HARTSVILLE, S.C. — Hartsville City Council members heard an overview of a proposal for a new charter school for Hartsville during their regular meeting Tuesday.

Dr. Jerome Reyes of the South Carolina Governor’s School for Science and Mathematics and director of the PULSE program outlined the proposed Butler Academy. PULSE (Partners for Unparalleled Local Scholastic Excellence) is a first-of-its-kind program that seeks to expand curriculum opportunities and improve student achievement in Darlington County.

Through PULSE, high school students in the Hartsville area have the opportunity to combine courses offered at Hartsville High School, the Governor's School for Science and Mathematics (GSSM) and Coker College.

The program gives students access to courses offered at the International Baccalaureate (IB) level, Advanced Placement (AP) level, Honors level and fine art classes at the college level.

Reyes gave an overview of successful academic high school programs and opportunities in Hartsville High School. But he said academic success stories in Hartsville do not reflect the full diversity of the community.

He said the disparities reflect more than just imbalances along racial lines. Delayed readers, rural backgrounds, English language learners and other differences are all reflected in differences across multiple measures of academic success, Reyes said.

“We’re looking to provide school choice options,” he said.

Reyes noted that choice opportunities are currently available in Darlington County’s public schools and said the new charter school effort is not meant as a criticism and is not intended to disparage Darlington County’s public schools.

When fully operational, the proposed charter school will offer classes from kindergarten through grade 12, Reyes said.

He said the proposal calls for opening the program in the fall of 2020 with classes for kindergarten through grade six. Grades would be added each year thereafter through the 12th-grade level, he said.

Among other components, the school would offer smaller classes of 15 to 20 students, which Reyes said will allow more focused instruction. It will also operate as a year-round school, he said. The school year would still be 180 days as required by law but breaks for students would come at different times of the year and would differ from traditional summer breaks, Reyes said.

Working with institutions such as Coker College and the Governor’s School, Reyes said, the school will be able to offer specialized camps for students during school breaks.

Reyes said organizers plan to submit an application to the state for consideration and approval in February. He said the state will make a decision on approval in April.

He told council members that he is seeking letters of support from various entities in the community, and he asked the council to consider adopting a resolution of support, which he said would help the effort.

Mayor Mel Pennington appointed a committee of council members to draw up a proposed resolution for the council’s consideration. He said the council could take up the resolution as early as its December meeting.

“We’re excited to be able to bring school choice options to Hartsville, South Carolina, in the fall of 2020,” Reyes said.

If the application is approved, he said, the first year of the effort would be a year of planning and implementation in preparation for a fall 2020 opening.

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