Dwindling attendance leads to proposal for change for Charleston high school

CHARLESTON COUNTY, S.C. (WCSC) – A new proposal to restore Burke High School to its former glory would see it turned into a magnet school.

The Charleston County School District 20 Constituent Board floated the idea at the district’s consolidated board meeting on Monday saying the school is unable to provide the same opportunities other high school students have because of dwindling attendance.

Ten years ago, the school had nearly 500 students. This year the school has just 334 students. According to the school’s website, it had 2,000 students in the 1950s.

Constituent board member Downing Child says there are too few students to fuel programs and opportunities common at other district high schools. For example, in sports, Burke has a football team and basketball team while other schools may be able to offer swimming, lacrosse and cross country.

“At schools like Beckham, Wando, West Ashley where we have 1,700 kids to 3,000 kids you have all kinds of foreign languages, all kinds of AP classes, building classes, veterinarian courses,” Child said. “The extracurricular activities too. All of these things are super important to prepare students for college. College is more and more rigorous in terms of the competition each year and students that don’t have those opportunities really are missing out.”

While most schools are adding mobile classrooms to squeeze more students in, Burke is operating as a partial magnet school already to attract more students. Child said the attendance zone does not have enough high school students to fill the school right now. She says there are about 450 high school-aged students in Burke’s attendance zone, with many of them going to other schools. Becoming a full magnet school would allow students zoned in District 20 to go to other high schools that could provide more opportunities.

“Students in downtown might default to Burke but they would, through the school choice program, have the opportunity to select other schools in the neighboring areas that would provide their kids with the kinds of opportunities that other kids have,” Child said.

Burke has a long and storied history as the first school serving African American children in Charleston dating back to 1910. Although the building has been added on to and rebuilt several times, the site remains an important cultural site for many of those still living in the area.

Child said the proposal would give Burke new life.

“It would give it an opportunity to embrace a magnet identity with some kind of pull or program that is perhaps unique to our county,” Child said. “I think many people could have an idea as to what that could be but I think it could be a way to strengthen Burke.”

Right now, this is just a recommendation and there is no proposal being considered by the full Charleston County School Board.

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