BEAUFORT – Three days after the Beaufort County Board of Education voted to ask Interim Superintendent Herb Berg to reconsider his closure of a small alternative school, Berg today reaffirmed his decision to transition Islands Academy’s 68 students to other district schools in time for the beginning of second semester.
Islands Academy was created in 2015 as an optional “school of choice” for students in grades 6-12 who hadn’t fared well academically in the district’s traditional middle and high schools. Despite smaller class sizes, however, academic data showed that student achievement at the school ranked at or near the bottom of other South Carolina schools.
State School Report Card results released three weeks ago showed that during the 2017-18 school year, not a single Islands Academy middle school student met or exceeded state standards on state math and social studies exams, and only one met or exceeded standards in reading and writing and in science. Nine out of 10 Islands Academy high school students failed their end-of-course exams in Algebra 1, and 8 out of 10 failed their English 1 exams.
Islands Academy’s on-time high school graduation rate was only 29 percent compared to the district-wide rate of 86 percent and the statewide rate of 81 percent.
“Our goal is for every student to make academic progress and move forward, but that simply wasn’t happening at Islands Academy,” Berg said today. “I’m convinced that we can ensure better outcomes through other means, and I certainly didn’t want to wait on those improved outcomes for an additional semester under the current structure.”
At a special called meeting of the Board of Education on Tuesday night, Board members voted to have Berg reconsider his decision to close the school. Following that Board vote, Berg met with key district instructional staff to review the closure decision.
“My original decision was informed by district staff who recommended unanimously that transitioning Islands Academy students to their ‘home’ schools would give them better opportunities for success,” Berg said. “After follow-up meetings this week, our instructional staff remained convinced that this is the best decision for students.”
Islands Academy students were enrolled at other district middle and high schools before choosing to take classes at Islands Academy. They could either provide their own transportation or ride the bus to their “home” school, then board a second bus for an additional ride to Islands Academy’s Beaufort campus.
Ultimately, said district Chief Instructional Services Officer Bonnie Almond, that second bus ride had a negative effect on student achievement because it meant less classroom instructional time for Academy students.
“Students who are struggling academically need more instructional time, not less,” Almond said. “Even though Islands Academy is closing, we remain convinced that targeted interventions are needed for those students.”
Almond said she and her staff would explore other instructional options for struggling students and bring those options to the Board of Education this spring.
School counselors from all of the district’s middle and high schools are meeting individually with the 68 students who will transition out of Islands Academy and start classes at their home schools in January. They are reviewing each student’s grades and individual situations before developing class schedules for that student’s home school that can be discussed in early January with each student and his or her parent.
“Every student’s welfare and success is a priority,” said Geri Henderson, the district’s Director of Secondary Education and a veteran school counselor. “We understand that this decision will be unsettling for students and their families, and we’re committed to working with them to make the transition as seamless and successful as possible.”
Right Choices, the district’s alternative program for students with disciplinary issues, will be unaffected by the closure of Islands Academy and will remain at its current Beaufort campus.