MSI moves to 200-acre campus

WHITE OAK – The Midlands STEM Institute (MSI), a Winnsboro-based tuition-free charter school in its fifth year of operation, began the new school year on Monday in a new home – a sprawling, 200-acre campus formerly known as the White Oak Conference Center in the White Oak community.

Marie Milam, Executive Director of the School, and Kevin Thomas, MSI Board Chairman, say the facility is a dream come true and seven-and-a-half years in the making. The campus is about 10 miles north of Winnsboro, where MSI met the last three years in the Rockton Baptist Church on Crane Street.

Milam and Thomas were on hand Monday morning to welcome 200 students and their parents to the wooded campus.

“From a small kindergarten through fifth grade school with a student population of 74 students when it began in the fall of 2014, MSI has grown at an average rate of 33 percent per year,” Milam said.

“This school year we will serve five-year-old kindergarten students through grade nine and will continue to add a grade each year until matriculation at grade 12.”

The school is purchasing the propertyn from the Southern Baptist Convention, which will retain an adjoining 525 acres for its own weekend use.

While Thomas did not disclose the purchase price of the 200 acres and facilities, the sale price was $5.6 million. Sources told The Voice that the school is currently leasing the property until the sale closes, possibly as early as September.

Besides having its own water source, water tower and waste water treatment facility, the campus includes three large buildings including an almost 50,000 square foot classroom building, full service dining hall that seats 650 and an auditorium with a full professional quality stage, sound and lighting system.

The classroom wing contains a theater-in-the-round and a lecture theater that seats 240 and is equipped with a performance quality stage and a sound/lighting booth. Additional amenities include an outdoor pool and pavilion, a 26-acre lake, walking trails and three motels.

Thomas said things are coming together for the school.

“We’ve been accepted to membership in the South Carolina High School League, and we look forward to adding sports in the spring. We have ample space for sports and will start off this year with baseball and softball,” Thomas said.

Formerly operating under the S.C. Public Charter School District’s trustees, the school’s oversight was transferred to Erskin College’s nonprofit Charter Institute on July 1.

Public charter schools can be sponsored one of three ways in South Carolina – through the local school district, the state-wide district or through an institution of higher education. The sponsoring organization receives two percent of the money that the state sends the school.

Milam and Thomas say the Institute offers advantages over the state-wide district.

An important advantage, Milam said, is that the Charter Institute offers post-secondary institution opportunities that were not available under the state-wide district sponsorship.

In addition to its standard curriculum, Milam said the school will continue to grow its Mandarin Chinese language offerings to all students in every grade. It also offers the arts, music and band programs.

To meet the transportation needs of its growing student enrollment, Thomas said MSI is implementing bus transportation this school year with three pick-up/drop off locations at Rockton Baptist Church on Crane Street, Deerwood Apartments on Highway 321 and Winfield West Apartments also on Highway 321.

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