The Beaufort County Board of Education voted last week to spend about $2 million to renovate Battery Creek High School. Much of the renovations are related to new instructional programs that begin next fall.
The auditorium, student commons, restrooms, obstacle course equipment and ROTC space will be upgraded. The budget also includes a wind tunnel and aerodynamic experimental lab, an expanded computer lab and labs for woodworking, metalworking and electronics.
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One of the best parts of high school for sophomore Raymond Wayne is developing leadership skills and learning military routines through Battery Creek High School's Marine Corps Junior ROTC program.
Wayne, who hopes one day to be a military physician, wishes he had more time in the class.
"You can't fit it all in one period," he said.
Next fall, Wayne and other students will have a chance to integrate military values and routines into more of their academic classes.
The Board of Education last week unanimously approved restructuring Battery Creek High School to create a military-style program that will be open to student applicants throughout the county.
The school also will emphasize aerospace science and engineering to prepare students for positions with employers such as the Marine Corps Air Station Beaufort, Charleston's new Boeing plant and Gulfstream in Savannah.
"We want to give kids an opportunity to have a comprehensive education experience, but also be college- and career-ready when they leave Battery Creek," said Sean Alford, the school district's instructional services chief.
The school will be divided into three academies:
Alford said the changes come at an opportune time and could help improve public perception of the school. Some residents in a recent focus group the district formed believed the school is unsafe or under-performing.
Battery Creek's population changed significantly this year, Alford said. About 400 students, including many of its most academically challenged students, moved to the new Whale Branch Early College High School. Battery Creek now serves about 850 students.
Battery Creek principal Edmond Burnes said the military focus builds on one of the school's strengths, the JROTC program. The unit consistently ranks among the top five in the state and has been recognized as an honor program for 19 consecutive years. About 300 students are participating this school year.
Staff at Battery Creek researched and visited the Military Magnet Academy in North Charleston to study its program before developing the local plan.
The magnet school serves students in middle and high school, about 90 percent of whom are from low-income families, said its principal, Anderson Townsend.
Townsend said the academy's high school program, which began in 2003, has been successful. For example, he said it was one of just 13 public high schools in the state this year to make adequate yearly progress as required by the federal No Child Left Behind law. He said the school has a graduation rate of about 90 percent.
"We are a school that builds discipline," Townsend said.
Raymond Wayne's father, Ronald, said he believes a more intense military focus will help teach students to succeed in a structured environment, something some don't learn at home. That will prepare them for success beyond Battery Creek.
"We've got Boeing to the north and Gulfstream to the south," he said. "If students take advantage of those opportunities, they can really excel."