The South Carolina Public Charter District (SCPCD) is looking into the governance of Charleston Advancement Academy High School (CAA), officials confirmed this month.
After reports of an impromptu four-day closure of the school’s James Island campus and staff concerns about recent action of the school’s board of directors, the newspaper asked the state oversight agency Jan. 4 whether it was investigating the school.
“We are inquiring about these matters,” SCPCD Superintendent Chris Neeley replied tersely, offering no details.
CAA is an alternative public charter school with students ranging in ages 14 to 21, which allows older students to complete high school graduation requirements. The school is not affiliated with Charleston County School District, but is chartered through SCPCD.
According to sources, the school’s board of directors informed CAA staff Jan. 2 via email that the James Island campus would temporarily close Jan. 3 to Jan. 6 and that all students and staff would need to relocate to the academy’s campus at Trident Technical College in North Charleston when school resumed after a holiday break.
One employee, who asked to remain anonymous, said CAA teachers then scrambled to communicate with students who were expecting to return to the James Island campus Jan. 4 after an e-learning day Jan. 3.
“Staff members sent emails and texts to our students to let them know the James Island campus would be closed,” the staff member said. “We put [personnel] at the front door of the campus to let students who showed up know about the closure.”
A second employee, who also asked to remain anonymous, said board members reportedly attributed the campus closure to administrative problems. This unexpected school closure came just weeks after the board told staff Dec. 13 that the school’s administrative director resigned.
“After a staff meeting [Jan. 3], the board just seemed very evasive when asked about the future of the James Island campus — which made it seem [like it was] going to close,” the second staffer said.
James Island campus open again
As students flooded the Trident campus Jan. 4, a staffer said it felt like the school was in total chaos.
“The students have not been able to receive transportation, because the [James Island campus] was closed on such short notice and parents have no way to get them there. School transportation has been very limited. Parents have been calling the staff and complaining, but we feel helpless because we do not know what to tell them.”
The first employee said there were three to four staff members per classroom and neither students nor employees had adequate space at the Trident Tech campus with two student bodies combined into one location.
“Students have always had the opportunity to flow freely between the classrooms and teachers to find an environment that best suits their learning at that moment,” the staff member said. “But right now, there’s no quiet space. It’s crowded and loud everywhere. People are anxious and confused. I’ve overheard multiple conversations between students wondering what’s going on.”
One 20-year-old-student, Hollywood resident Luca Otto, said he holds two part-time job positions as he completes his education. He told the City Paper that the James Island campus closure negatively affects students.
“[The closure] forces students to either forgo work, remain in an unstable home environment from which they otherwise would have had some escape, or travel farther at the expense of their own or their guardians’ time and money,” Otto said.
Last week, a sign was posted on the front door of the James Island campus that read: “Charleston Advancement Academy at James Island will be closed Jan. 3-6. Please check your school email for updates in regard to Jan. 9-13.”
The CAA board chair Nadine Deif told the City Paper that the James Island campus would reopen Jan. 9. It did.
The first employee told the City Paper the board informed staff on Jan. 6 that science teacher Kenny Brinckman would step up as interim assistant director to oversee the James Island campus when it reopened. Brinckman declined to comment with the City Paper.
“Nobody’s giving up yet — but this is a Band-Aid fix,” one of the staff members said. “We love Kenny, but this isn’t his wheelhouse. And if we don’t get a more permanent fix soon, we’re going to start losing students. And if we start losing students, we are going to lose funding.
“People are going to lose their jobs. And that’s not something that can be undone. Once that funding and those jobs are gone, there’s nothing we can do. We just have to hold on tight and hope that the state intervenes before this board runs our school into the ground. The fight is far from over.”
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