Rising senior Emma Smith said having a half-day class schedule with time to focus on athletics has enabled her to earn college credit and work to earn a scholarship.
"I feel better prepared for college," said Smith, 17.
She attends Oceanside Collegiate Academy in Mount Pleasant, a public charter high school that opened in August 2016. Oceanside is managed by Pinnacle Charter School Management Group, the same group planning to open a similar school next year in Rock Hill.
Legion Collegiate Academy, a new charter school that will focus on athletics and academics, is set to open in August 2019. The exact location has not been determined. Todd Helms, director of operations for Pinnacle, had said a planning committee was looking at sites on the west side of Rock Hill. Officials now say the school may not be in that area.
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Legion Collegiate Academy students will attend either a morning or afternoon session focused on traditional high school subjects and college-level classes. The students also will take two online elective courses, according to the management group. In the afternoon, student-athletes will receive sports training. The goal is for students to be home by 5 p.m., lessening late evening practices.
"Everything is about giving families that time back," said Oceanside Principal Brenda Corley.
The same model is followed at Oceanside and Pinnacle's other school, Gray Collegiate Academy in West Columbia, which opened in 2014.
At Legion, students will have a chance to complete high school and simultaneously take courses for college credit. They will have the chance to earn up to two years worth of college credit, plus opportunities for academic and athletic scholarships. Legion can accommodate up to 600 students.
"Our mission is to get kids to the next level," Corley said. "With a mission such as ours and the tools we are given, we can do a lot of things that other comprehensive high schools and districts can’t. There are a lot of things we can give you, but you have got to be academically inclined."
Dual credit courses also are offered at traditional high schools in York County, including Rock Hill, and at York Preparatory Academy, also a public charter school in Rock Hill. At Oceanside, Gray and Legion, students who enroll in the dual credit program strictly take those courses their junior and senior years, along with online electives. Students typically graduate with 52-60 hours of college credit -- at no cost, Helms said.
Smith's mother, Susan, who also has a rising sophomore at Oceanside, said the school's model has allowed her children to take a rigorous course load while playing a sport.
"They want to be prepared for good colleges and it allows them to be a competitive athlete," Susan said.
Legion, like Oceanside and Gray, will join the South Carolina High School League, allowing student-athletes to play for regional and state championships after a two-year probation period.
Under the league rules, students who enter Legion and want to play a sport but do not live in the school's district will have to sit out a year before playing varsity sports, said Chad Grier, Oceanside's athletic director. Incoming freshmen do not have to sit out.
However, the first year Legion is open, any student can enroll and immediately play sports, Helms said.
Not just for sports
Students are not required to play a sport or take dual credit courses to attend Legion.
Darla Reese's son, a rising senior, is one of Oceanside's students who does not play a sport, but thrives with the modified schedule and college level courses. Reese said she enrolled her son midway through his sophomore year once they realized the academic potential.
"We were one of the skeptical ones," she said. "He thrives in that atmosphere. He has a college schedule on this campus."
About 60 percent of Oceanside's students and about half of Gray's students play a sport, according to Corley and Gray's principal Brian Newsome. About half of Gray's senior student-athletes received a scholarship to play in college, Newsome said. Gray's 107 2017-18 graduates earned $2.1 million in scholarships to in-state and out-of-state colleges and universities.
Under the Pinnacle model, coaches are there strictly to coach and teachers to teach, Helms said. Corley said Oceanside hires adjunct college professors to teach college courses.
"A lot of people don't like us because of that," Helms said. "We're effecting change. We’re going to do everything we can to take care of our kids and give them the best education and the best coaching."
What it means in Rock Hill
The new charter school could impact the Rock Hill schools, said Jim Vining, chair of the Rock Hill school board.
"I think they will go after the top coaches in the area, particularly those who are near retiring," Vining said.
Charter schools impact traditional public school districts' funding, said Debbie Elmore, spokesperson with the S.C. School Boards Association. Charter schools, like Legion, do not receive local dollars, but do receive per-pupil funding from the state and federal government, Elmore said.
Traditional public school districts receive funding based largely on the number of students, along with public funding from tax on cars, businesses and apartments. Due to Act 388, state school districts do not receive funding from owner-occupied homes.
Elmore said when a charter school opens, public districts likely lose students from different schools and grade levels, so the impact typically won't cause districts to have to cut teachers or implement other cost-saving measures.
"The issue really is when a traditional public school district loses students, but not enough to remove the expenses," she said.
As a charter school, Legion is not bound by school district lines for academic purposes.
"We think it will be conducive to draw kids from Rock Hill, York, Clover, Lake Wylie and a handful from Fort Mill," Helms said.
By the numbers
- About 90 percent of students who attend Oceanside live in Mount Pleasant, with some coming from as far away as Summerville, which is about a 40-minute drive. At Gray, some students travel an hour one way to attend, Helms said.
- Oceanside students earned more than 1,100 college credits in 2017-18. Gray has about 60 percent of it's student population enrolled in college level courses.
- Oceanside's students had a 92 percent pass rate for end of course state exams in 2017-18. The state's average was 73 percent and Charleston's was 77 percent. Gray students have about an 84 percent pass rate.
Information provided by school principals
LCA application process
LCA is accepting applications online for students in ninth through 12th grade for the 2019-20 school year. Parents should fill out the enrollment form. If more applications are received than the 600 spaces allowed, a lottery will be held.
- There are no prerequisites for students to be accepted.
- There is no fee to apply or attend LCA, but students will pay material and technology fees. Each student will be assigned a laptop. Student-athletes will pay an additional sports-related fee.
- Transportation will not be provided by the school.
- Questions should be directed to Jack Frost at 803-984-3422 or Todd Helms, director of operations for Pinnacle, at 828-335-1001.