The plan to move fifth-graders to Robert Smalls Middle School next school year is a necessity, a school district official says, but there's no pressing need to add fifth grade at Beaufort Middle.
Moving fifth-graders from Shanklin, Shell Point and Broad River elementary schools to Robert Smalls is a likely result of the decision to close Shell Point Elementary next school year, said Phyllis White, the district's chief operational services officer.
But a proposal to make a similar shift of students into Beaufort Middle School merely arose out of discussions from a task force that examined school closures and a concern about projected overcrowding at Mossy Oaks Elementary, she said. The task force recommended uniform grade configurations for middle schools throughout northern Beaufort County.
At recent meetings, some parents have opposed the plan to add fifth grade at Beaufort Middle, but few have spoken out against the Robert Smalls' addition.
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One parents believes that's partly because the district has presented the plans for the two schools differently.
Cathy Emmert, who has two children at Shell Point Elementary, said she attended a district-hosted parent forum to discuss the shift at Robert Smalls Middle School last week. That gathering felt less like a chance to discuss the plan, and more like a presentation about why the shift is needed, she said Tuesday during a town hall meeting hosted by school board member Bill Evans.
At a meeting last week at Beaufort Middle School, a large group of parents opposed the proposal to move fifth-graders from Mossy Oaks, Port Royal and Beaufort elementary schools to Beaufort Middle. Emmert said the district's Powerpoint presentation to the parents at that meeting was different than the one shown at the Robert Smalls meeting.
The presentations began with different questions -- "Should Beaufort Middle become a grades 5-8 school?" and, "Why is Robert Smalls Middle recommended to become a grades 5-8 school?"
Also, the Beaufort Middle presentation lists pros and cons of three options -- one of which is to not add fifth grade. The Robert Smalls Middle presentation detailed proposed attendance zones. It also outlined attendance projections for the 2012-13 school year if fifth-graders were moved to Robert Smalls Middle. A map of the school indicated which classrooms would be used for fifth grade. Transportation options also were presented.
White also noted the Robert Smalls plan has been discussed since November; the Beaufort Middle proposal didn't emerge until Aug. 5.
She said that every time the district has moved fifth-graders to a middle school, it's been a necessity.
Robert Smalls' staff is preparing for the shift. Principal Denise Smith proposes to keep fifth-graders separated from older students. White said teachers escort students to their classes, so interaction between the grades would be minimal.
White said there are no additional costs expected from the shift at Robert Smalls. No modifications are planned to the building, and it's not expected that more buses will be needed to transport fifth-graders separately to and from the school.
At Evans' town hall meeting, the school board member said he understood Emmert's concerns but added that fifth-graders would be closely monitored by teachers and staff in the halls.
"We need to recognize that adults will be there," Evans said. "I suspect the administration and teachers are attuned and sensitive to your concerns."
The school board is expected to vote Tuesday on the proposed fifth-grade shifts. The meeting begins at 6 p.m. in County Council Chambers at the county administration building, 100 Ribaut Road in Beaufort.
Follow reporter Rachel Heaton at twitter.com/HomeroomBft.