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Charter school moving forward

First Byline: 
Anthony Garzilli

The Royal Live Oaks Academy of the Arts & Sciences is officially moving toward becoming a reality.
The proposed charter school in Ridgeland had until May 2 to submit an application to the state's public charter school district and the state board of education, and S.C. Public Charter School District Superintendent Dr. Wayne Brazell said he received an application on Friday. The state department also received an application.
The state department's charter school committee has 60 days to review the application. If it's determined to be in compliance with charter law, it is sent to the proposed sponsor (S.C. Public Charter School District), which has 30 days to deny or approve.
"We've done a complete job," Live Oaks chairman Les Wicks said.
Overall, 20 applications in the state were filed. Eleven of the applications will be sponsored by local school districts, the others will be sponsored by the state's public charter school district.
Led by Les and Karen Wicks, the charter school plans to open in the fall of 2012, with an emphasis on literacy, numeracy, written expression, the arts and the sciences.
Les Wicks expects to have 396 students the first year.
"I really do believe rural areas are a growth area for charter schools," Brazell said. "I'm delighted folks are at least looking outside the box."
There are community members who agree with Brazell, including Eunice Spilliards.
Students need options and that's why Spilliards supports the academy.
Spilliards spent 26 years in public education, including 23 at the Academy for Career Excellence (ACE) as a curriculum coordinator. She also taught for 10 years at Thomas Heyward Academy.
She believes in the charter school's differentiated education and the EdVISTA program that thinks children learn in different ways.
"I'm not saying kids in public school are not getting an education, some are, some are not, but that's the way with all educational institutions," said Spilliards, who retired eight years ago. "Certain students will learn in different methods. Children learn in different ways at different times.
"I support the charter school concept as another educational option for the young people of Jasper."
Spilliards said the hands-on concept of learning at ACE, which the EdVISTA program similarly implements, was a boost to the students.
"It worked beautifully for some kids," she said. "When you teach a child a subject area through a hands-on method, by letting him read it, see it, do it and feel it, you are not going to miss."
Spilliards, who helped start Thomas Heyward in 1970 and had two children attend the school, said the county is big enough for another school and it's important for parents to be able to choose among schools. She doesn't think a new school will hurt enrollment at the county's other schools.
"I'm not sure it will hurt," she said. "It will pull a few from the public schools and a few from the private schools and from the new people, but you are not going to even feel the difference."
Julie Bowman, headmistress at Abundant Life Academy, thinks the school will hurt enrollment.
"I think across the board it will make a difference," she said. "A lot of private schools' enrollment is down anyway because of the economy."
Bowman noted some parents will want to continue to send their children to a Christian-based school like Abundant Life.
Jasper County School District school board chairman Kathleen Snooks said she has "no comment on the proposed charter school."
Spilliards, who believes a problem will be getting qualified teachers to relocate to the county, has long had a passion for education. Growing up in Tillman she said the influence of her first-grade teacher Ms. Wells inspired her to teach. She said she's thankful for her career in the public school system, but thinks the time is right for another option.
"I think it can be a success," Spilliards said.
 

Charter committee members
A look at the charter committee members listed on the Royal Live Oaks Academy application:
Les Wicks (chairman), Karen Wicks (vice chairman), Robert Frantz (secretary, retired college professor), Sheree Darien (parent, community leader), Andrea Malloy (community leader), Bill Robinson (Allendale County Council), Brenda Horton Smith (community leader), Fred Minner (parent, grandparent,) David Arnold (entomology), Cynthia Mills (parent, bank manager), Rob McBrayer (business leader), Denise Horry (parent, community leader), Bailey Preacher (parent, grandparent, community leader), Thelma Alston (parent, grandmother, community leader), Amleth Alston (guidance counselor, teacher, parent)