Thornwell Comeback - A Clinton Chronicle Series

Supported by Erskine, Thornwell Charter School aims for 2019 opening
After the approval phase, we go to the planning phase. We want to have the student body selected by the spring of 2019, maybe sooner. We need to hire a staff. We need to hire an administrator and get that person on board.” - Norman Dover


Thornwell Comeback - Parts 1 & 2


First in a series


If all goes according to plan, when the Thornwell Charter School opens in the fall of 2019, the school will have 295 students – 20 students each in kindergarten through fifth grade and 25 students each in grades six through 12.

To begin with, each grade will have a single class.

“That’s about all we have room for in this building,” said Thornwell Home’s Vice President for Educational Services Norman Dover, who is chairman of the Charter Application Committee.

The school plans to use the former Thornwell High School on the edge of the Thornwell campus. At this time, there are no plans to use the former Thornwell Elementary School, located in the interior of the campus. Dover was principal of the elementary school when Thornwell shuttered both the high school and elementary school in 2006.

Thornwell officials said in November, 2005, the two schools were losing $2 million a year.

Thornwell has applied to join the Charter Institute at Erskine, a fairly new statewide charter school district authorized by the State Department of Education under the South Carolina Charter Schools Act of 1996.

The Charter Institute at Erksine (CIE) registered to sponsor charter schools in May of 2017 and currently has 13 charter schools that it sponsors. There are 39 schools in the state’s charter school district.

The state’s charter school district trustees allowed five of its schools to join Erkskine when CIE went online last year. CIE submitted a budget of almost $65 million to the S.C. House Ways and Means Committee for its 13 schools. 

State law does not limit the fees that CIE can charge its charter schools for oversight. Cameron Runyan, CIE Executive Director, has been quoted as saying Erskine will charge 2%, the same fee the SC Public Charter School District charges its schools.

Thornwell submitted its application to CIE on Feb. 1. The application is 120 pages plus another 100-plus pages of supporting documentation, Dover said.

The Thornwell committee requested a capacity meeting, which was held March 19. Four of the committee members – Thornwell CFO Greg Haselden, Executive Vice President Lindy Scott, Thornwell board member Craig Garner and Dover – reviewed the application with CIE representatives and answered questions.

“The overall impression of our application was good,” Dover said. 

The next step in the application process will be a hearing before the CIE board on April 20. Thornwell will know if the application has been approved by the end of April, Dover said.

In the meantime, Thornwell has been accepting interest forms from parents and others who are interested in sending children to the Thornwell Charter School. 

“We wanted to determine if there’s community interest in the school,” Dover said. The committee also has to show there is interest spread over the full grade span – from kindergarten to twelfth grade.

As of March 21, Thornwell had received 430 interest forms, including all 68 students who live on the Thornwell campus.

“The core for us is the children on our campus,” Dover said.


(Next week: What must be done before the school opens.)


Thornwell charter school II


Part of a series


Members of the Thornwell Charter School’s application committee will have a hearing in front of the Charter Institute at Erskine board on April 12. Thornwell will know by the end of April if the application to start the school has been approved, according to Committee Chairman Norman Dover, Thornwell’s vice president of educational services.

If approval is given, Thornwell plans to open the charter school in the fall of 2019 with 295 students – 20 students each in kindergarten through fifth grade and 25 students each in grades six through 12.

Before the school can open, the former Thornwell High School building, which will house the Thornwell Charter School, must be brought in line with state public school standards, Dover said.

Currently, the building houses Thornwell’s Learning Center, including the aggressive after school program that is open daily from 3-6 p.m.

The building will have to receive the approval of the Office of School Facilities in the State Department of Education before the school can open.

Dover said Thornwell has already had an architect look at the building and give an early estimate of things that will need to be done and a very preliminary cost.

Once approval is given by CIE, Thornwell will submit architectural drawings to the Office of School Facilities.

Among the things that will have to be done, Dover said, is making all bathrooms ADA accessible and updating fire alarms as well as cosmetic things.

The state of the Thornwell building was one of the reasons given by the Laurens School District 56 board of trustees in 2006 for denying Thornwell application to start a charter school.

The board said the building failed to meet state health and safety standards. That vote by the local school board was reversed in an appeal to the State Board of Education, but the reversal was reversed in 2007 by an administrative law judge.

By applying to join the CIE, Thornwell does not have to receive the OK of the District 56 board of trustees.

Dover said the building would need to be ready for students by May, 2019 in order for the school to open that fall. 

Once approval is given by the CIE, Dover said the committee will begin to develop timelines and benchmarks for accepting students, hiring teachers and other staff and establishing benchmarks for the school.

“After the approval phase, we go to the planning phase,” he said during a recent interview in the Thornwell Learning Center. “We want to have the student body selected by the spring of 2019, maybe sooner. We need to hire a staff. We need to hire an administrator and get that person on board.”

Dover said he will not be a candidate for the school’s administrator. “I want to serve in a support role for (the administrator) since we won’t have a district staff,” he said.


(Next week: where will the money come from?)


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