New proposed attendance zones bring districtwide changes

sbowman@beaufortgazette.comJanuary 13, 2014 

Beaufort County school superintendent Jeffrey Moss talks about the district's proposal of what it wants the attendance zones to look like for the district during the first of three meetings to discuss attendance zones for the district on Jan. 13, 2014, at Okatie Elementary School in Okatie.

DELAYNA EARLEY — Staff photo Buy Photo

The Beaufort County School District kicked off the contentious attendance zones conversation Monday night with its first proposal -- Plan A.

"I'm sure we will see what plans B through Z look like by the time we are finished," superintendent Jeffrey Moss said at the start of the Student Services Committee meeting.

This plan would bring about changes across the entire county.

Under Plan A, students from Moss Creek, Old South and the Gatherings who now attend Hilton Head Island schools would return to Bluffton. In northern Beaufort County, students at Port Royal and Mossy Oaks elementary schools and Beaufort Middle School would attend Battery Creek High School instead of Beaufort High.

Moss said these lines were drawn to balance enrollment numbers and demographics around district schools.

Several schools around the county are overcrowded, while others are below capacity and only using about 50 percent of their buildings. With the proposed changes, the average enrollment capacity in the district would be 73 percent, according to Moss.

The redrawn lines also were largely based on criteria the board adopted in October, such as natural boundaries and an effort to keep neighborhoods intact.

"Given the parameters and the numbers, we felt this was the optimal plan," Moss said. "But now it is in the hands of the board to give us direction on what they would like to see."

School board members were initially supportive and said Monday's proposal was a good start, but they wanted to see some different scenarios.

Several members asked to see a map that kept Moss Creek and other area communities attending Hilton Head schools. Many parents have told district officials they would like their children to remain there.

Others wanted to see a plan that moved Port Royal and Mossy Oaks elementary schools and Beaufort Middle so they again fed in to Beaufort High School. Some of the changes aimed to accommodate the transformation of Robert Smalls Middle School to serve students in grades prekindergarten through eight.

"We need time to digest and look through some other possible scenarios to what the board feels are problem areas," said Evva Anderson, co-chair of the Student Services Committee. "But I think this is a very good start ... and think that with just a few tweaks, we will be at the optimal lines before too long."

The other notable change presented Monday was the creation of attendance zones for the two new schools that will be built in Bluffton to ease overcrowding. Creating zones for these new schools caused all the zones in Bluffton to change.

The new prekindergarten through eighth-grade elementary school on Davis Road will mostly take students from Pritchardville and Okatie elementary schools.

Students from Pritchardville and Bluffton elementary schools would then go to H.E. McCracken Middle Schools, while students at M.C. Riley, Okatie and Red Cedar elementary schools would feed in to Bluffton Middle School.

The zones for the new high school in New Riverside caused some concerns because some residents would drive past Bluffton High to get to the new school. Board member Laura Bush said she would like to see a map where all students were attending the school nearest to them.

Moss said demographic considerations -- which the district must keep in mind under voluntary desegregation -- make drawing lines difficult.

"Some of our kids might drive by a school to get to a school, yes, but they won't be driving very far because all of our schools are so close together," Moss said.

The district will now work to create several more plans to show the committee at its next meeting at 4:30 p.m. Jan. 23 at Okatie Elementary. Another meeting at the same time and place is scheduled for Jan. 30.

After the meetings, Moss said, the committee should have a few recommendations to take to the full board. The district also plans to meet in each of the five high school areas in February to hear from those communities.

"This is always a very emotional issue, and I think it is important to cover as many possibilities as you can for the vetting process," said Coosa Elementary School principal Carmen Dillard. "But taking the time to explain the rationale behind the school board's decisions will be helpful."

Documents

Northern Beaufort County attendance zone plan A

Southern Beaufort County attendance zone plan B

Video: Moss on attendance zone proposal A

Beaufort schools superintendent Jeffrey Moss discusses the first of three Student Services Committee meetings in which he will present various attendance zone proposals. Moss presented the first proposal, Plan A, at Monday night's meeting. Sarah Bowman

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

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