New Mt. Pleasant charter school to combine high-level academics and athletics

Original Article posted at:

When Jermel President was a senior basketball player at Burke High School, he was recruited by the Clemson Tigers, a high-profile Division I team that plays in one of the top conferences in the nation and boasts a record of sending young, talented men to the NBA.

But President didn’t go to Clemson; he wasn’t academically eligible. Instead, he spent another year playing ball for Fork Union Military Academy, a prep school in Virginia, before he was finally recruited by the College of Charleston.

“Coming out of high school, I was recruited for all these different schools, but I wasn’t qualified. I didn’t (take) the SAT and ACT because I didn’t know how important that was,” President said. “If it wasn’t for Fork Union, I would have never been a student-athlete because I didn’t have the prerequisites to get to college. I had to go to prep school to make that happen.”

Now President is on the board of Oceanside Collegiate Academy, a new public charter school opening in August on a 20-acre plot of land in Carolina Park, just 2 miles northwest of Wando, Mount Pleasant’s only and perennially overcrowded public high school. The new charter school promises to prepare hopeful student-athletes for a college career, combining high-level course work and rigorous athletics.

“I could have increased my opportunities if I’d had a situation like this when I was coming up,” President said. “College of Charleston was great for me, but back in those days, the bigger school you go to, the more chances you have to be seen and can take it to next level.”

Marvin Arnsdorff, Oceanside’s board chairman, also wants parents to see Oceanside — with smaller class sizes — as an alternative to Wando, where it’s easy for kids “to fall through the cracks.”

“A lot of the kids that don’t get to play at a Summerville or Wando, they may be very good athletes and they may be able to play at a Division II school and we might be able to get them a scholarship there,” Arnsdorff said. “(At Oceanside) they get field time and they can showcase themselves where maybe they couldn’t with a lot of competition at a bigger school.”

While Wando has more than 4,000 students, Oceanside will admit just 600 applicants until open enrollment ends Feb. 28. If more students apply, the school will hold a public lottery.

Oceanside will use a split schedule, meaning students can choose to take classes in the morning (between 8 a.m.-noon) or afternoon (12:30-4:30 p.m.), in addition to two hours of online electives each day.

Preparing for college
As a dual-enrollment high school, students will have the opportunity to earn up to two years’ worth of college credits, taking general education classes taught by local adjunct professors. This model leaves students time to take advantage of Oceanside’s complimentary tutoring or to participate in sports. The school plans to field teams in baseball, basketball, soccer, golf, tennis, lacrosse, cross country, competitive cheer, volleyball and softball.

In August, South Carolina State University’s Board of Trustees agreed to sponsor Oceanside in return for 2 percent of the school’s operating budget. Pinnacle Charter School Management Group, a for-profit education management organization based in Florida, will oversee hiring and operations at Oceanside.

As a statewide public charter school, Oceanside can accept students from any county in South Carolina. Like other public schools, there’s no tuition. However, the state doesn’t provide transportation for public charters, so students and parents will have to arrange their own rides. Still, pitching the idea to prospective students and parents hasn’t been hard, said Arnsdorff, who estimates that 150 students have already applied.

“Parents are really looking for the options,” he said. “If you can enter college with one to two years already completed, can you imagine the reduction of college expenses for the parents and for the students?

High School League
You don’t have to be an athlete to go to Oceanside. But Oceanside does offer some advantages for students with dreams of playing at the college level. The athletic programs, for one, will be run by coaches, not teachers. The school’s goal, Arnsdorff said, is to graduate 30 percent of Oceanside’s athletes with offers to play in college. And with two years of college coursework completed, Oceanside athletes will have a leg up during recruitment season.

“If you got two kids who are identical as far as talent, you know they are the same kid ability-wise and talent-wise, but one kid’s got two years of college under his belt, who do think is gonna get the scholarship?” said Todd Helms, executive director of Oceanside’s sister school in Columbia, Gray Collegiate Academy. “I’ve been told that by numerous college coaches.”

Gray Collegiate, now in its second year with approximately 500 students, competes in the South Carolina High School League. Oceanside also plans to play in the league, in Class AA, although the league said the school has yet to apply for membership.

Last year, Gray Collegiate faced allegations from other local high schools of running afoul of league rules and recruiting players for its football team. League Executive Director Jerome Singleton said he didn’t receive any formal complaints about Gray, and Helms dismissed the allegations as false rumors.

“Anytime you attract somebody’s brightest and best, they’re not gonna like you,” he said. “The bottom line is people can go wherever they want to go. We don’t go out and recruit kids, we have parent forums. We certainly advertise and that kind of thing, but people come to us. We don’t go out and actively seek anybody.”

Paul Runey, athletic director at Bishop England High School, said a school like Oceanside that includes “outstanding athletics” in its mission statement and is seeking to attract students is in danger of breaking High School League rules against recruiting. As a private school in the league, Bishop England also has faced similar charges.

“You are walking a fine line,” Runey said. “Are they recruiting or aren’t they? If they are out there with an emphasis on athletics, you can’t help but say, ‘Heck, they are recruiting,’ if that’s the way they are doing it.

“To me, if you openly say that ‘Our emphasis is athletics,’ you are walking a fine line.”

High School League rules say that “the recruiting or proselytizing of student athletes shall be considered a violation of the spirit and philosophy of the rules and regulations governing high school athletics.”

According to the rules, “A student may not be subjected to any undue influence” in an attempt to entice the athlete to transfer for athletic purposes. That includes being asked to transfer by a member of a school’s faculty or “booster organization,” and the promise of help in securing a college scholarship.

“Often, kids believe that if they go to a particular school, they are going to get a college scholarship,” Runey said. “Sometimes they can get them a scholarship, but it’s not a full ride. You can get a better discount at Kmart if you’re getting a $500 scholarship to go to a $10,000 school.”

For 14-year-old Alan Tavel, an eighth-grader at Laing Middle School, any opportunity to increase his chances of playing soccer in college is worth it. That’s why Tavel, who’s been playing soccer since he was 5 or 6, wants to go to Oceanside instead of Wando next year.

“I have always thought I would want to (play in college) and I still want to do that, but I know I probably wouldn’t be able to,” he said.

At Oceanside, he thinks he’ll be able to hone his skills with more experienced coaches on top of having more time to take care of his course work.

“High school homework,” he said, “sounds like it takes forever.”

Jeff Hartsell contributed to this report. Reach Deanna Pan at (843) 937-5764.

PO Box 21994
Charleston, SC 29413