CLIO — More than 50 people had a chance to learn about the two options for possible school reconfiguration for Marlboro County School District at Tuesday's forum at Clio Elementary Middle School.
A second forum is at 6 p.m. Thursday, Feb. 7 at Blenheim Elementary Middle School.
Marlboro County Board of Education members held a workshop on Feb. 2 where the two options were presented.
"We ask that you hear the presentations with an open mind," said Marlboro County School District Superintendent Dr. Gregory McCord.
"No decision has been made," he said. "We have simply presented some options for all to consider."
In March, McCord said he would make a recommendation based on the information and feedback he has received to the board. "And then they will make a decision based on my recommendation, only then and after that time, can we say a decision has been made," he said.
In both options, Bennettsville Primary School would add third graders to the school.
Bennettsville Intermediate School would have the fifth graders return from CEMS making it a school for just fourth and fifth grades.
Principal Crystal Hewett said this would allow current students at BIS to have another year to solidify current instructional programs and practices.
The move would also reduce transportation concerns and costs, decrease the number of school transitions, decrease the loss of instructional time due to transportation, and increase parental support.
CEMS and the School of Discovery would be combined to create the Clio School of Discovery. This would include Clio attendance area students in grades pre-k-8 grade and the School of Discovery audition students in grades 6-8.
CEMS Principal Julia Cain said they would be able to offer students a STEAM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Art and Math) program.
Other options would include extracurricular activities such as athletics and performing groups, certified teachers for STEM subjects, mentoring programs, dedicated space for dance education and updated facilities to meet needs of the 21st-century child.
Blenheim Elementary Middle School would include the pre-K-8 but 6-8 graders from Bennettsville attendance area.
McCall Elementary Middle, Wallace Elementary Middle and Marlboro County High schools would remain the same.
CEMS would have students from Clio and Blenheim attendance area for grades pre-k-5.
Cain said they would be able to offer a STEM focus with certified teachers for STEM subjects and technology.
Blenheim School of Discovery would have students from Blenheim, Clio, and Bennettsville attendance areas with grades 6-8 and School of Discovery 6-8 audition students.
Blenheim Elementary Middle School Principal James McCall said the school would be a true middle school model.
"This age is different from any other time for children," he said. "They are not high school students. They are not elementary school students. They are trying to find their way."
Students would have a club-based schedule where they participate in extracurricular activities and intramural sports along with exposure to exploratory classes.
The school would have honors and college prep curriculum pathways.
SOD Principal Ashley Taylor added there would be a dedicated dance room. Currently, the cafeteria is used at SOD. In order to have dance classes, the tables and chairs must be broken down and put away after breakfast. The same tables and chairs must be put up for lunch and taken down after lunch.
"Option B in my eyes is what is best for our children," she said. "It will give them so many more opportunities."
McColl Elementary Middle, Wallace Elementary Middle and Marlboro County High schools would remain the same.
With both options, Taylor said there would still be an audition process to participate with group performances in the winter/spring and community performances and state/national competitions. A new component would be an academic performance expectation added to the enrollment process.
Before the forum began, the public had a chance to write down their questions so they could be read by Public Information Officer Connie Anderson and answered by McCord and administrative staff. The goal is to post the questions and answers on the district website at www.marlboro.k12.sc.us for those not able to attend the forums.
Some of the questions that were asked:
--Why isn't there an option to keep the School of Discovery where it is?
McCord felt the school is not the safest of environments and believed the district didn't have the funds to renovate the school. "I also believe because we have space available in schools that are ready, we can do more with the options that have been presented," he said. "Finally, if we were by chance to be blessed with $5 million dollars, we would still have to close the school for a minimum of 18 months to get it ready for students to enroll at the facility similar to this or Blenheim. During that time, students would be displaced."
--Initially told the cost to operate SOD was $1.2 million, now it is around $365,000? You also said teacher salaries would be increased with these savings. Where did that figure come from initially and will teachers still get their part of it?
McCord said it currently costs $1.2 million to operate SOD. This figure includes the cost of salaries and benefits for teachers, insurance for the building, maintenance required for the building.
Wes Park, chief officer for finance and operations for the district, said $950,000 of the $1.2 million goes directly to salaries and benefits along with money for utilities, and maintenance, instructional materials, and supplies. "The actual savings by consolidating and eliminating some of the duplications of staffing are about $365,000." The savings is $250,000 for option A and $365,000 for option B.
McCord said his goal is to be able to do something for every staff member, teacher, custodian and cafeteria worker. "This is a goal," he said. "It is hard to do on a tight budget. It is also hard to do capital improvements because the state only allocates so much money per student. So if you look at it from a dollars sense, which I am trying my best not to, we are spending $1.2 million for a population of 138. But it is not about the dollars, it is about doing the most with what we have."
--Was closing SOD the plan all along?
"No. We are just trying to see what we can do to provide the best possible education experience for our students," McCord said.
--What is the plan for the SOD building if the students are moved?
"That is a building that could possibly be re-purposed to the community," McCord said.
--Where is option C to leave SOD as a stand-alone school and why is it not an option?
McCord said there is no option C.
--How will integrating into a larger school with larger classes possibly benefit the students from SOD? Why not simply integrate STEM into SOD academic classes? And will the magnet students be in the same academic classes or will they be spread out throughout the non magnet students?
McCord said students in middle school are being prepared to move into high school and he would rather have an environment that is closer to what the high school is. He added enrollment at the Clio School of Discovery or Blenheim School of Discovery would not have more than 600 students. The high school has 1,000 students. "When you think about preparing students for the next level, blending them in early, allows for greater opportunities to build lasting relationships," he said.
Once the questions were completed, McCord opened up the forum to allow people to come forward to speak.
Kevin Adcock, a parent of a daughter at SOD, came forward to speak.
Adcock got emotional while speaking and talked about being a three-sports athlete in high school and a military veteran.
Adcock said he was pretty ashamed of how he treated kids like his daughter in high school.
"If I wasn't a bully, I was pretty close to it," he said. "I have learned over the years through my kids what a bad person I was."
He noted the social environment there was what mattered.
"It is a place where children with unique talents are free to express these talents and ideas without fear of reprisal from people like me," he said.
Adcock said they have talked about money, numbers, and grades but felt the students would be moved to schools where they would be picked on.
"Even as good as our teachers and our principals, I did it and it has been happening throughout time," he said. "I implore you. I ask you. I beg you to please consider leaving School of Discovery as a stand-alone school."