Regardless of rankings for the South Carolina educational system as a whole, academic opportunities for military families at Fort Jackson are still strong, local school representatives say.
Expanded choice and magnet program options are giving parents more freedom to decide what kind of education their students will receive.

In state rankings, schools on-post are excluded; the Department of Defense Education Activity school district is part of a federal program, explained Fort Jackson school liaison Fred Henley.

In Richland School District Two, scores in English Language Acquisition and math both increased at the elementary and middle school level from 2017 to 2018. The percentage of students in categories "meets" and "exceeds" expectations rose, said Libby Roof, Richland School District Two chief communications officer.

"(Teachers') focus on continuous improvement produces results," Roof said. "Richland Two's strong partnership with Fort Jackson provides invaluable support to our students, teachers and parents as we all work together to maintain high academic standards by upholding our core values of learning, character, community and joy."

Fort Jackson students now have more options within Richland School District Two.

For the first time, this year Fort Jackson parents willing to provide transportation could apply to place their elementary school-age students in one of several off-post schools.

Next year, the district will bus elementary school students selected through the choice application to Forest Lake Elementary School.

Forest Lake received an overall score of "excellent" on the most recently released state report card, Henley said.

"There's nothing wrong with the schools here on post; they're outstanding … the DOD is outstanding," Henley said.

Still, having the option is important for the sake of fairness, Henley added.

It "levels the playing field" since off-post residents in surrounding communities get a choice.

Parents of middle and high school students can also apply to enroll their youth in locations other than Dent Middle School and Richland Northeast High School.

There are magnet centers, where separate buildings on-campus host the students enrolled in the programs.

"School-within-a-school" magnet program students attend the same building as mainstream curriculum students.

There are also whole school magnets; all of the students in those schools are involved in the specialized programs.

Henley said he would "venture to say" that Richland Two has more options available than most districts throughout the country.

Richland County School District One has other selections Fort Jackson Families can apply for.

Magnets are essentially "specialized instruction in areas of interest for the student," Henley said.

One elementary school magnet program in Richland Two is the NASA Explorer School.

Another at the middle school level is called "ZooBot," the School for Zoological and Botanical Studies.

An example of a high school offering in the district is the Scholars Academy Magnet for Business and Law.

These programs allow students to pursue their interests in-depth. Parents can apply for the ones that best suit their children.

The deadline for the first round of choice applications for magnet programs and expanded choice was Jan. 31, but another window of application will open in May.

Magnet programs provide additional options.

"People don't understand that there are different types of magnet programs," Henley said. "They are outstanding … they're wonderful programs."