Since the standing-room-only Sept. 23 school board meeting, students, parents, and social media have been abuzz with comments regarding proposed changes to The Scholars Academy (SA).
The board’s curriculum committee is suggesting that the academy cease to be a program school and become its own standalone institution, where students would be ranked only among their immediate peers, not all of the students at their base schools. Some parents and students say this takes away from the supportive and collaborative environment the students now enjoy.
Contrary to rumors, students would still be able to be involved in extra-curricular activities at their base schools, as well as graduate with peers at both institutions if they so choose.
Chief Officer of Academics Boone Myrick said that if this change were to go through, the academy would be the district’s smallest school with a student population of 200. The school would be ranked publicly for student accomplishments, and all data would stay at Scholars instead of going back to the base schools.
That removal of data, Myrick noted, may make for a negligible impact on student achievement areas in average SAT, ACT, and AP scores, and state report card results.
Opportunities for LIFE scholarships would not be affected, but the number of Palmetto Fellowship scholarship recipients would be smaller based on new rankings.
Board chairman Ken Richardson said that the board members have been bombarded with emails and phone calls on the subject. The topic will not necessarily be on the Oct. 21 agenda, he said.
Christine Brewer said she wonders about the impact on scholarships.
“Since the top S.C. lottery scholarships are based on rankings, I understand why parents are upset," she said. "This will cost them more for college. If you are not in top 6% at SA, you will be losing $10,000 at a minimum in scholarships over four years,” Brewer said in an email.
She said that if the Scholars students are being ranked at their base school and not their choice academic institution, it could mean that state-funded scholarships, specifically Palmetto Fellows, are being taken away from students at the individual home base schools.
“If that is correct, that seems completely unfair to the home base school students that don’t have opportunity to take the same GPA heavily-weighted classes as Scholars … which can inflate GPA and rankings,” Brewer said.
Scholars Academy senior Stephen Stec, whose base school is Conway High School, joined a group of students and parents last week in front of the school to share why they believe the academy should stay as it is.
Stec said that when he started there, he was “under the impression that I was going to be a Conway [CHS] kid,” and that when he submitted his application, HCS told him that he’d be graded against his base school students, and that’s why he chose to attend there.
As for the concern that students at the base schools don’t have access to the same challenging classes, he said some of the larger base schools offer just as many, if not more AP classes than Scholars does.
“This situation needs to go away,” Stec said.
Scholars parent Dr. Paul Richardson said that making the school its own entity would possibly take away “tens of thousands of dollars” in scholarships from academy students.
He said more data needs to be gathered.
“We need to all take a deep breath and slow down,” Paul Richardson said. “A promise made is a promise kept — I don’t want to see it [Scholars] hurt.”
Since the meeting, a handful of online petitions were created to support keeping Scholars the way it is. One petition had 1,333 signatures, and another had 1,488.
Ken Richardson said he’s listening to all the input, and pointed out that he has to look out for all 45,000 children in the district.
Coastal Carolina University officials said there are 154 Scholars Academy students who take varying hours of college credit classes. Stec said he would graduate this spring with two years of college credit, which for some students could be up to 70 credit hours.
CCU said that each credit hour is $376.50, so for 70 credit hours, some Scholars students could be receiving approximately $25,000 of college education for free.
“This is the amount the taxpayers are paying per child,” Ken Richardson said. “The average child gets nothing compared to this. I’m not complaining about the money we are spending. I just want to share it with more children.”
Scholars parent Scot Wisler has a freshman, junior, and senior at the school, and another child who graduated from there who is now a college sophomore.
Wisler said he doesn’t want the Scholars students to be forgotten.
“Those promises were made – the kids had to keep their promises by doing all the work and the long hours, and the sacrifices they made,” Wisler said. “Now school board is not keeping their promises to those kids.”
One of Wisler’s worries is that if the Scholars students are ranked among themselves, they are ranked among 40-50 students versus 600. In terms of college acceptance, he said, it “could be a possible impairment to be third out of 40 versus third out of 600.”
In 2014, the board conducted a study on what it would take to make Scholars its own entity, and in a student survey within the study, 89 percent of them said that Scholars should not be a standalone school.
In the anonymous comments made by the students in that 2014 study, one student commented that it should be a standalone school since some students never take classes at their base school, and they felt that worrying about rankings was contradictory.
“I feel I should be judged against the people I am in the same environment with. I think it’s morally wrong for my fellow students to say ‘I want to be challenged and go to a school with difficult classes and smart kids like me, but I don’t want to be judged against them,’” the HCS survey document said. “To me, that is hypocrisy … we should be judged against ourselves. Why? Because that’s what Scholars do. Scholars push each other. Scholars encourage each other.”
The 2014 study also lists pros for Scholars becoming a standalone school, which include creating cleaner student achievement data, reducing guidance workload at the base schools, and reducing communications issues between base schools and Scholars.
Wisler questioned the timing of the most recent proposal.
“I can’t understand that a program that has been so successful since its inception … why you would turn that on its head with only month and a half of research or discussion?” Wisler said.
Ken Richardson said the subject has been discussed before in years past, and that since the Sept. 23 meeting, board members have asked for even more data on the subject.
“We are trying to take all the information and put it together, sift through it and make the best decision the board can make,” he said.
Curriculum committee member and District 5 board member Janice Morreale reiterated that it isn’t a new subject.
“We have discussed this matter involving the Scholars Academy several times since I have been on the board," she said. "My decision will be based upon what is best for all students in Horry County."
Curriculum committee member and District 7 representative Janet Graham said that it is good that the community’s concerns have been brought before the board.
“We are very thankful when parents come forward," she said. "It gives us perspective on things that we might not have thought about … so we can open our minds to things for further discussions."
HCS spokeswoman Lisa Bourcier said that numbers “are still being crunched” for the board to discuss the issue further later this month.