Beaufort County schools scramble to accommodate unexpected students

September 17, 2010 

  • Enrollment in the Beaufort County School District is up by 90 students this year, growing slightly more than officials predicted. The county's public schools have 19,914 students, according to enrollment counts on the 15th day of school. The district served 19,824 students at the same time last year. Enrollment in the Bluffton area grew by nearly 200 students when compared to the same time last year. Two new schools -- Pritchardville Elementary and Bluffton Middle -- opened in Bluffton this fall, eliminating the overcrowding that had been a chronic problem. Enrollment was lower than projected in other parts of the county, including the Whale Branch area and at elementary and middle schools on Lady's Island.

Administrators at Beaufort High School worked to balance classes during the first weeks of school after 113 more students than anticipated showed up.

Despite a decline in enrollment resulting from shifts in attendance boundaries, Beaufort High nonetheless wound up with 1,650 students at the end of the third week of school.

The school's capacity is 1,595.

Principal Dan Durbin said four district teachers transferred to Beaufort High to accommodate the extra students, though some classes still are larger than ideal.

Another northern Beaufort County high school, the new Whale Branch Early College High School, is 46 students short of its projected enrollment of 446.The third northern high school, Battery Creek, enrolled 858 students. That's 21 more than expected.

Both Whale Branch and Battery Creek are under capacity.

Earlier this year, the district redrew attendance boundaries for high schools in the northern part of the county and pledged to better enforce its transfer rules for students who want to take advantage of specialty programs offered at specific schools.

Students are allowed to transfer to Beaufort High for the Advanced Placement program, to Battery Creek for the International Baccalaureate program and to Whale Branch for an early college program.

Officials hoped tightening the transfer policy would help balance enrollment among the high schools and make it easier to predict how many students would attend each school.

But a contentious debate on rezoning delayed the application deadline for transfers this year, instructional services chief Sean Alford said.

After several public hearings this winter, the board approved changes to high school attendance boundaries. They voted to move all students living in the Beaufort Elementary zone to Battery Creek from Beaufort High.

The board's vote, however, included a provision to allow any student in the Beaufort Elementary zone who already attends Beaufort High to remain there. That option also was available for rising ninth-graders.

Students who wanted to remain at Beaufort High were asked to fill out a transfer application, said Cynthia Hayes, the district's student services officer. Letters were sent to each student informing them of the zoning change, she said.

Alford said the district couldn't hold to its normal deadline for transfer applications until a final decision on rezoning was made by the Board of Education and school officials had enough time to communicate the changes to parents and students.

The Board of Education took its final vote on attendance zones in March -- past the February application deadline.

Alford said the district wanted to do as much as it could to accommodate student choice after the board's vote, so the transfer deadline this year was more flexible than it would have been otherwise.

Hayes said the rezoning changes played a part in the district's low projections for Beaufort High. She said although most students who wanted to remain at Beaufort High filled out a transfer application, some did not.

Other factors also contributed to high-than-expected enrollment at Beaufort High, she said.

Hayes said more students than anticipated moved from private schools to public high schools this year, particularly in the Beaufort High attendance zone. School officials could not immediately provide the number of former private school students who enrolled at Beaufort High or other district schools this year.

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