School board discusses proposals for Lady's Island Elementary and Bluffton schools

sbowman@beaufortgazette.comSeptember 17, 2013 

  • In other action, the board:

  • Approved the appropriation of $242,454 to offer Supplemental Educational Services to children at Title I schools.

  • Accepted a $6,250.75 donation from Robert Arundell & Associates to Hilton Head High School for an afterschool tutoring program.

  • Accepted a $1,000 donation from the Rotary Club of Hilton Head Island to the Hilton Head Island School for Creative Arts for the Positive Behavior and Intervention Support program.

  • Three proposals that could change grade configurations, add schools to the district or change attendance zones were the hot discussion topics at Tuesday night's Beaufort County Board of Education meeting.
  • At the meeting in the Bluffton library, the board heard presentations and had the chance to ask questions on three proposals:

  • one to build two new schools in Bluffton

  • a second to move some Bluffton area students to Battery Creek.

  • and a third to move fifth-grade classes back to Lady's Island Elementary School

  • BLUFFTON SCHOOLS

    Superintendent Jeffrey Moss surprised board members at the meeting with a new proposal to address overcrowding in Bluffton-area schools. It would redraw some Bluffton attendance zones, sending students from Okatie to Battery Creek schools.

    Specifically, it would move grades six through eight to Robert Smalls Middle School, and grades nine through 12 to Battery Creek High School, Moss said. Bluffton students previously sent to Hilton Head schools because of the overcrowding would return to Bluffton schools.

    Moss said offering this additional option comes after feedback about his original proposal to build a new elementary school for kindergarten through eighth grade and a new middle-high school for sixth through 12th grade.

    Both would be "schools of choice" -- facilities that students could attend regardless of their attendance zones. Preference would be given to Bluffton-area students.

    The curricula would be driven by parents and the community and could include a Montessori approach in the elementary school and a college- and career-ready curriculum for the older students.

    Much of the feedback has centered around a desire to keep the Bluffton area a "one high school town," Moss said. Under the rezoning proposal, the K-8 school on Davis Road would still be build.

    "This is one option that would stay within the desire to have one high school without expending dollars to build schools," Moss said. "We would utilize space that is currently available at no cost and would reduce the overcrowded problems at the other schools," he said.

    Some questions remain, however, concerning transportation and the time students would spend on a bus to northern Beaufort County. Moss said the longest route would be between 20 to 25 miles.

    Moss said he is not promoting one proposal over another, but wanted to offer a new option beyond building the two new schools.

    The district already owns the land that could be used for both those schools, and Moss has said a tax increase would not be required to build them.

    He has created a tentative but fast-paced schedule for the schools, which he hopes will be open by late 2015.

    LADY'S ISLAND ELEMENTARY

    Fifth-graders currently attend Lady's Island Middle School. However, the Lady's Island Elementary School Improvement Council voted in May to ask the board to return the school to traditional grade configurations for the 2014-15 school year. That would return fifth graders to the elementary school.

    Elementary Principal Marvelle Ulmer spoke to the board Tuesday night, explaining that the school has the capability to bring fifth-graders back.

    Ulmer said the school wants to expand and strengthen its arts-infused curriculum to reach more children and have them move from pre-K to fifth grade in one place.

    In June, the board voted to deny the shift for the current school year, saying the idea needed more study.

    District officials also said it was too late to make a change for the current year. Board policy calls for changes in student assignments to be made no later than Oct. 1 of the previous school year.

    Some parents and board members said in June parents should have the choice of whether their children are taught in an elementary or intermediate school setting.

    Board Chairman Bill Evans said board members are expected to decide on the Bluffton and Lady's Island proposals at their Oct. 1 meeting.

    The board will again discuss all the proposals at a special meeting at 5 p.m. tonight at the Bluffton Middle School Media Center. A second meeting is scheduled for 4 p.m. Tuesday at the district office, 3200 Mink Point Blvd., Beaufort.

    Both meetings are designed to gather more input from parents.

    Follow reporter Sarah Bowman on Twitter at twitter.com/IPBG_Sarah.

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