Founder and Board Chair, Legacy Early College
“As a system, we don’t tend to educate children in poverty. By the time they get to high school, we ask, ‘Why can’t these kids read?’ We have failed our kids earlier in their lives,” said William Brown, a widely known and respected CPA and investment advisor.
A light came on for Brown after he started volunteering in a high school program in Greenville, South Carolina. He realized two things. First, it was clear that where some students were born would determine their academic prospects and influence their financial well-being for the rest of their lives. Second, Brown wondered why schools simply focused on high school graduation and not on what follows graduation.
“In order to have mobility in today’s ever-changing world, a college education is extremely important,” he said. “Why don’t we have a school that takes students to and through college?”
South Carolina soon had that school.
A man of action, Brown launched Legacy Early College in 2010. Legacy has grown to become one of South Carolina’s largest Title 1 schools.
His path-breaking educational model offers a free K4-12 education where high school students can earn college credits early and where every aspect of schooling is focused on the whole child. Legacy’s 1,700 students, or “scholars” as the school knows them, receive two nutritious meals daily – no junk food or fast food – and Legacy stands out as one of the only public schools in South Carolina to provide physical education daily. Scholars are also taught core social and emotional skills.
“Our scholars are dual-enrolled in college classes with area institutions,” explained Brown. “We offer many different college courses on our campus that scholars may take to earn transfer credits toward a college degree before they graduate from high school.”
Dual credit courses reward scholars with a smoother transition to college life, a faster accumulation of college credits, early exposure to the discipline required in higher education, and potential savings on college costs.
To address the issue of disenfranchisement by ZIP code, Brown set his school in West Greenville, an area comprising three of Greenville County’s most historically underserved communities. Over a decade ago, neighborhood high school graduation rates were as low as 50 percent. Legacy’s high school graduation rate for the class of 2021 was 96 percent, which supports its vision to see every scholar to and through college.
One of Legacy’s collegiate partners is North Greenville University (NGU). “Legacy Early College is a part of an audacious, holistic venture that focuses on some of our area’s most underserved urban students,” said Dr. Gene C. Fant Jr., president of NGU. “Its mission fits incredibly well with NGU, combining educational excellence with principled, philosophical goals that underscore the worth of each and every student.”
As this innovative, progressive educational model might suggest, Brown and Legacy found the right classroom leaders through Teach For America South Carolina (TFASC).
During the launch of TFASC’s Upstate Expansion Initiative three years ago, Brown made a three-year, up-front commitment to place 20 to 30 TFASC teachers at his school each year. His support continued by using his influence to open doors with his peers and at universities that advanced TFASC’s Upstate Expansion Initiative.
Additionally, Brown donated over three hundred thousand dollars to TFASC, and he secured a partnership for TFASC educators to receive intensive summer teacher training at Legacy before they enter classrooms across the state.
“I have seen with my own eyes that the love and the passion to make change is very present in TFASC teachers,” said Brown.
“To elicit change, you have to believe in scholars first. Scholars know when someone really cares, and you must have that for teaching and learning to be successful,” he added. “It’s clear to me that TFASC teachers bring the love and belief in scholars that it takes to make change work.”