Beaufort Co. school shuts down abruptly after state designates it among worst in SC

Islands Academy gives students an opportunity to succeed, school administrators say

Here's a look at what administrators say Islands Academy offers students that's a little different from the rest of the schools in the Beaufort County School District.
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Here's a look at what administrators say Islands Academy offers students that's a little different from the rest of the schools in the Beaufort County School District.

In an abrupt move, Beaufort County School District administrators have decided to close the district’s alternative school at the end of the semester after it was deemed the worst middle school in the state and among the state’s five worst high schools.

Islands Academy — started under former superintendent Jeff Moss’ tenure and the only of its kind in the state — was identified Dec. 7 as a failing school by the South Carolina Department of Education, according to Bonnie Almond, the district’s chief instructional officer.

Parents and members of the school board were not officially alerted about the closure until late Friday when students were sent home with a letter.

Chris Cosacchi, whose daughter attends Islands Academy, said he only found out after his daughter missed her bus Friday morning and the principal at Hilton Head Island High School informed her of the closure.

Cosacchi’s daughter began her freshman year at Hilton Head Island High School earlier this year, but transferred to Islands Academy about a month and a half ago after it was recommended for her by school staff.

“This is very frustrating,” Cosacchi said. “Why would they send my daughter there for a month to go through all of that hassle just to send her back? All of this change can’t be good for a 14-year-old.”

Almond admitted Friday that word of the closure “came out a little differently than we hoped it had.”

Board members were told Thursday night by board Chairman Earl Campbell and then the news was quickly posted on the Facebook page of STAND, a student advocacy group founded by Bluffton parents.

“I was quite surprised that the board was not notified prior to staff being notified, but I figure there’s an unwavering explanation as far as the expediency of the closing,” outgoing board member Geri Kinton said Friday morning.

Islands Academy, which opened in August 2015 under the name Right Choice School, operates out of the district’s main office in Beaufort.

The school serves about 70 sixth through 12th-grade students who have struggled academically or socially at their original school and who administrators have felt would benefit from a smaller setting, according to Almond.

Outgoing board member Evva Anderson called the academy “very successful in helping kids catch up” when asked about it Friday.

“It’s a complete and total surprise,” Anderson, who was a consistent supporter of Moss’ agenda and lost her bid for re-election this past fall, said about the closure. “(The school’s staff members) get kids to where they can graduate and (they) help children who don’t do well in our other schools.”

The school’s 2018 report card, however, paints a more alarming picture.

Results showed that during the 2017-18 school year:

  • Not a single middle school student met or exceeded state standards on math and social studies on two key state exams.
  • Only one middle school student met or exceeded standards in reading and writing and in science on the two exams.
  • 90 percent of the school’s high school students failed their end-of-course Algebra I exam and 81 percent failed their English I exam.

The standards are the same as those applied to all the mainstream public schools in the state.

The school’s graduation rate was only 29 percent last year, according to its report card, putting it 50 percentage points below the state average and 57 below Beaufort County’s five other high schools.

“We had high hopes when we embarked on this project … But we haven’t seen any promise from our data that said this is working,” Almond said Friday. “That’s why we have to rethink what’s going on and make sure we can get the students over that graduation line.”

When the school opened in 2015, district administrators touted it to be “the only alternative-education public school in the state.”

While most school districts in the state offer programs for students who are struggling with behavioral issues, Beaufort County’s school district went a step further by opening a separate school.

The district had already established Right Choices, a temporary assignment for students in need of behavior modification or as an alternative to expulsion, in 2013.

Since the school opened, officials at the South Carolina Department of Education have told district administrators that they were “going to have a hard time making it work,” Almond said Friday.

Almond added that she felt the school was unsuccessful because students were isolated and were not given the same resources as their peers at larger schools, which offer a wider variety of courses and career and technology education programs.

After the school closes, students will be transitioned back to their zoned school for the start of the second semester.

The school’s seven teachers have been given the option to move to other schools in the district, according to Almond.

Administrators will hold informational meetings for parents of Island’s Academy students at 5:30 p.m. Tuesday at Battery Creek and at 5:30 p.m. on Wednesday at Bluffton High School.

The school board will hold a special-called board meeting on the closure Tuesday.