Lead Academy breaks ground on $10.3M school building

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After years of relocation, Greenville charter school Lead Academy has found home.

On Tuesday, school officials broke ground on a $10.3 million school building, which will be constructed on 7.9 acres of land at 804 Mauldin Road. The 47,000-square-foot facility will have 25 classrooms, as well as, an art room, cafeteria, media lab, auditorium and science lab, according to principal Rodney Johnson.

The facility will allow the school to double its enrollment capacity to 432 students. “With this new school building, we’ll be able to offer kids more opportunities to be agents of change in the community,” Johnson said.

Last year, the school began implementing exploratory learning, a curriculum defined by students concluding relationships between their background knowledge and unfamiliar concepts. The school’s approach to exploratory learning focuses on teamwork, community, technology and real-world experiences.

The school decided to construct the two-story facility to accommodate the curriculum.

The classrooms will feature walls that can be separated to allow classroom-to-classroom interaction within grade levels. “There’s going to be so much more room for our students to collaborate, whether that be in the classroom or community,” said Lead Academy board member Allison Roach.

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Since the school implemented an exploratory learning curriculum last year, students have worked with community experts to complete a research project that is presented to family members, teachers and the general public. Students will use the auditorium to present projects if the new school building is approved.

With the new facility, the school is considering the addition of a Chinese language class, robotics class and athletics program, according to Johnson. The school might also purchase more Google tablets and computers.

“We spent a good amount of our cash reserve on land development and fire alarms for the portables. So we’re definitely going to be doing fundraising for those additions. We don’t want to stretch ourselves beyond our limits,” Johnson said.

Lead Academy used a Series 2016 bond through Chicago-based Ziegler, a privately held specialty investment bank, to purchase the land and construct the building, as well as, refinance an existing bridge loan and reimburse for planning and site-work costs previously incurred for the facility.

The school plans to use its state funding, $5,780 per student, to pay off the bond.

“When we began this process, we only had 136 students and a vision. Most folks told us that a school of our size would never be able to find financing,” Johnson said.

“It’s been a rollercoaster to get here,” he said.

Johnson founded and opened Lead Academy at Redemption Outreach Center in 2010. He then moved the school to Upstate Circle of Friends in 2012 and Reedy River Missionary Baptist Church in 2014. The school then placed two portables on 7.9 acres at 804 Mauldin Road and relocated in April.

The frequent change in location wasn’t a choice. “There was no place to expand, because the number of students has continued to grow and grow,” Johnson said. “That’s not including our staff.”

The school’s enrollment has increased from 80 to 240 students. It also started enrolling kindergarten through fourth grade this year, expanding staff from 13 to 29 teachers, according to Johnson.

The new school building should be complete by August 2017.

For more information, visit myleadacademy.com.

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