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FEATURE ‌ Bigger Buist or More Buist?

All options on the table for better peninsula schools

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Rivers may be used as a Buist expansion or serve as a second magnet school
  • Rivers may be used as a Buist expansion or serve as a second magnet school

It was likely a quiet proposal between two officials — relocate Buist Magnet School to the former Rivers Middle School to grow what is the crown jewel of peninsula education. With parents and District 20 Constituent Board members already keyed up over what they see as questionable admission practices and recognized abuses of the Buist admission policy, the news didn't go over too well.

Constituent board Chairman Marvin Stewart told fellow board members last month that school board Chairwoman Nancy Cook had mentioned a potential idea to move the Buist program to Rivers to make more room for the school.

The response has been sharp and critical, largely based on hollow promises for improved programs for Rivers Middle School students when the school was shuttered in 2005, relocating those students to the already failing Burke High School. Rivers is now used as an administrative facility. Past suggestions for Rivers have included a much-needed vocational campus or as an extension of some Burke programs.

"The thought of (the Buist move) would upset this community very highly," says constituent board Vice Chairman Leroy Connors.

Calling the Buist move "dead on arrival," board member Henry Copeland says the future of Rivers should come with the help of the community, including potential to develop the campus into a charter school for math and science or as a functioning middle school once again.

"Rivers will be used for the benefit of District 20, but it's purpose is not going to be put upon the residents of District 20," he says, noting public input will be key.

Fellow board member Pamela Kusmider also says the community needs more than extra students at one successful magnet school.

"People don't want a bigger Buist," she says. "They want more Buists."

Cook says relocating the school is only one option that the school district is looking at as it lays the early groundwork for the 2008 budget year, and she says that a second magnet school is not off the table.

"How to provide better and more opportunities on the peninsula, that's definitely what we're trying to do," she says.

Copeland says he's skeptical of any proposal for a second Buist because the resources to truly match the curriculum likely won't be provided. An example is the trouble Charleston Progressive Elementary School has had in trying to provide the resources common with magnet programs, Copeland says.

"It has nowhere near the staff, support, funding, or curriculum of Buist," he says.

Considering both suggestions to move Buist or add another magnet school as "test balloons," Cook says it's possible that neither idea will come to fruition.

"It'll take getting community support and getting the public to understand what it would cost financially," she says, noting there are competing interests here where some parents would say don't fix what isn't broken while hundreds of other parents languish on a Buist waiting list.

Doubling the size of the successful magnet school likely wouldn't sit well with either parents with kids already in the school and others waiting to get in, Copeland says.

"The principal reason for the success of schools like Buist is the size," he says, noting three or four other magnet schools would be more appropriate.

Parents likely will want the problems identified in Buist's application practices addressed before anything else happens. Buist reserves 10 spaces out of 40 in each kindergarten class for students from District 20. Concerned parents and constituent board members have identified some parents who have falsified addresses to get their kids on the District 20 list. After months of complaints, the school board promised last week to review its address verification policy, possibly removing some of the easier loopholes like utility bills.

The county may also try dusting off a proposal made by Harvey Gantt more than three years ago that would provide thematic curricula at peninsula schools, Cook says, including site-specific programs for arts or math and science.

The district's effort to find new options on the peninsula is an attempt to address long-standing inequities, Cook says. The answer lies in providing a competitive education for all students, says Copeland.

"These kids are able to meet challenges if you challenge them early," he says.

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