New York Prep managing director says he’s there for the long haul

rsouthmayd@heraldonline.comAugust 3, 2013 

Clay Eaton is the new managing director at York Preparatory Academy, a public charter school that will open its new high school building on its Eastview Road campus at the beginning of this school year.

RACHEL SOUTHMAYD — rsouthmayd@heraldonline.com Buy Photo

Clay Eaton has done a lot in his life and career.

He has traveled the world, learned a few languages, earned multiple degrees in different fields and changed career tracks more times than many people would in a lifetime.

And now, after several years working for the South Carolina Public Charter School District, he has found a home at York Preparatory Academy in Rock Hill.

The school’s new managing director said he’s ready to stop the “revolving door” at York Prep, which has had four managing directors in four years.

“We’re making a long-term commitment to the long-term success of York Prep Academy,” he said.

Eaton and his wife and three children are moving from Chapin, and he said he’s excited to join the community.

“We have wonderful public schools in York County,” he said.

Charter schools are very much public schools, Eaton said, despite what some may think. They receive state money, take state assessments, follow state safety standards and have the same certification requirements for teachers.

The difference is in the way state money is spent and in that any student in the state is eligible to enroll at York Prep, not just those who live nearby.

Ninety-eight percent of the money allocated to the state’s 23 public schools chartered by the state charter school district goes directly to the schools, Eaton said.

“The key is to get that money into the classroom where it belongs,” he said.

Another key difference is the actual charter – what Eaton calls a living contract with students and parents. York Prep’s charter is focused on creating students with character, he said.

“It helps set us apart from other public schools,” he said.

The new high school building on York Prep’s Eastview Road campus is scheduled for a ribbon-cutting ceremony on Aug. 19, the first day of school. There’s still plenty of construction going on, but Eaton said the contractor assures him the school will be ready.

York Prep is making other changes this year on its campus, where more than 1,300 students are enrolled, Eaton said.

The new high school building will serve students in grades eight through 11. Seventh-graders will attend school in York Prep’s student union, while fifth- and sixth-graders will go to the intermediate school. The elementary building will hold kindergarten through fourth grade.

This will give everyone more space and allow the school to target the seventh graders with more character development, he said.

“The challenges today for a seventh-grader are different than they used to be,” he said. “Seventh grade is a real key year in terms of character development.”

The school also has hired more than 30 new staff members, made other personnel adjustments, added an 11th grade class for the first time, and added sections in several grades without raising the enrollment cap in those grades – meaning class sizes in some grades will be smaller than last year.

There’s an analogy Eaton likes to use when it comes to school.

Parents are composers who create a beautiful piece of music, a child. Each teacher is a musician, who puts his or her own style and sound into that student.

Each wants to make the spirit of the music come alive.

In his role as managing director, Eaton is the conductor, overseeing it all, and the halls of York Prep are a concert hall.

“And from that,” he said, “we get our own beautiful performance.”

Rachel Southmayd •  803-329-4072

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