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WHS at 20: High school opening led to a surge in growth

By Sarah L. Smith
Coastal Observer

When Waccamaw High School opened its doors 20 years ago, it also opened the floodgates of growth on the Waccamaw Neck.

“If you look at the turning tide on the Waccamaw Neck community, it began to happen after the school was built,” said Vida Miller, a state representative who was elected to the school board in 1989.

The 1990 census counted 1,371 school-age children on Waccamaw Neck. A decade later, that number had grown 57 percent to more than 2,100.

Real estate brokers say the school prompted development beyond the area’s tradition resort and retirement communities.

“I think it has given the Waccamaw Neck a more balanced population,” said Alan Altman, broker-in-charge at Pawleys Island Realty. He’s the father of one Waccamaw grad and one member of this year’s junior class.

Tucker Dieter, a Realtor with The Dieter Co., agreed.

“I think it surely made it attractive for a lot of the younger people moving here,” he said.

Altman didn’t know how many people would move to the area if they have to drive 20 or 30 minutes to take their children to school, like they did before the school was built. Children would either have a long bus ride to Georgetown or a long car ride to Horry County schools.

Along with its impact on education, there was also a role for a new school to play in the social life of the community.

“It was something that we could rally around, not having a town hall or a Main Street. It was something the community would show up for, support and get involved in,” Altman said.

Today, people can even rent the auditorium and cafeteria for meetings or church, but sports offer the best example, said Stoney Miller, broker-in-charge at Litchfield Real Estate and the father of two Waccamaw High graduates. On Friday nights during football season, the stands overflow with fans, not all of them parents.

“I even see people at those high school football games that used to live in Pawleys Island when I was going to high school,” Stoney Miller said.

Some spectators are just interested community members who want to cheer on the local team.

“When you don’t have a downtown sidewalk, it becomes a meeting place for the community,” Altman said. “And when our teams have success, you begin to have a sense of community pride.”

That particular sense of community was something the Waccamaw Neck did not have before Waccamaw High.

“It brought people together from all the different neighborhoods, gated and ungated,” Altman said.

The school’s academic successes have also encouraged growth in the area, he said. When he sells homes, he said parents who are moving don’t want to send their children to a substandard school. When they hear about Waccamaw High’s successes, including its excellent federal report card rating, Palmetto Gold and Palmetto’s Finest awards, they choose to live nearby.

“And continued academic success is critical if the school is going to continue to be a positive draw to our community,” Altman added.

“I think if there is a long-term lesson that would be learned from this, it is that community schools are important,” Vida Miller said. “They serve everyone well.”

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