Local public charter school Charleston Advancement Academy (CAA)'s James Island campus in a photo from earlier this year | CP file photo

Troubled local public charter school Charleston Advancement Academy (CAA) will permanently close its doors June 30, the end of its academic year. Earlier this year, a state charter school district board revoked the school’s charter.

After several months of communication issues between the school’s board and staff members, parents and students now are searching for another school that fits their needs before the fall 2023 semester begins. 

CAA has been an alternative public charter school with students ranging in ages 14 to 21 across its North Charleston and James Island campuses. It offered a hybrid curriculum that allows for virtual and in-person learning. 

The school accommodated older students and students who were not successful in the mainstream public school system so they could complete high school graduation requirements and take advantage of mentorship opportunities with members of the faculty. 

David and Tina Schuttenberg of James Island, whose daughter attended CAA, are trying their best to navigate the situation of the school’s closure. David Schuttenberg said he and his wife were first alerted of changes at CAA when the administrative director resigned in December 2022, but he said they are still not sure of exactly what happened. 

“We started hearing a bunch of differing information from members of the faculty as to what was going on,” Schuttenberg told the Charleston City Paper, “and so we attended a couple of the board meetings to try and suss out what exactly was happening. But I would say I would characterize those meetings as ‘less than open-book.’” 

Charter revoked in January 

The South Carolina Public Charter School District’s (SCPCSD) board of trustees voted Jan. 19 to revoke CAA’s charter citing deficient academic performance and questionable financial structure based on state law requirements.

In April, CAA sued the SCPCSD and its board chair John Payne of Columbia for violating the Civil Rights Act of 1964 as well as the equal protection and due process clauses of the 14th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, according to the complaint. The district board voted on May 11 to uphold the dissolution of CAA’s charter status.  

“My gut — without having any real understanding — tells me that there was a power struggle happening with the [CAA] board,” Schuttenberg said. “And I don’t know what ended up happening between [the board] and the district, but I know that it was negatively affecting my daughter and her friends at the school who were stressed about it. 

“A lot of the staff members were either let go or resigned over the whole situation, which destabilized what had been a pretty good opportunity for my daughter.”

SCPCSD Chief Communications Officer Drew Johnson of Columbia said the district “firmly believes in the fundamental importance of empowering parents and students with the freedom to choose and have a voice in their educational journey. 

“We recognize that families are uniquely positioned to make decisions that best cater to the individual needs of their children,” Johnson said. “Our unwavering commitment remains focused on delivering an exceptional educational experience to every student under our care, while also extending full support to parents in making well-informed decisions about their child’s schooling.”

Schuttenberg said his daughter transferred to CAA in fall 2022 from James Island Charter High School. He said CAA was a much more inclusive environment that allowed her to build friendships with like-minded people in a safe, respectful space. His daughter has one academic year left to complete, he said, and the stress over how to get her last four classes completed is palpable. 

“All I know is that we are in contact with another [CAA] student’s parents who live in our neighborhood,” he said. “Our two daughters are very close, and we’re going to try and navigate this thing together.”

One option for past CAA students

The South Carolina Preparatory Academy (SC Prep) is a tuition-free, online school that allots students a great deal of flexibility in their learning journey, said marketing and enrollment director Tamarah Taylor of South Carolina-based education management organization Reason and Republic, which helps manage SC Prep. 

“I think SC Prep is going to be an awesome opportunity for the students who are already on a hybrid model,” she said. “Currently we are a fully virtual school, but we also want to meet students where they are, so we’re looking at creating a space in the Charleston area so students can attend in-person.”

SC Prep also offers students the option to connect with a mentor through the Restoration Project Foundation and receive support, she said. The school is currently exploring additional resources to offer support to students, Taylor said. SC Prep enrollment applications are offered in English and Spanish. 

“We’re concerned about these students that are nervous and scared and don’t have any idea what the next steps are going to be,” Taylor said. “We want to be able to support them in any way that we can.”

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