Redrawing attendance zones becomes school board priority

sbowman@beaufortgazette.comOctober 13, 2013 

With six meetings and a decision to build two new schools in greater Bluffton, the Beaufort County Board of Education has been busy in recent months.

But with that decision behind it, harder work is ahead -- and it's the sort of work that tends to raise the public's concern.

Now, the school board will set about redrawing attendance zones in the district and determining what curricula to follow at the new schools.

The school board's former chairman has some advice for board members delving into such thorny issues.

"I think the school board and others in the administration have to be comprehensive in their approach," said Fred Washington, who served on the board from 2006 until losing re-election in 2012. "They have to understand the inner relationships between the community and school, opportunities at the schools, drive time, cultural differences, as well as (racial composition) -- all those things need to be weighed."

The school board, after many proposals by superintendent Jeffrey Moss, voted Oct. 1 to build two schools in the Bluffton area -- one for prekindergarten through eighth grade and another for grades nine through 12. The board also decided the capacities of the schools -- 1,400 for the elementary school and 1,800 for the high school.

Moss has recommended the board consider redrawing attendance zones to balance enrollment across the district and make the best use of available space. New districts would take effect once the schools are built, which Moss expects to occur by 2016.

Board Chairman Bill Evans said that where high school attendance zones changed, seniors would be given the choice to stay at their current high school to graduate.

Attendance zone changes have caused community upheaval in the past. When the board decided in August 2011 to close Shell Point Elementary School for that reason, it upset parents at the shuttered school and sparked an effort that eventually spawned Bridges Preparatory School, a state-sponsored charter school.

The district must also work with the U.S. Office for Civil Rights to make sure student bodies at the schools comply with federal rules on racial composition.

Some of Moss' previous attendance-zone proposals have included bringing the Moss Creek area -- currently attending Hilton Head Island schools -- back into Bluffton. He has also suggested changing attendance lines so that no students are zoned to Beaufort Middle School. Instead, it would become a "school of choice" that offers a unique curriculum.

That curriculum -- and those at the new schools -- would also have to be considered. Past ideas have included a Montessori approach at the new elementary school and the Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics program, or STEM, at the high school.

The next step, Evans said, is to send these topics to the board's committees, which will make recommendations.

The Student Services Committee will discuss the attendance zones; the Curriculum and Instruction Committee, the academic programs; and the Finance and Operations Committee, the designs for the new schools.

Board members said they plan to continue listening to the community and parents throughout the process, as they did with the decision to build the schools.

"It's not just the committee, but it's the board, the parents and the community," said board member Evva Anderson, who chairs the Student Services Committee. "It's a difficult task, because we try to utilize that input but still have schools that are very effective for our kids."

She said she knows the boards' decisions won't please everyone.

"We have a great challenge ahead and a lot of tasks to start attacking," Anderson said. "But I think it will be wonderful in the end."

Follow reporter Sarah Bowman at twitter.com/IPBG_Sarah.


Interactive Beaufort County School District proposed attendance zone maps

Elementary school attendance zones (Proposed by Moss, Sept. 26):

Middle school attendance zones (Proposed by Superintendent Jeffrey Moss on Sept. 26, 2013):

High school attendance zones (Proposed by Moss on Sept. 26, 2013):

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