understanding (MOU) with the city to develop the K-8 lab school in the downtown Myrtle Beach area.
CCU officials said the intent of the school is to “serve as an incubator for new ideas” and be a teacher training vehicle for pre-service teachers. It would also establish a higher education anchor in downtown Myrtle Beach that city officials hope will be an economic boost to the struggling area.
Myrtle Beach Mayor Brenda Bethune said the plans are still being ironed out so she could provide few details about the project, including how much it would cost or where it would be built. She said the idea emerged when city officials developed their plan for the downtown area. When the council looked at other cities of similar sizes in the region, they found one of the keys to successful revitalization was a partnership with a local university.
“We want all the components that make it thrive,” Bethune said. “We’ve always done a lot to offer great things for our visitors, but we’re also a community where residents live and where businesses invest their dollars. Partnering with CCU was a natural fit."
Ed Jadallah, dean of CCU’s Spadoni College of Education, said university leaders are working to make this process a seamless one. He said CCU’s primary partners are the school districts in Horry and Georgetown counties, and both of those districts help the school prepare their pre-service teachers.
“They hire a significant number of CCU graduates,” Jadallah said.
Coastal's education program has made two key improvements in recent years: launching CCU’s Early Childhood Development and Literacy Center, and creating the Ph.D in education program.
“They [the center] have been open for almost a year," Jadallah said. "We started out with 25 students, and now there are 64. That’s a lab school…with three, four, and five-year-olds. It allows us the opportunity to provide pre-service teachers with experience, internships, and have student workers. They are able to do observations with live examples from the lab school, and also have research and grant-writing opportunities. It adds to our partnership. This same concept [with Myrtle Beach] is simply a continuation with the K-8 lab school."
Coastal is in its second semester of the doctoral education program.
“We prepare them, they obtain jobs in Horry and Georgetown County schools, come back for graduate education, and go back into the school system and impact K-8 education,” Jadallah said. “It provides the opportunity to again revitalize Myrtle Beach, which is important to CCU thriving. It’s an innovative lab school. We can do these things in an experimental environment and then as we conduct research and find this is evidence-based, we can replicate it at other schools. It’s an excellent opportunity.”
What will it cost?
Bethune said the partnership means a collaborative effort, and the city has to make an investment. She said the school will operate at no cost to CCU, though it's unclear how much the city will contribute to the initiative.
“If you want to get return on an investment, you have to be the first one to invest," she said. "We believe so strongly this is going to be vital to our downtown master plan, we’re willing to make that investment. We don’t know yet what that investment will be. It (the school) could be in an existing building, or potentially a couple of buildings, but all that has to be worked out in the final agreement.”
Charter schools in the county receive money each year from HCS on a per-student basis. Bethune said this charter school will receive no money from the school district.
HCS Chairman Ken Richardson confirmed the district is not involved in the K-8 school.
“I wish them the best," he said. "I wish them luck with it. I met with them and the concept sounds good."
He praised Bethune for the efforts.
“She is wanting to clean up the center of Myrtle Beach, and that’s something we all want to see happen,” Richardson said. "Myrtle Beach is part of Horry County and I want to see it be the best that it can be."
Bethune said the school districts “do an incredible job”.
“But they need strong partnerships, and when we work together we all are stronger," she said. "I truly believe that. This actually enhances the offerings of our school district, providing stronger teachers, better teachers. They say a high tide raises all boats, and this is one of those cases."
As for a timeline for when and where this school will develop, Bethune and Jadallah said that with the board of trustees vote, a critical step has been taken.
“Now we can sit down and iron out the details," Jadallah said. "Once we get involved in that process, we’ll have a better idea of how much time it will take.”
Bethune looks forward to being able to share more information.
“Our community is going to be very excited about it," she said. "It raises the bar for what we can offer our students and families … When we offer great things for our residents, it flows over into being great for visitors."
Bethune said the Grand Strand has traditionally been a community with few opportunities for young workers after college.
“They tend not to move back,” she said. “We want our community to be a place where children raised here want to come back and start their families, or maybe open a business, or start their career here. This is an investment in our children, which is an investment in our future.”
An educational forum will be held at CCU on Nov. 12 at 5:30 p.m. in Johnson Auditorium. It will feature two keynote speakers, one of whom will be a California professor who has done extensive research in child development. The other speaker is from Charleston and runs two new innovative schools there. A panel of experts will also be on hand to answer questions.