Film to document charter school’s success

Charleston Post and Courier
Diette Courrégé
August 7, 2008

Charleston Development Academy is a charter school nestled in one of the city’s oldest housing projects, and this small, 100-student school has earned a reputation for the progress it has made serving elementary schoolchildren from high-poverty families.

The charter school’s five-year journey and success is being chronicled in a documentary that will be shared with schools across the Lowcountry, state and country.

“We truly believe we have a story to tell,” Principal Cecelia Rogers said.

The charter school received a $100,000 competitive grant from the state Department of Education as a result of its accomplishments in parent involvement, financial stability and sustainability, Rogers said. About a third of the grant is being used to share the school’s progress with schools elsewhere, and one of the ways the school plans to do that is through a documentary, Rogers said.

“We’ve been able to dispel the myth that children of the poverty level of a housing authority community can’t learn (the state) standards and make the expected annual gains,” she said. “We worked to do it in five years and did it in four.”

The school rated average on the state report card last year, and it had an excellent improvement rating. That’s an improvement from the previous two years of rating unsatisfactory and below average.

Rogers said the school doesn’t have enough room for all the students who want to attend, and at least 25 students are on the waiting list. The school has maximized use of its space and needs a bigger building, she said.

“We’re bursting at the seams, and we think we can attribute that to our success,” she said.

The school hired Kurt Walker, a local freelance videographer and Burke High graduate, to create the documentary. He began in February. He has had total access to the school community and spent time in classes, on field trips and in teacher meetings. The only off-limits area has been in classrooms on standardized test days, he said.

Walker expects to continue filming when school begins, and Charleston Development Academy plans a public viewing of the documentary this fall.

The school held a preview at the end of the school year for parents and community members to see what Walker had created thus far. The clips have been posted on YouTube and likely will be part of the final film, which Walker said he expected to last up to 1 1/2 hours.

He said his goal is to chronicle the school’s history, to explore the challenges facing the school as well as the community partnerships supporting it, and to show the varied programs to which students are exposed.

“We’re trying to capture the school in its true essence,” he said.

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