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A Q&A with Charleston’s Ashley River Classical Academy

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(The Center Square) — When Tom Drummond looks at the 1895 eighth-grade final exam from Selina, Kansas, he wonders how many people today could pass it.

“I don’t believe there are very many college professors today who could pass that test, and this is an eighth-grade final exam,” Drummond, a board member at Charleston’s Ashley River Classical Academy, told The Center Square. “As I talk to people, as I’ve gotten more involved in education, I bring this up, and they take a look at that test, and the general answer when they get asked, ‘What do you think?’ … is how far we’ve fallen.”

As the discussion about education heats up in South Carolina and around the country, the backers of Ashley River Classical Academy, a public charter school that expects to open in the fall of 2025, think they have the answer.

“There are some pretty bizarre things being brought into the school system,” Drummond said. “This really came to the surface in a big way during COVID, when kids were staying home, and they were using electronic means to go to class. And the parents began to see what the teachers were bringing to those students, and they got upset. So we’ve seen in the last couple of years a sweeping interest on the part of parents and grandparents, what’s happening to their kids in school.”

While some critics have criticized the school, proponents say it isn’t intended to be partisan but rather teach the core components, such as math, science and history.

“We literally expose our kids to literature, math, history, science, fine arts, Latin, PE,” Alexandria Spry told The Center Square. “And we lay those foundational skills down in numeracy and literacy, which really does set our kids up for great opportunities beyond the K-12 experience.

“We focus on decorum, respect, discipline, and we just have the studious environment,” Spry added. “And it doesn’t just happen with we just have these expectations for our kids. But we also have these expectations for our staff, and we build this great relationship with families. And honestly, it really is about shaping the hearts and minds of our kids.”

While much of the focus on education has focused on parents, Ashley River Classical Academy proponents say it also impacts teachers.

“Teachers are getting burnout, and they’re getting burnout because they’re tired of putting up with what’s going on in the classroom,” Drummond said. “They can’t control it. The classical education deals a lot with virtues and values and teaches it from early grades.

“And one of the things you’ll notice if you go to a classical school, pretty much anywhere … there’s no discipline problems,” Drummond added. “The kids are there because they want to be there because they have fun learning because that’s a natural thing for them to do.”