Lady's Island Elementary parents push for return of fifth grade

tbarton@beaufortgazette.comMay 19, 2013 

A group of Lady's Island Elementary parents is pushing for fifth-grade classes to return to the school.

The parents met last week with Beaufort County Board of Education members to discuss the idea, and members of the School Improvement Council voted Thursday to recommend the board consider the change for the 2014-15 school year.

Parents had suggested fifth grade be added back in August for the next school year, but district and school officials say it's too late in the year to make such a change.

The school board restructured Lady's Island Intermediate and Middle School and three nearby elementary schools in 2008 to boost math and science instruction and balance lopsided school enrollments.

The district split Lady's Island Middle into a fifth- and sixth-grade intermediate school and a seventh- and eighth-grade middle school. Both focus on science, technology, engineering and math.

The plan helped fill Lady's Island Middle, which was one-third empty at the time, while relieving Coosa Elementary, which was over capacity.

Now, however, some parents worry students entering fifth grade are not ready for the transition to a larger middle school and lose the option to continue the arts-infused education they received at Lady's Island Elementary where students take traditional classes, as well as dance, drama, strings and visual arts.

"This is about programming," said Denise Bono, who has two rising fifth-graders at Lady's Island Elementary. She also has a sixth-grader and eighth-grader at Lady's Island Middle.

Beaufort Middle School also offers an arts-focused curriculum, but it doesn't begin until sixth grade.

Kim Wiley says her 9-year-old daughter has "blossomed" under the arts-infused instruction at Lady's Island Elementary and wants her to continue the curriculum in fifth grade and beyond.

"She loves to sing," said Wiley, who moved her daughter from Shell Point Elementary to Lady's Island Elementary, in part so she could participate in show choir and dance.

Lady's Island Elementary principal Marvelle Ulmer said the school has space for fifth grade.

"Students have thrived in this setting, and there is great merit and promise for having them continue another year to develop their arts skills," Ulmer said.

Lady's Island Middle School principal Mona Lise Dickson says her school offers top-notch dance, band, media arts and visual-arts programs, and is working with district officials to expand its arts offerings.

"We've had great success with fifth grade here," Dickson said. "... We enjoy having our fifth-graders here ... and look at educating the whole child and know how important the arts are in that process."

School board Chairman Bill Evans, who represents Lady's Island, said the board will need to consider the schools' configuration as it develops a strategic plan for the district this summer.

"I think this is part of a bigger issue. What is going to drive our grade configurations?" Evans said. "Capacity of a building or instructional offerings or some combination of both?"

Follow reporter Tom Barton at twitter.com/IPBG_Tom.

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