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School board moves county backwards by closing advanced education program

Elected school board officials have an opportunity Monday to correct a misguided wrong and reconsider their rushed vote to shutter the STEM school at the Academy for the Arts, Science and Technology.

It’s not the students currently enrolled who will be robbed of this educational experience. They will be allowed to finish the program before it is shuttered.

It’s the thousands of future students from all over Horry County who will now be denied the opportunity to apply for the school.

There are less than 150 STEM schools like ours nationwide that are certified under the AdvancED program, and Horry County’s consistently ranks near the top statewide.

Some 600 students apply for the coveted freshman spots each year to learn research and study skills, aerospace engineering, clean energy, and innovations in science and technology.

But only about 100 are accepted.

It appears that is part of the problem. 

Parents whose children are refused admittance are frustrated with the wait list process and a complete lack of transparency in the application criteria.

That’s the school district’s fault, and a problem that could be easily corrected.

Then there are the elected school board members who are tired of getting calls from angry parents whose children aren’t accepted. 

We’ve also heard arguments it’s not fair for selected high achievers to get to go a school focusing on advanced classes and unique teaching methods. 

So now no one will get that opportunity.

Instead, the board will soon offer a handful of basic STEM classes in all schools like English, literature, a science and math class here and there.

Hardly the curriculum of a fully accredited school that specializes in science, technology, engineering, art and math that tests in the top ten statewide.

The board will keep junior and senior classes at the academy, known as the major programs, which includes pre-med, and pre-engineering classes. 

School officials think doing away with the STEM program will allow even more students to take advantage of the major programs.

The problem is, the exceedingly high demand is for the STEM school, not the major programs.

Parents argue, and we agree, it’s because students are less likely to leave their school in the last two years of high school, especially if they’ve attended with the same classmates since they were children. 

That would help explain why there is little demand already for 11th graders wanting to transfer to the academy.

The Oct. 21 decision by the board to eliminate the STEM school came with only weeks of warning and limited public input — a mere 30 minutes at two board meetings.

That means thousands of parents had but one hour to convince elected school board members to continue this proven and successful program.

Parents and future students lost the battle when the board overwhelmingly sided with Superintendent Rick Maxey and voted 7 to 3 to eliminate the freshman and sophomore programs.  

Ray Winters, John Poston and Chris Hardwick were the only members voting to keep the STEM school.

School board members will have the opportunity during a Monday work session to request their vote be reconsidered — it’s a procedural move that can be accomplished when the minutes are approved.

We applaud the school board for their future plans to offer limited STEM classes in all schools, but eliminating one of the most successful learning programs in the state is an ill-conceived and unnecessary move.

Community leaders are working hard to bring new and exciting businesses to our county, attract more professionals, and breathe new life into our downtown.

We urge the school board to help Horry County move forward, not backwards. 

Overturn your hasty decision, and vote to keep the Academy for the Arts, Science, and Technology open for future generations.