When I First Heard That My Friend Marty Walmsley-s two teenage daughters attended Charleston Collegiate on Johns Island, I had to wonder why. By my calculations, it would take close to an hour to drive to the school from her Isle of Palms residence. There has to be something special about a private school tucked in the middle of a rural sea island.
It turns out there is something special about Charleston Collegiate-headmaster Dr. Bob Shirley. At 72, he meant to be retired by now but could not resist the chance to steward the inquiring young minds at this country school when the opportunity arose. His employment history includes the Marines and later a stint in the banking industry, but it wasn-t until he began teaching that he found his true calling: working with kids. Beginning as an English teacher, it wasn-t long before he moved up to headmaster at Heathwood Hall in Columbia. When he "retired" in 2000, he continued consulting, working with Charleston Collegiate on the school-s accreditation. When the former headmaster retired, the school-s top job was a perfect fit for Shirley.
"I couldn-t resist the offer," he says. "Even though I enjoyed consulting with the private schools in the area, I just can-t imagine being headmaster anywhere but Charleston Collegiate."
" All races and ethnicities come together here with a sense of community... "
Diversity is the key to Charleston Collegiate-s success. Though private, it is not exclusive: admission isn-t based on race or income.
"All races and ethnicities come together here with a sense of community, without religious overtones," says Shirley. "I-ve always believed in diversity."
As soon as I mention my friend-s two daughters-that one was valedictorian two years ago and the second is likely to follow in her footsteps-Shirley says, "Yes, the Walmsley girls. Sydney was just brilliant and Chelsea is very bright as well."
I was impressed that he knew exactly who I was referring to before I mentioned a name, and it reminded me of my conversation with Marty.
"It-s a good school," she says. "We liked the fact that it is non-denominational and it-s real small. I knew my kids needed small classes. The school has high standards and offers a lot of individual attention."
Marty continues, "Both my girls have done very well there. Sydney was valedictorian and, when she went away to college, she was already ahead of most of the other students."
Like many private schools, Charleston Collegiate is raising funds to enlarge and improve the facility. A new high school building is planned and, in a second phase, the school hopes to add a Fine Arts center that would double as an auditorium for Johns Island and the surrounding area.
"I think there-s a great future," says Shirley. I think he-s right.
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