By Hannah Dockery
Staff Writer

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st. andrew's schools west ashley

Schools in West Ashley are setting the standard for the rest of South Carolina.

Each of the schools in Charleston County’s District 10 received average or above average ratings according to the 2012 state report card. The 12 schools, compromised of Ashley River Creative Arts, St. Andrews School of Math and Science, Drayton Hall, Oakland, Springfield, Stono Park, C.E. Williams, St. Andrews Middle, West Ashley Middle, West Ashley High, Orange Grove Charter, and Montessori Community School, met or exceeded the state’s criteria that determines overall school performance.

The state of South Carolina’s Department of Education ranks schools into five categories: excellent, good, average, below average, and at-risk (previously deemed ‘unsatisfactory’). Rankings are determined by a point system, garnering results from various factors such as standardized tests like the High School Assessment Program (HSAP) and End of Course exams (EOC), teacher and student attendance, instructional time, and a variety of other areas. For elementary and middle schools, performance is largely determined by Palmetto Assessment of State Standards results.

Ruth Taylor, Assistant Associate Superintendent and liaison for the District 10 board, recognizes the significance of this huge accomplishment. “We’ve always been a decent district, but we have had our struggles,” she says. “We may have been looking good, but it wasn’t by the rigorous state standards that are in place today. That’s why this is such a huge achievement.”

For the students and faculty at West Ashley High School, the path to success has been long and winding. In 2008, WAHS was classified as “unsatisfactory,” receiving the lowest grade on the SC report card system. As recently as 2010, the District 10 high school didn’t fare much better, performing at a “below average” level. But, in a matter of a few years, Principal Mary Runyon and her staff hit the books and transformed the school. West Ashley High is now just a few points away from receiving an “excellent” marking. “We had to dig in our heels and really look at what our students needed,” she comments.

Because WAHS is not categorized as Title I, it doesn’t qualify for additional state funding, so Runyon and her team had to get creative to come up with necessary monies needed to put the school back on track. After applying and receiving numerous grants, Runyon feels the extra effort has paid off. “We are moving many more students into college prep and AP courses, and we found a way to fund our own AP academy. We have free tutoring offered every Tuesday and Thursday. It’s really working,” says Runyon.

The school’s success goes beyond just performing well on a standardized test. Runyon and her staff initiated a new program called Capturing Kids Hearts, which revolves around the idea that if you capture a student’s heart, then you have a better chance of capturing their mind. “We’ve trained about 95 percent of our teachers in this manner,” says Runyon. As a result, discipline referrals have reduced by nearly 45 percent. “It’s working, and the kids want to succeed.”

The success story of West Ashley High School would not have been possible without the area middle and elementary schools working to improve their overall level of education, discipline, and rigor. “It’s a feeder system,” Taylor explains. “You get the basics set in at the elementary level, and staff is one of the keys to making this work. We’ve focused on high level and quality teaching that will transfer onto the middle schools, and then to high school.”

Even with dedicated staff, faculty, and students, both Taylor and Runyon attest that the District 10 improvements would not have been possible without the support of the community. “It’s a community success and a community effort,” says Taylor. From increased parental involvement to dedicated District 10 board members, West Ashley stepped it up for the sake of the students.

“Our students, our families, faculty, administrative team, board, larger community….it has been a giant puzzle with lots of pieces that just had to come together,” Runyon adds. “We have miles to go but we are on the right path.”