I am a retired school teacher who attended a meeting of the Horry County School Board, and I want to personally commend the school board (10 out of the 12, anyway) for their open minds, wisdom, insight and stamina to stand up for what they believe is right. The meeting was to determine the fate of a proposed charter school, the Palmetto Academy of Learning Motorsports Charter School, which is designed to target at-risk high school students. It was approved by the S.C. State Charter School Association before this meeting; therefore, I was totally surprised when the superintendent, Cindy Elsberry, strongly recommended that the Horry County School Board vote "no" on accepting this new proposal.
Many people attended the meeting, including parents, students, politicians and educators who have visited the Palmetto Academy of Learning Motorsports program and, like myself, have been absolutely enthralled with it. At the time I visited PALM, they were teaching high school dropouts as well as dislocated workers. It was exciting to see the enthusiasm exhibited by the students. It also was exciting to later hear about the job offers they received when they graduated. If Elsberry had seen that program in action, I am sure she would feel the same way I did. The PALM program wants to partner with the Horry County Schools system to become a new charter school and keep those students in high school, as well as teach them job skills for the work force at the same time. How could anyone not feel ecstatic about a program designed to keep dropout students in school? I taught in a Chicago suburb where at-risk students were our goal for many years, and I have lots of success stories I could share. This is why I was so interested to see what was being done in Horry County for that target group.
I was disappointed to learn that South Carolina is among the top states in the nation for school dropouts. In Horry County, it was reported that there were about 700 dropouts this past school year. This proves that the current system is not working for all students. These are the students who would be targeted by this new charter school. It has also been reported that high school dropouts cost South Carolina $98 million a year, and that is just the beginning. The cost continues throughout the life of each dropout through drug programs, crimes, incarcerations, welfare, etc. Therefore, by keeping these students in school, plus teaching them job skills needed for the work force, this program would be an asset for taxpayers. It also would provide Horry County a great opportunity to take the lead in helping South Carolina reduce these unsatisfactory statistics.
I certainly hope Elsberry changes her mind, and works wholeheartedly with the Palmetto Academy for Learning Motorsports Charter School to change the lives of our potential high school dropout population, and thus lessen the load on the taxpayers, as well as help to get South Carolina off of the list as one of the worst states in the nation for school dropouts.
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The writer, a Conway native, lives in Indiana.