More than 200 parents and community members met Tuesday night to discuss the fate of the Rivers Middle School campus, voicing their support for the proposed Charter School for Math and Science. Shuttered a few years back, the facility is in high demand for special district programs and parent-led charter schools. With plans for a review of all peninsula schools, district officials decided to push forward with the debate over the Rivers campus first as the perfect storm of programs ready for birth in ‘08 puts the district and charter groups in need of decisions sooner rather than later.

The various programs vying for the school space include the district’s proposed High Tech High and Restoration High, focusing on technology and preservation programs respectively; the Charter School for Math and Science, a partent-led movement to establish a charter high school program on the peninsula; the Gregg Mathis Charter School, a North Charleston program for students with disciplinary problems that is feeling the squeeze at its current facility; and the district’s existing adult education day program.

All sides have all-but resolved themselves to the fact that they will have to share the facility, but it can handle two or three programs at the most. Everyone else would have to look elsewhere. The district introduced five proposals with various pairings before sending the audience to break-out sessions to debate the merits of each and to pick their two favorites. The consensus of the break-out sessions was that they community supported the charter school having the entire building or sharing the facility with the district’s High Tech High program.

The district received some support for a proposal to keep the facility exclusively for district programs, but it was evident that those supporters weren’t in the majority.

Dot Scott, president of the Charleston National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, didn’t speak in preference to any particular program, but reiterated her strong opposition to the Math and Science Charter School. Her concern is that the new school won’t have a healthy minority population and she points to Buist Academy (an in-demand, district-run magnet school on the peninsula) as an example of the failed promise of equity in advanced programs. She also feared that those minority students accepted at the charter school will be the best and the brightest at struggling Burke High.

Charter School organizers stress that continued minority participation is a state requirement and that the school will not have a complicated testing and admissions policy like Buist. The district has stressed that improvements at Burke will be central to any plans at Rivers. Burke programs will include an advanced placement academy, career clusters (as mandated by the state), and dual-credit courses with Trident Technical College.