Beaufort News

School officials: We have no plans to leave Beaufort Elementary School building

School district officials have no plans to move students out of Beaufort Elementary School to make the building a permanent home for Riverview Charter School, they said Wednesday.

Jennifer Morillo, principal of Beaufort Elementary, said newspaper reports of Tuesday discussions between Beaufort City Council and the Riverview director about turning the public school near Bay Street into the charter school's permanent location caught her off guard.

"It was a complete surprise to everyone," she said.

"We were just completely blindsided, even shocked, that a suggestion like that would be made," school district spokesman Jesse Washington said.

Morillo said neither she nor other school officials were aware the idea would be discussed at the city council workshop. If they had been, a representative from the school district would have attended, she said.

Beaufort Elementary houses about 600 students in a building that holds the main elementary school program, a program for students with special needs and the Advanced Math, Engineering and Science Academy, a magnet program for gifted students.

Next school year, the school plans to offer Montessori instruction there to students throughout the county.

Morillo projects enrollment will grow to 650 or 700 this fall, making the school about three-quarters full. It has a capacity of about 900.

There are no plans to move current students or magnet programs to a different building, she said.

"We're certainly happy where we are," she said.

Morillo added the school will remain focused on academic improvement during the spring testing season and won't let the proposal become a distraction.

"I have absolutely no reason and, better yet, no evidence to believe that BES will become the (Riverview Charter site)," she wrote in an email to parents and other school supporters.

Riverview is temporarily located on Burroughs Avenue in a building it leases from the school district. This fall, it plans to also lease from Beaufort County a parcel of land adjacent to the building that will house six portable classrooms to alleviate anticipated overcrowding.

Riverview now serves 304 students but is seeking a permanent facility large enough to hold the 684 students in kindergarten through eighth grade it expects to eventually enroll. The school's charter allows it to expand annually during the next several years.

The Beaufort County Board of Education voted last year to recommend downtown Beaufort as the permanent site for Riverview after reviewing three possible locations. Beaufort City Council members endorsed the decision and helped the school identify and research potential sites.

Council members said Tuesday they plan to vote this month on a resolution endorsing Riverview's use of the Beaufort Elementary building.

Alison Thomas, director of Riverview, said the proposal was made by the city after it conducted its own evaluation of potential school sites downtown. She was invited to the meeting to answer questions about the school and said she supported the city's conclusion.

"It was very much city-led," she said. "It's their analysis and their conclusion."

The Riverview Board of Directors thanked the city for its acknowledgment of Riverview as a valuable partner in a letter it planned to send to parents and other supporters.

"To date, the school has not engaged its architectural team in evaluating the Beaufort Elementary facility, however Riverview would welcome the opportunity to do so in so long as it would be beneficial to all of the parties concerned," the letter says.