COLUMBIA, S.C. — Efforts to bring a new charter school in Sumter County are underway for one local resident. Reggie Evans hopes to open an all-boys school called Grace Academy of Excellence.
"I was blessed, and the only thing to do is to be a blessing," Evans shared.
That's why he's trying to channel his passion for helping others into a new school.
"We want to make sure our young men can become gentlemen," he said.
Evans thinks having strong male teachers can be a positive influence to help keep kids out of trouble. To start this process, he traveled to Columbia for the South Carolina Public Charter School District’s Pre-Applicant Training Session, run by Superintendent Chris Neeley.
"It’s all about giving students and families more offerings," Neeley said. "We have STEM schools, STEAM schools, art schools, sports schools, we have schools that are Montessori, and we have a school that’s virtual."
These public schools receive federal funding similar to a public school, but they offer more variety in curriculum and courses. Currently, there are 38 schools in the state, according to Neeley.
"They have that freedom and autonomy at the local level to make decisions about curriculum, their teaching methods, using innovation and creativity and that comes in many different forms," Neeley explained. "Kids need different personalized learning models to help them be the best they can be, not only in school but in life."
This is what Evans has recognized. He’s currently working on a plan to create the school, which he hopes will serve around 240 students with behavioral or learning issues.
"We are one, we are ready, and we are willing to serve," Evans said about the school's mission.
Attending Tuesday’s training is the first step toward that goal. The applications are due in February and the charters will be awarded in May.
Evans tells me he plans to focus on first forming an afterschool program. He then wants to develop the middle school before adding a high school and eventually a lower school, to eventually create a K-12 program.
To do this, he first needs to finalize a 10-year plan and get the charter, which is awarded to applicants demonstrating: a good board leadership structure, a plan for recruiting teachers and developing curriculum and demonstrating local support, according to Neeley.
"We want to fill the gap between the low performing students and the high performers," Neeley detailed. "More parents want a voice in the choice for their kid’s education, and so at the South Carolina Public School District, that’s what we’re going to do. We’re going to give more parents choice, put kids first, and help close the achievement gap in our state."