No two students are alike … and in a truly competitive academic environment, no two schools would be alike either.

Of course we don’t have a truly competitive academic environment in South Carolina, we have a bunch of cookie cutter failure factories run by an amalgamation of federal, state and local bureaucrats. While sitting on $1 billion in cash reserves, these government-run schools constantly complain about a “lack of funding” as they slip further behind the rest of the nation.

And there’s no end in sight …¬†and no alternatives for parents.

Well, we take that back … there are alternatives, it’s just that government is doing everything within its power to quash them so it can preserve its monopoly (even though its schools aren’t serving students’ needs).

Recently FITS wrote on The Barclay School, a North Columbia, S.C. learning center that specializes in educating children with special needs. This is one of the few areas of the education marketplace state lawmakers have (belatedly) embraced – although the limited tax credit legislation passed last year is a temporary proviso that is already coming under attack by the state’s bipartisan liberal establishment.

Last week we wrote about Glenforest School – which received a visit from pro-parental choice S.C. Senator Katrina Shealy.

This week’s “Miracle Factory?” Hidden Treasure – a Christian special needs school based in Greenville, S.C.

FITS visited this school recently and we were blown away – not only by the school, but by its students … and its story.

Hidden Treasure was founded in 1981 by Baptist Pastor John Vaughn after his daughter (and wife) suffered severe injuries in a house fire.

Vaughn’s wife Brenda suffered third degree burns over 60 percent of her body in the blaze, while his daughter Becky suffered third degree burns over 95 percent of her body. Brenda was hospitalized for nine months while Becky was hospitalized for thirteen months (and has undergone more than fifty surgeries since).

“I realized that nothing would ever be the same,” Vaughn wrote in his 1994 book More Precious Than Gold.

Vaughn went in search of an academic environment capable of responding to his daughter’s special needs – but couldn’t find one. Eventually, he was told “if you want (to find) a school for your little girl you’re going to have to start one yourself.”

And so he did … with two students. In a fifty-by-fifty foot metal building. With only one person (himself) on staff.

Today Hidden Treasure serves more than forty students with various exceptional needs (Autism, Asperger’s, Down Syndrome) at a sprawling 28,000-square foot campus near downtown Greenville, S.C. Its state-of-the-art facility is immaculate, a testament to the support the school has received over the years from corporate and philanthropic donors like Bi-Lo and the French Foundation in Florida.

In fact one entire wing of the school was dedicated thanks to an anonymous $400,000 gift.

For the past thirty years, the school has been run by John McCormick – who makes no bones that his is a “God-called” mission.

“It’s a ministry, not a job,” McCormick says. “We take these students one step at a time to where their potential lies. There’s nothing standardized about it.”

Families from all over the country (including California and Nevada) have moved to Greenville to receive this specialized instruction.

(via Hidden Treasures)
(via Hidden Treasure)

“It’s safe here, it’s a safe environment,” one parent said.

It’s certainly safer than the government-run school system, where students with special needs are routinely bullied and abused (even in good ol’ God-fearing Greenville, S.C.).

“We had one kid come in from the public system with a broken arm,” McCormick recalls.

Hidden Treasure doesn’t take “vouchers,” incidentally – or any other government checks.

“We would not be who we are if we did that,” McCormick says.

Along with Hidden Treasure, McCormick runs Faith Christian Academy – which was founded in 2008 to serve students with learning disabilities in math, reading and language (like ADD and ADHD, among others).

“We know these are children who have the ability to go on to college,” McCormick says.

Both schools are located on the Hidden Treasure campus.

Obviously, providing a world-class special needs curriculum (in a state-of-the-art facility) isn’t cheap – as the average tuition at Hidden Treasure is approximately $9,500. Still, though, that’s more than $3,000 less than the average per pupil cost incurred by the failed government-run system … for a “normal” kid.

There’s also plenty of room at Hidden Treasure, which could double its current student population (and still have room for more students).

In fact McCormick tells FITS he’s hoping the recently passed tax credit will help his school boost its enrollment.

We hope so, too …

“This is a perfect example of a choice school that has capacity,” one education reform advocate told FITS. “It can help many more families if choices in the current law are maintained, expanded.”

Born out of a personal tragedy, Hidden Treasure has become a “Miracle Factory” – one with the potential to dramatically expand its mission assuming South Carolina parents are allowed to keep more of what they earn for the purpose of investing in their child’s education.

That ought to be their right under any circumstances … but especially given the deplorable failure of the Palmetto State’s government-run school system.

NOTE: For more on Hidden Treasure, click on the link below. For more schools serving South Carolina students with exceptional needs, visit