THORNWELL SERIES - What's Changed? What's the Cost to District 56

“The unknowns are the fiscal impact to (District 56) and its students and the brain drain of personnel who might leave us. For us, we’ve got to be very concerned about the fiscal impact." - Dr. David O'Shields

Thornwell III - A lot has changed since Thornwell’s 2006 application to become a charter school was denied by the School District 56 board of trustees, according to Thornwell’s vice president of educational services.

Norman Dover is also the chairman of the Thornwell Charter School application committee, which had a final hearing Friday in front of the board of the Charter Institute at Erskine (CIE). Erskine is the only institution of higher education in South Carolina sponsoring public charter schools.

Approval by the local school board is no longer necessary following a 2012 amendment to the 1996 South Carolina Charter Schools Act. If Thornwell’s application to the CIE is approved (Thornwell will know by the end of April), classes for K-12 will open in the old Thornwell High School in the fall of 2019.

After the School District 56 board turned down Thornwell’s 2006 application, Thornwell appealed to the State Board of Education. The board’s split decision was appealed by both Thornwell and District 56 to the state’s Administrative Law Court, which ultimately ruled in District 56’s favor. (More on the appeal coming in a future story.)

“A lot has changed since 2006,” Dover said. “We are considered a statewide (public charter school) district. Students can come from anywhere.”

He said Thornwell has received interest from both Laurens County school districts, along with interest forms from Spartanburg, Greenville and Greenwood students.

Dover said it’s possible – in the future – Thornwell will consider housing students on campus during the week. That plan would focus on foster children, who would stay on campus and attend school five days a week.

“I don’t know that we will do that,” he said. “We will consider that, but it would take a lot to make that happen.”

In the meantime, parents and guardians of students at the new school will have to provide daily transportation because no state transportation funds go to charter schools, Dover said.

The name of the new school will be the Thornwell Charter School. Plans call for the school to offer athletics and other extra curricular activities, Dover said. Most of that hasn’t been defined, he said.

“A lot of that will be determined by parent interest,” he said. “We will respond as we can.”

The school will keep the Stain mascot from the former Thornwell High School.

Thornwell High School always had strong drama, music and service club programs, Dover said, and he hopes much of that will be offered in the new school.

“We will offer as much as we can,” he said.

The new school will be governed by a board of directors mostly elected by parents and staff. Five of the board members will be elected and four will be appointed, Dover said. Anyone is eligible to serve on the board, he said.

The board will be concerned mainly with the operation of the school, Dover said. The role that the CIE will play is still being defined, he said.

“They (CIE) are our sponsor,” he said. “We are held accountable to our sponsor. How our children are learning and how they are growing.”


(Next: Funding for the new school and District 56’s response.)


Thornwell IV 


For the current school year, Laurens County School District 56 receives an average of $14,147 in funding from three sources for each of the district’s 2,944 students.

If the Thornwell Charter School (TCS) is approved by the Charter Institute at Erskine (the application committee met last Friday for a final hearing with the CIE board), a good portion – if not all -- of that money will leave District 56 and follow the students to the new charter school.

The $14,147 that District 56 receives for each student includes revenue from taxes and money the district receives for operations, transportation and salaries.

Thornwell Vice President of Education Services Norman Dover, the chairman of the TCS application committee, said the local funding won’t follow the students from District 56 to the new school.

“We have to budget to close that gap,” he said. Dover said the school might have additional state and federal funding available.

So far, the TCS has received written interest from parents in several counties surrounding Laurens County with significant interest being shown from District 55, Dover has said.

All of students who live at Thornwell Home and who currently attend District 56 schools will attend TCS, Dover said.

District 56 Superintendent Dr. David O’Shields said the district has more than 80 students from Thornwell.

Dover said the application to the Charter Institute at Erskine includes a proposed budget that is very conservative.

“We can’t include all the sources of funding in the application because we don’t know what the student body will look like,” he said.

Dover said he didn’t want to release the projected budget until TCS enter the planning phase after receiving final approval from the Charter Institute at Erskine board, which should come by the end of April.

“The budget will be tight,” he said. “But there are (charter) schools out there our size who are doing OK. But it’s not going to be easy.”

TCS will receive USDA funding for food service and will contract with Thornwell Home to provide food service to the students and faculty. No transportation to and from school will be provided by the school, Dover said.

Information provided by O’Shields shows that each student receives an average of $3,484 in federal funding, $6,668 in state funding and $3,996 in local funding.

The actual amount received for each student can vary based on each particular student.

“The unknowns are the fiscal impact to (District 56) and its students and the brain drain of personnel who might leave us,” O’Shields said.

“For us, we’ve got to be very concerned about the fiscal impact,” he said.

“The theoretical loss is local, state and federal (funding) – any or all three,” O’Shields said. “There is no question the economic impact is something we have to be very aware of.

“We respect Thornwell,” O’Shields said. “We have partnerships with Thornwell now. However, we must be good stewards of the money we have. We could be seriously crippled by a large number of (District) 56 students attending this program.”


(Next: Thornwell and District 56 – the past and today.)


Related - 

Thornwell Charter School 5K- 5th Grades Approved By Erskine Institute To Open Fall of 2019


Thornwell is approved to open a new 5K-5 Public Charter School in the fall of 2019.  Sponsored by the Charter Institute at Erskine, Thornwell plans to enroll students from throughout South Carolina.

Thornwell’s application to open a 5K-12 Public Charter School is approved on the condition that Thornwell open 5K-5th grades the first year with plans to add grade levels subsequently until reaching grade 12.  

“I am extremely grateful to the entire Thornwell Charter School Committee made up of many wonderful and hardworking community members,” Norman Dover, Vice President for Education at Thornwell, said.  “We are excited to begin work on the planning phase to include building renovation and hiring staff.”

“At Thornwell, we are all grateful to the Charter Institute at Erskine for all of their confidence and support,” the Rev. Elliot Smith, president of Thornwell, said. “It is amazing how the Laurens County community showed their support throughout this application process.”

Thornwell Charter School will be located on Thornwell’s 350-plus-acre campus and farm in Clinton with multiple buildings including a school building with 18 classrooms, a performing arts center, gymnasium, athletic center, athletic fields, dining hall and swimming pool. Extracurricular programs including the arts and athletics will be offered.

Although located within the Laurens County School District 56 attendance area, Thornwell Charter School will serve students from other districts and may provide a plan for commuting students to live on campus during the week.

Each student will have a personalized academic plan, an individualized health and wellness program, and a life skills program. The educational, wellness, and life skills plans for Thornwell Charter School will involve comprehensive, personalized plans that will require monthly meetings with each student to evaluate progress, to fine-tune goals, and to ensure all students are providing input and feedback for their goals.

Parents who are interested in having their children attend the school are encouraged to fill out an information form at

Also, teachers who may consider employment are asked to contact us through an information form on the website.





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