Community celebrates new schools at PSES/PSMS ribbon-cutting
One of the first lessons learned at the shared campus of the new Philip Simmons Elementary School (PSES) and Philip Simmons Middle School (PSMS) shined almost as brightly as the early afternoon sun at the facilities’ momentous ribbon-cutting ceremony on Sunday, August 14. Good things come to those who wait.
After years of planning and some 18 months of construction, PSES and PSMS are officially ready to serve.
“It looks so good!” exclaimed a parent as she walked with her children onto the sidewalk in front of the building to join hundreds of waiting families, community members, and dignitaries for the occasion.
Gathered behind a purple ribbon were Berkeley County School Board Chair Jim Hayes, Superintendent Brenda Blackburn, PSES Principal Karen Whitley, PSMS Principal Anthony Dixon, Berkeley County School Board Member Mac McQuillin, and members of the facility’s design and construction team. Also in attendance were Deputy Superintendent Archie Franchini, Chief Academic Officer Deon Jackson, School Board Members Frank Wright and Phillip Obie, Berkeley County Supervisor Bill Peagler and County Councilman Josh Whitley.
“As a Board Chair, there is nothing that is more enjoyable to do than to show up to a ribbon-cutting for a new school,” said Hayes, in the program’s opening remarks. “This venue here is very beautiful. The kids coming here are very fortunate.”
“We are going to open this school with a lot of talented young folks,” added Superintendent Blackburn. “Let’s hear it for the first day of school tomorrow! I must thank the community for the support that created the building that we have before us…Your commitment to having quality educational programs and quality educational facilities for our kids speaks volumes about the community in which we live.”
Blackburn also praised the School Board for proactively addressing the needs of the community and building facilities that “are not only economical, but that are also great places to teach and to learn.”
“Groundbreakings and dedications are our favorite parts of these projects,” added Greg Hughes, president of Contract Construction, the company tasked with building the 172,000 square foot facility designed by LS3P Associates. “But there is a massive undertaking in between, and Berkeley County School Board put their trust in us… And we all worked together through massive obstacles to open it up and we hope you enjoy your brand new school!”
Principals Whitley and Dixon also shared a few words with the eager crowd.
“I cannot tell you how excited I am,” said Whitley. “This is my 40th year and I don’t know when I have looked so forward to a first day of school! We’ve got award-winning teachers, cutting curriculum, a state of the art building…We’re going to bring home the awards for this community!”
Dixon used the opportunity to focus attention on the school’s namesake, the late Master Blacksmith Philip Simmons, a Daniel Island native. Simmons was just eight years old when his mother sent him to downtown Charleston to pursue his education.
“It’s such a great experience now to be standing here off Clements Ferry Road with a school named after Philip Simmons and all of the hard work, the dedication and his commitment to education,” noted Dixon. “We just thrive as a faculty and staff that hopes that we can continue to forge his commitment to education to each and every one of our students who enter this building.”
Standing in the midst of those gathered were members of Simmons family, as well as members of the Keith family, whose ancestor, Edward Keith, started the former Keith School on Clements Ferry Road in the 1920s.
“It’s great!” exclaimed Cain Simmons after the program. “This is the best thing that’s ever happened to our community. We will do a lot for this school, and volunteer whenever we can.”
“It’s a blessing,” added Lauval Simmons.
“My grandfather Edward Keith would be so proud to see how we’ve progressed to this,” added Edna Keith.
“Our grandfather started the Keith School and brought education to this part of the community,” continued LeRoy Keith. “…We started with an old wood school and now we’ve ended with this!”
After the ribbon-cutting festivities wrapped up, families, students and other guests were invited inside to take a tour and meet the teachers and staff. McQuillin, who was elected to the Berkeley County School Board in 2014, offered high praise for all involved in bringing the facility to fruition.
“We’re blessed to have the leadership that we have at these schools and the community we have in this area that are all so excited and welcoming,” said McQuillin, a Daniel Island resident. “We couldn’t have done it without the principals and the community. To me, they are the key forces that got this school rolling. It’s just a blessing to see it and go inside. It’s unbelievable!”
After having a look around, sixth grade PSMS student Jacque Greene gave the gleaming school an enthusiastic thumbs up.
“It’s good!” he said, pointing out that the basketball courts in the gym are his favorite feature in the new space.
“I think I’m gonna like my new school!” added second grade student Eden Tumey. “I know I like my classroom already!”
“It’s a beautiful new campus,” said Lisa Moore, who will be working in the new schools’ food services department.
Lisa Kerns, who serves as president of the Philip Simmons Middle School PTA, stood at a welcome table in the multi-purpose room to greet families. Purple balloons and merchandise imprinted with the school’s mascot, the Iron Horses, added to the spirited atmosphere.
“We’re just so excited!” she said. “Really and truly we’re not starting a new chapter in a story, we’re starting a new book! And I cannot wait to see what the pages are going to look like over the next couple of years. Just to look out at that ribbon cutting at the eyes of all those children and how excited they were, it just gives me so much hope and pride in this community – and how they’ve come together and worked together. It’s just awesome!”