Forging a Future for Cainhoy

New Phillip Simmons High School campus on schedule for summer completion and August 2017 opening

By Charlie Morrison

Nearly one hundred years ago, in 1920 a then eight-year-old Phillip Simmons left the Cainhoy peninsula childhood home where he’d grown up with his grandparents to move to downtown Charleston. The reasoning was simple enough: the family wanted the best for young Simmons, and living downtown with his mother allowed him to go to public high school, something not possible then or now on Cainhoy peninsula.

In August of 2017 however, that history, a history of a region largely bereft of formal education that promising young students like Simmons once fled will be forever changed, when the Berkeley County School District officially cuts the ribbon on the brand-new Phillip Simmons High School (PSHS). Construction of the new, more than $83 million school and campus is on track for completion this summer meaning that by this time next year the Cainhoy region will have what it’s never had in its long history, a full compliment of public schools, serving kids from kindergarten all the way through the twelfth-grade.The creation of the new Phillips Simmons schools represents a new chapter for the residents of Daniel Island and Cainhoy peninsula, who haven’t seen formalized education in the area at the high school level since the closure of Cainhoy High School in 1996. What began with the creation of the Phillips Simmons Elementary & Middle School, which opened its doors to students from Cainhoy, Daniel Island, and Huger last August, will be brought to completion this summer with the when the last of the more than 750,000 bricks comprising the new High School is laid.

The creation of the new Phillips Simmons schools represents a new chapter for the residents of Daniel Island and Cainhoy peninsula, who haven’t seen formalized education in the area at the high school level since the closure of Cainhoy High School in 1996. What began with the creation of the Phillips Simmons Elementary & Middle School, which opened its doors to students from Cainhoy, Daniel Island, and Huger last August, will be brought to completion this summer with the when the last of the more than 750,000 bricks comprising the new High School is laid.The Elementary/Middle and High School campuses will be located less than a mile from one another, and the schools will share everything from their curriculum to their school mascot, the Iron Horses. The schools are so intertwined in fact, that the man hired last June to head up the new Phillip Simmons High School, the school’s new Principal, Dr. James Spencer currently works from an office on the Elementary and Middle school’s campus.

 

Dr. Andrews

Photo Cutline: Phillip Simmons High School Principal Dr. James Spencer stands in his school’s as yet unused baseball press box with newly-hired Assistant Principal and Athletic Director Brion Packett, looks out at the baseball field where the faint impression of a baseball diamond is now visible, and smiles. “What a view. This is amazing,” says Spencer.

 

The Elementary/Middle and High School campuses will be located less than a mile from one another, and the schools will share everything from their curriculum to their school mascot, the Iron Horses. The schools are so intertwined in fact, that the man hired last June to head up the new Phillip Simmons High School, the school’s new Principal, Dr. James Spencer currently works from an office on the Elementary and Middle school’s campus.And for Spencer, who along with the initial members of his leadership team is known to on occasion drive over to the job site for extemporaneous meetings with construction firm Thompson Turner Construction, he wouldn’t have it any other way. After all, Dr. Spencer

And for Spencer, who along with the initial members of his leadership team is known to on occasion drive over to the job site for extemporaneous meetings with construction firm Thompson Turner Construction, he wouldn’t have it any other way. After all, Dr. Spencer was hired a year-and-a-half ahead of the 2017 school year for a reason: along with the school itself, Spencer and his small team of three are building the school’s curriculum from the ground up.“If you go into an existing school right now everything you see, every pencil, every piece of paper, every process being undertaken by a human being, anything you can put your eyes on, we’ve got seven months to get that done here,” said Dr. Spencer to the Daniel Island News during a recent tour of the campus under construction. “And it’s all being planned simultaneously. You can’t isolate things like the decision-making over the furniture and the curriculum, it all has to be part of the culture, it has to be part of the facility, it has to be part of the vision, in my challenges to help people understand what that vision.”

“If you go into an existing school right now everything you see, every pencil, every piece of paper, every process being undertaken by a human being, anything you can put your eyes on, we’ve got seven months to get that done here,” said Dr. Spencer to the Daniel Island News during a recent tour of the campus under construction. “And it’s all being planned simultaneously. You can’t isolate things like the decision-making over the furniture and the curriculum, it all has to be part of the culture, it has to be part of the facility, it has to be part of the vision, in my challenges to help people understand what that vision.”The Phillips Simmons High School is being constructed, like it’s Elementary/Middle School companion, around a STEAM curriculum (science, technology, engineering,

The Phillips Simmons High School is being constructed, like it’s Elementary/Middle School companion, around a STEAM curriculum (science, technology, engineering, arts and math). The curriculum will be technology-rich, and will include some class offerings unique to STEAM programs. Examples include PSHS’s four-year pre-engineering program, their four-year program for cyber security, and the school’s innovative “mechatronics” program that incorporates computers, robotics, and manufacturing, the second such program in Berkeley County.As for the student body, Spencer expects between 300 and 400 ninth and tenth-graders beginning in 2017. The school is being built for an eventual 1,500 students, with capacity for another 400 to be added later in the form of a second school building. Additional ninth-grade classes will be added in the subsequent two years with class offerings growing as the first class the class of 2020, matriculates through the school. The school will have eleventh-grade classes beginning in 2018 and a full curriculum of four-year classes beginning in the 2019-2020 school year.

As for the student body, Spencer expects between 300 and 400 ninth and tenth-graders beginning in 2017. The school is being built for an eventual 1,500 students, with capacity for another 400 to be added later in the form of a second school building. Additional ninth-grade classes will be added in the subsequent two years with class offerings growing as the first class the class of 2020, matriculates through the school. The school will have eleventh-grade classes beginning in 2018 and a full curriculum of four-year classes beginning in the 2019-2020 school year.“You will have three different levels of students you will have some that will be job ready that can go to Boeing immediately and do an entry-level job you’ll have some that are going to be ready for a two-year program and you obviously will have some that can leave this program and go right into a 4 year college program so we’re really excited to be able to offer all three options to our students,” Spencer continues.

“You will have three different levels of students you will have some that will be job ready that can go to Boeing immediately and do an entry-level job you’ll have some that are going to be ready for a two-year program and you obviously will have some that can leave this program and go right into a 4 year college program so we’re really excited to be able to offer all three options to our students,” Spencer continues.The project to construct the new PSHS goes far beyond the simple creation of a campus and the coordination of a curriculum, according to Spencer a 27-year veteran educator, who as the head man at Phillip Simmons will lead his third school as Principal. According to Spencer, running concurrently through the creation of the campus and the curriculum is the concept of creating a school culture. Thankfully, according to Spencer, the task isn’t his alone, he has a team around him.

The project to construct the new PSHS goes far beyond the simple creation of a campus and the coordination of a curriculum, according to Spencer a 27-year veteran educator, who as the head man at Phillip Simmons will lead his third school as Principal. According to Spencer, running concurrently through the creation of the campus and the curriculum is the concept of creating a school culture. Thankfully, according to Spencer, the task isn’t his alone, he has a team around him.“What’s the unique with modern school construction in our district is having the capacity for everybody to be on board from the beginning and move forward together,” said Spencer during a recent tour of the facility and interview with the Daniel Island News. “So many people play a strong part in creating this school. We only have four employees so far but it’s four people working really hard for these kids. They are working hard for these kids already, and we’re already a team.”

“What’s the unique with modern school construction in our district is having the capacity for everybody to be on board from the beginning and move forward together,” said Spencer during a recent tour of the facility and interview with the Daniel Island News. “So many people play a strong part in creating this school. We only have four employees so far but it’s four people working really hard for these kids. They are working hard for these kids already, and we’re already a team.”The newest member of that team is Assistant Principal and Athletics Director Brion Packett, who just last month joined a Phillip Simmons High leadership team that includes head secretary Cathy Chiasson and Guidance Director Virginia Reijners. Though he was only hired earlier this month Packett is already making key decisions in the athletics department and forging new partnerships with area businesses, a secondary function he was hired to perform. Reijners has been instrumental in planning the curriculum and the guidance processes the school will implement and Spencer calls Chiasson “the glue that holds it all together.”

The newest member of that team is Assistant Principal and Athletics Director Brion Packett, who just last month joined a Phillip Simmons High leadership team that includes head secretary Cathy Chiasson and Guidance Director Virginia Reijners. Though he was only hired earlier this month Packett is already making key decisions in the athletics department and forging new partnerships with area businesses, a secondary function he was hired to perform. Reijners has been instrumental in planning the curriculum and the guidance processes the school will implement and Spencer calls Chiasson “the glue that holds it all together.”When it comes to the creation of the new PSHS campus specifically, Spencer and his group turn to a larger team working on scene and behind the scenes at the facility, a team that includes the BCSD Capital Projects team, the group from Thompson and Turner Construction, and even the team of architects from local firm McMillan Pazdan and Smith who designed the project.

When it comes to the creation of the new PSHS campus specifically, Spencer and his group turn to a larger team working on scene and behind the scenes at the facility, a team that includes the BCSD Capital Projects team, the group from Thompson and Turner Construction, and even the team of architects from local firm McMillan Pazdan and Smith who designed the project.”It’s a more cohesive process when everyone’s on board sooner.” Continues Dr. Spencer. “And being on board early helps because there are changes we’ve made along the way to make sure the building reflects the curriculum we’ve designed.”

“It’s a more cohesive process when everyone’s on board sooner.” Continues Dr. Spencer. “And being on board early helps because there are changes we’ve made along the way to make sure the building reflects the curriculum we’ve designed.”

“This is an absolutely wonderful relationship,” said Spencer of his work with building firm Thompson Turner Construction with whom he’s worked with previously at Marrington Middle School of the Arts where he served as Principal. “They act as though they are building a school building for their own children that’s how they work, that’s how they communicate with me.”

And of the architects behind the project, Spencer was equally effusive in his praise of the team environment. “They bend over backward,” said Spencer. “They listen to us, they take our calls, and they meet with us even when they aren’t required to.”
As for the design of the 215,000 square foot main school building itself, Spencer asserts that every aspect of the design of the facility was done with the student body and the STEAM curriculum at the fore. One highlight is the wide, serpentine couch-laden cafeteria, which is affronted on one end by an expansive outdoor patio space and on the other by the student friendly “technology forest” seating area, where students will be able to have their lunch while staying plugged in and powered up.

“What we want is for it to feel like a small college campus where the kids are going to have a lot of liberties,” said Spencer. “It’s important that it’s comfortable for the kids and that the furniture trend continues into the cafeteria. Its couches in one area, it’s Starbucks tables in another area, it’s booths in a third area, it’s a menagerie, and in the middle of the cafeteria will be a big serpentine couch so kids can sit there and eat their lunch while they work on their tablets.”

Other design highlights include a 715-seat auditorium with beveled seating and a production room, wide education wings with their own serpentine couches for outside classroom student seating and the school’s full athletics complex that is being built completed with features that include a fieldhouse, press boxes, fields, and even a well-located sports medicine classroom and clinic, a feature suggested by Spencer himself.

Perhaps the most unique feature will be the ironworking used for hand railings and located throughout the school. The design was inspired by the work of Phillip Simmons, the former area resident and most famous of Charleston’s vaunted iron workers. Not only that, but Simmons’ nephew Carlton Simmons will be introducing some of his own work for inclusion into the design.

The younger Simmons himself will be completing the iron work for pair of exterior bike racks, the front signage, the front door pulls, and a series of medallions slated for placement just inside the entrance will be included that in the coming months. For sure, when the school opens its doors this coming August, his uncle would be proud.

 

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