Every school year is a mix of the old and the new, and 2016-2017 is no different.
Students carry clean backpacks loaded with fresh school supplies, say good morning to a new set of teachers and, now another year older, see the familiar halls of their schools with new eyes. But some changes are likely to stand out to students, parents teachers and staff, whether it’s an entirely new high school embarking on its first year or school start times that have some kids sleeping in and others waking earlier than ever.
Here are 10 new things to watch out for in the Beaufort County School District this year:
1. Welcome, administrators
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As always, Beaufort County schools will be filled with plenty of new faces, some joining the district for the first time, others starting work at a different school and others still taking on new responsibilities. Here are the principals and assistant principals new to their school or administrative position this year:
- Beaufort Middle: Derek Scaggs, assistant principal
- Bluffton High: Denise Garison, principal; Bryan Ryman, assistant principal
- H.E. McCracken Middle: Jerry Henderson, principal; Susan Madagan, assistant principal
- Lady’s Island Middle: Greg Hall, principal; Chloe Gordon, assistant principal
- May River High: Todd Bornsheuer, principal; Lindsay Skirtich, assistant principal; Avis Washington, assistant principal
- Robert Smalls International Academy: Lorene Pryor, assistant principal
- St. Helena Elementary: Tara Mack, principal
- Whale Branch Elementary: Francine Danzler, assistant principal
- Whale Branch Early College High: Milton Howard, assistant principal
2. May River High School
Bluffton’s new, long-anticipated high school opens Monday, along with the district’s second Advanced Technical Center.
The career and technology education offerings include automotive, business, engineering, health sciences, culinary studies for hospitality and tourism, public safety and welding.
The principal, Todd Bornscheuer, brings two years of experience in the district and more than 20 in education to the job.
The school’s mascot: The Sharks. The uniform: Gray, white, royal blue and black. The school’s mission: To prepare students for the ever-changing career marketplace and global economy.
3. Career and Tech expands
Beaufort County schools will add a nurse aide component to its health sciences offerings at Whale Branch Early College and May River high schools.
The nurse aide career is one of the fastest-growing jobs in the country, and particularly in Beaufort County, where the population is quickly aging into senior-living and nursing-home situations.
Students will be able to take a new South Carolina health science pre-requisite, Level 3, this year. They would then be eligible to participate in the nurse aid program, which would start as early as spring 2017 and would include clinical experience in long-term care facilities or hospitals and a simulated patient setting to practice skills for the nurse aid exam.
The program is geared toward students who want to pursue a two- or four-year medical training program after graduating high school.
4. Islands Academy
The school district's alternative-education school returns with a new name this year, chosen with help of its own students.
The newly dubbed Islands Academy, located at the district office in Beaufort, enrolls students who either choose to participate in its alternative education structure or have been assigned there after a disciplinary hearing.
Director Susan Koves-Guillen says students were particularly excited to rename the school, previously called Right Choice, because of the negative conotations of alternative education. The new name sets the school apart from the district’s disciplinary program, called Right Choices.
Also new this year, students at the sixth- through 12th-grade academy will be able to take part in the district’s partnership with Technical College of the Lowcountry to earn college-level credits free of charge; and the school will be busing some students to the district's Advanced Technical Centers for career and technology education.
Some things haven’t changed, though, Koves-Guillen says.
The academy is entering its second year under its Titan House philosophy, through which students are randomly placed in one of four houses, Cronus, Gaia, Helios and Promethus. It’s a bit like “Harry Potter,” Koves-Guillen admits.
Each house has a staff and student leader, facilitators to ease in new students, and opportunities for students to earn merits for their house. Last year, Koves-Guillen says the school holds house competitions each month, from chess and story-writing contests to food drives.
5. Start times are switched
Beaufort County middle and high school students will enjoy later start times this year to help the older kids get more sleep when they most need it, in the mornings.
Outside of the Hilton Head Island cluster, which piloted later times a few years ago, the new bell schedule will push middle and high school classes back from 8 a.m. to 8:45 a.m.
Elementary school classes will start earlier, moving from about 8:30 a.m. to 7:45 a.m.
Parents and students can find the new schedule on the district’s website.
6. Earlier bus rides (and new management)
New school start times also mean new bus route times, and early starts for elementary schoolers.
They will board this year as early as 6:25 a.m. (that’s for Whale Branch Elementary’s first stop on Charleston Highway), with 6:30 a.m. a close second (Lady’s Island Elementary School’s first stop at Sam’s Point Road and Brindlewood Drive).
Parents, be sure to check your school’s bus routes so you’re not caught off guard.
The district has also brought its busing system in-house, rather than renew its contract with Durham School Services. New transportation director Kerry Mayo says parents shouldn’t notice any major differences, but the department will be keeping track of complaints to review its performance periodically throughout the year.
Mayo cautions that the first few weeks of school will be an adjustment period for the district and parents alike.
7. ... and new rules
Bus drivers will also be cracking down on bad behavior, especially dangerous rule-breaking, this year.
Under a new district regulation, students who repeatedly violate serious rules on the bus may not get to keep riding it. After committing three violations that are Level II or higher on the bus, a student can lose their riding privileges for the remainder of the year, the new rule states.
Mayo says the focus on orderly behavior is a matter of safety. It’s important that drivers are not distracted, and that students follow the rules from the time they approach the bus to the time they get off.
“The most dangerous time for schoolchildren is the loading and unloading process,” he said.
8. A different grading scale
Beaufort County School District is set to change over from a 7-point grading scale to 10-point grading scale for the coming school year. The S.C. Department of Education requires the switch for all public state high schools, saying it will “level the playing field” for its students, according to the department’s website.
The new scale will lower the lowest passing grade from a 70 to a 60 and will be aligned with neighboring states, according to the site. This is expected to make transitions easier for families moving in and out of the state and make is easier for scholarships and awards.
9. FAFSA open soon
High school seniors who are getting ready to apply to colleges will now be able to fill out their FAFSA applications as early at Oct. 1.
In years prior, students had to wait until Jan. 1 to include the past year’s tax information. This October, students and parents can input their 2015 tax information to see what financial aid will be available for them for the 2017-2018 academic year.
Geri Henderson, director of Secondary Education and former lead counselor for the district, said this will give students and families an earlier look at the financial aid they will be eligible to receive, allowing them to gauge which colleges are affordable for them as they apply.
10. Construction zone
The school district almost always keeps major construction to the summer months, but students and staff at Beaufort Elementary School will notice some ongoing work this week.
The district is still completing a roof replacement for the Prince Street school. The project will be completed in September.
School district spokesman Jim Foster says equipment is being stored off campus and the work is being done on the roof rather than in the building. Some of the noisier work is being reserved for after school hours, and other tasks can be temporarily halted if noise becomes a problem during school.
No construction will take place the first two days of school or during MAP testing.