The Marlboro County Board of Education approved 6-3 at their meeting Monday night (March 4) option B for the school reconfiguration for the 2019-2020 school year.
Board members Michael Coachman, Danny Driggers, Nan Fleming, Rev. James Smith, Board Chairman Larry McNeil and Board Secretary Janice Bright voted yes while Board Vice chair Jackie Branch, Katherine Manville and Macky Norton voted no.
The selected option will create the Blenheim School of Discovery with students from Blenheim, Clio, and Bennettsville attendance zone for grades 6-8 and School of Discovery (6-8) audition students.
It will have a true middle school model with honors and college prep curriculum pathways. Students will have a club-based schedule where they can participate in extracurriculars and intramural sports along with exposure to exploratory classes.
SOD will still have the audition process to participate with group performances in the winter/spring and community performances and state/national competitions. An academic performance expectation will be added to the enrollment process.
Clio Elementary School will have students attending from the Clio attendance zone grades preK-5 grade and Blenheim attendance zone grades PreK-5.
Bennettsville Primary School will become PreK-3 and Bennettsville Intermediate will house grades 4-5.
This option could save the district about $465,000 per year.
Superintendent Dr. Gregory McCord recommended the option and said it was not being done for just financial reasons.
"I'm doing this because I think it is in the best interest of all students," he said.
In February, a board workshop along with two forums were held about the two options for school reconfiguration.
Discussion started after a motion was made to approve option B.
Norton said his preference was to leave the School of Discovery where it was. He said he looked at the pros and cons of both options.
"I am not sure you can judge a school program by the facility that it is in," he said.
Fleming had seen SOD students performing at a recent Black History program and noted them getting along with other children. She didn't feel there would be a problem with bullying any more than normal.
Driggers said his biggest concern was bullying and what could be done.
"It has got to be some way to cut down or control that type of stuff," he said.
McCord said it was his responsibility to put an administrative team in place to address issues such as bullying and overall discipline.
Bright said she was happy that the fifth graders would return to BIS and the third graders stay at BPS.
"I am sorry we have to move the School of Discovery," she said.
Branch said there was a lot about the recommendation he liked but his big issue was SOD.
He talked about the school district having a vision for an arts magnet program for 20 years.
He realized there was deterioration of the facility but felt a lot could be fixed with a new roof on it.
"If this school closes, it's on the back of the school board," Branch said. "I would ask this school board not to destroy that vision that began about 20 years ago."
Branch made a motion to amend the original motion to postpone closure of SOD for one calendar year and look at grants and outside funds to help with the school. It was seconded and led to more discussion.
Coachman felt the recommendation was a fair one.
"I just want the School of Discovery to be recognized for who they are in the future," he said.
He touched on the bullying concern and said his granddaughter, who is a student at SOD, had experienced it there.
"Bullying is everywhere," he said. "I think there is a lot of fear here. We have to remember that these are all of our children."
Manville said she taught at four different schools in the county and the SOD was the last one where she taught.
"It was the happiest school," she said. "I really think the best choice, as Mr. Branch said, is to postpone it for a year."
Driggers felt the SOD was not the building.
"I think it is the students," he said. "I think it is the teachers. I think it is the people enrolled in the school. I think we could put them in a metal can and they would still perform."
Fleming noted that 50 years ago, there were 37 schools in Marlboro County.
"Closing those schools was not an easy decision but we're still here," she said. "We are still striving and moving forward. Sometimes we have to let some things go and do for the future."
McNeil agreed with Branch that someone had a vision and the result was numerous state and national awards garnered by the SOD.
"What is going to stop those kids from performing at their best," he said. "We are just moving them to another place."
He asked that the adult feelings be put aside and let the kids do what they do best.
Smith said SOD is about the children.
"We got the numbers," he said. "We know the condition. Don't let progress be impeded because of a building. These children will have a greater opportunity relocating on option B."
Board members voted 5-3 against the amendment. Manville, Branch and Norton voted in favor of the amendment.
Branch made another amendment to have SOD remain a school within a school at Blenheim Middle. This would mean moving the entire staff and students and allowing them to have an area of the Blenheim facility exclusive to SOD.
When asked if it was possible, McCord said it was but at a tremendous cost and a detriment to what they were trying to do.
"My goal is to make sure we seek out the best educational opportunities for all students," he said. "Do I believe option B will help us accomplish that? I do. Do I believe amending it to have a school within a school would help us to accomplish that? I don't believe that to be possible or fiscally responsible."
The amendment failed with a vote of 7-2 with Branch and Norton voting yes.