When first-grader Gracie Baxter Smith goes to school, she enters a classroom named after the College of Charleston. She knows its song. She’s learned what year she’ll graduate from high school and go to college herself. She wants to be a nurse.
Yet she goes to Meeting Street Elementary @ Brentwood, a public elementary school in the disadvantaged heart of North Charleston where only about half of students graduate from high school and most don’t perform at grade level.
Meeting Street kids learn to identify with colleges — and that they will go to one.
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For Gracie’s mom, Tessa Baxter, the new school is a welcome challenge for her daughter to excel. Baxter dropped out of North Charleston High, and she wants more for her kids.
“That’s the biggest thing for me,” Baxter said. “They want the kids to get an education, and that’s inspiring.”
The new school, wrapping up its first semester, has big goals for itself, too: Create a whole new model of quality education for kids who live in poverty.
It’s possible because Charleston County School Board members “took a real risk,” said Benjamin Navarro, whose financial company is the private half of this unique public-private partnership that will last for a minimum five years.
For starters, the district let Navarro’s nonprofit Meeting Street Schools open a new elementary in the vacant Brentwood Middle School building. The school’s principal has freedom to hire and fire her teachers. She sets its curriculum. And full-day school starts at 3 years old.
The immediate goal: Create a model school.
Future goal: Influence other low-performing schools to use it to make real change for kids.
“It’s not the kids,” Principal Sarah Campbell said. “It’s the schools and the systems we set up for them.”