SDPC partners with new charter school to serve dyslexic students
By Greg Oliver
PICKENS — The Pickens County School Board approved an agreement last week in which a school in the district will host a separate charter school for students with dyslexia.
District officials said Friday the agreement is with Lakes and Bridges Charter School, set to open at Crosswell Elementary School in August. Authorized by the South Carolina Public Charter School District, Lakes and Bridges plans to accept elementary students from multiple counties across the state and is tuition-free.
School District of Pickens County superintendent Danny Merck said the district from the beginning has viewed Lakes and Bridges as an educational partner to help serve students with very unique learning needs.
“When they came to us for help in having a facility for year one, we looked for a way to make it happen,” Merck said. “Crosswell has the available space and is in an excellent location for a program serving students from multiple counties.”
Board member Phillip Bowers said the agreement is a “win-win” for both parties.
“They will use eight classrooms at Crosswell Elementary School,” Bowers said. “We had empty classrooms, and they needed help getting their feet on the ground with their very beneficial new school. They will reimburse the district for use of lunchroom, janitorial and other services, so there won’t be any additional cost to the school district.
“To our knowledge, this is the first time a local school board has partnered with a charter board to get a new charter school off the ground. It’s another groundbreaking achievement for the School District of Pickens County, and especially for students that need the specialized programs Lake and Bridges will offer.”
Not only does the agreement provide the use of eight classrooms at Crosswell Elementary, the agreement also shares in some support services for the coming school year at an annual rent of $90,000.
School board chairman Brian Swords said the district has closely followed Lakes and Bridges since officials began discussing the idea of a charter school and the overall mission of the school.
“Dyslexia is an issue that impacts many students, but our public schools across the state do not have the resources to address the issue effectively,” Swords said. “We know that most of the students that attend Lakes and Bridges will ultimately complete Lakes and Bridges and return to our school district. By benefiting from the unique resources that Lakes and Bridges can provide, we know that the students will be more equipped to graduate. It only makes sense to partner with them, since it benefits our students and our community.”
School district spokesman John Eby said dyslexia is defined as a language-based learning disability, which results in a cluster of symptoms that result in people having difficulties with specific language skills, especially reading. Dyslexia also refers to a cluster of symptoms that result in people having difficulties with other language skills, such as spelling, writing and word pronunciation.
“Officials say it is referred to as a learning disability, because dyslexia can make it very difficult for a student to succeed academically in the typical instructional environment,” Eby said.
State Rep. Gary Clary, who represents the Clemson area in the South Carolina House of Representatives, said a dyslexia bill (H4434) he introduced last year is awaiting ratification by a conference committee and then the signature of South Carolina Gov. Henry McMaster.
“I think (the charter school partnership is) a great situation and also points out the fact that the local school district is looking to improve education in a lot of ways in South Carolina and in Pickens County and this is another component of it,” Clary said. “The fact this is a charter school fits well.”
Clary said his bill has several components, including a requirement that the State Department of Education provide a universal screening tool for kindergarten through second grade to determine if students have tendencies for dyslexia and, if those tendencies are determined, that the state have a multi-tiered system where children identified will receive instruction and intervention to help with their reading issues; evidenced based reading instruction in which children have to have a sequence that begins with the easiest and most basic elements before moving on to more difficult material; evidenced based reading, writing and spelling that is multi-sensory since children learn differently; responsive intervention for the school district to provide high quality instruction that acts to serve the students needs; and creation of a Learning Disorders Task Force, made up of nine people in various areas of education, to work with the education department.
Clary said the legislation, if ultimately signed into law, is scheduled to become effective in the 2019-20 school year.
“I’m excited about this particular piece of legislation and feel we’re on the right track,” Clary said.
Lakes and Bridges will serve four grade levels during the upcoming school year, with those grades to be determined based on initial interest. If all goes according to plan, additional grades will be added each year until students are enrolled in grades 1-5 (elementary) and 6-8 (middle). The charter school is a 501(c)(3) organization, so eligible donations, including gifts-in-kind, are tax-deductible.
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