Saying when she started as interim superintendent on Aug. 1 that she walked into a "lingering issue," Debbie Hamm released her proposal Monday night for closing and consolidating three low-enrollment schools in Sumter School District.
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Thursday: Sumter High School, Commons Area
Monday: Cherryvale Elementary School, Multipurpose Room
Tuesday: R.E. Davis Elementary School, Cafeteria
Thursday, March 22: Hillcrest Middle School, (location still to be determined)
* All meetings are scheduled to begin at 7 p.m.
F.J. DeLaine Elementary: 124 students (includes pre-k)
Rafting Creek Elementary: 152 students (includes pre-k)
Mayewood Middle: 135 students
Hamm presented her draft consolidation proposal to the district's board of trustees at its regular monthly meeting Monday, held in Sumter High School's commons area to accommodate an anticipated larger number of community residents in attendance than a typical meeting.
Hamm discussed with the board - as about 150 community members listened - the administration's proposal for closing Mayewood Middle School, Rafting Creek Elementary School in Rembert and F.J. DeLaine Elementary School in Wedgefield at the end of this school year.
Unlike a separate school-closure recommendation formulated last year by a financial consultant who worked with the district, Hamm's proposal this year would move each school's students into other larger schools in the same rural parts of the county and begin new academic magnet programs at those schools. Those programs will enrich academic opportunities for all students at those schools and potentially help increase enrollment to sustain them, Hamm said.
What is being proposed?
In the draft proposal, which Hamm emphasized could change after receiving the community's input, Mayewood's students would move to R.E. Davis Elementary, and the school would become a kindergarten-through-eighth-grade school in the eastern portion of the county. According to district staff, projected enrollment at Mayewood next school year is 135 students.
Nationally recognized programs would be implemented to make it a College Preparatory Academy Magnet School. Those programs include AVID (Advancement Via Individual Determination) and Core Knowledge, both of which are recognized for better preparing students for college. A nationally recognized soft-skills program called Leader in Me would also begin to prepare students to be more well-rounded, learning such skills as teamwork, which employers say is critical in today's high-skills economy.
Similarly on the other side of the school district, Rafting Creek's students would move to Hillcrest Middle School in Dalzell, and it would also become a K-8 College Preparatory Academy Magnet School with the same program offerings. According to district staff, projected enrollment at Rafting Creek next school year is 152 students, including pre-kindergarten students.
F.J. DeLaine Elementary's students would move to Cherryvale Elementary School to become a single larger elementary school. It would also become a magnet school, with a science, technology, engineering, arts and math (STEAM) focus. Cherryvale already has a strong arts program, Hamm said. The science, technology, engineering and math concentration would be a feather in the cap for the Cherryvale school because many future jobs are projected in those career fields. AVID would also be available to encourage students to be college-bound at the school.
According to district staff, projected enrollment at F.J. DeLaine next school year is 124 students, including pre-kindergarten.
Hamm said administration thinks the consolidations are necessary to provide strong academic opportunities for all students and improve safety and supervision at schools and are the most efficient use of funding and resources.
In the consolidations, teachers and principals would move with the students to the new schools, she said.
The K-8 schools would have co-principals for the elementary school and middle school.
What led to the proposal?
Hamm said several "guiding considerations" factored into the consolidation proposal, including ensuring all students would have a beneficial education, continuing to have schools in rural areas of the county, minimizing transportation time to new schools, enhancing the image of the district through new academic programs and saving money.
"This is part of our effort to ensure we keep rural schools open," Hamm said. "By making these schools top-notch magnet schools, it's a good reason to make choices to stay in these schools or for others to transfer their kids into them under open enrollment since next year we will be able to advertise them as magnet programs. I think it's a great opportunity for the students and really good for rural education."
What are the changes in distance and commute?
According to district staff, the maximum additional miles for bus transportation of students to new schools ranges from two to six miles. Mayewood is two miles from R.E. Davis, F.J. DeLaine is three miles from Cherryvale, and Rafting Creek is six miles from Hillcrest, Hamm said.
The two K-8 schools would operate on the district's middle-school bus route schedule, according to Hamm - that isn't as early in the morning as the current elementary school schedule.
What will cost savings be used for?
By the district's calculations, the consolidation proposal would generate about $3.6 million in cost savings during the first three years to invest in additional educational opportunities for students, Hamm said, such as reducing class sizes, special programming and teacher recruitment and retention.
"A million dollars a year can go toward issues like reducing class size, classroom resources that are in short supply in some places," Hamm said. "So, this isn't saving money to just fatten the pocket or for something in the future - right now these are things we need to do as a school district. We can probably save a little over $1 million a year, and $3.5 million over the course of three years can make a real difference in our classrooms, and that's what we want to see happen.
"It's not about a technical high school. It's about things that students need right now, and these monies will be invested in rural schools to make a difference and hopefully maintain and increase enrollment in those schools."
The next step in the process will be four scheduled "community conversation sessions," according to Hamm.
Hamm emphasized Monday that her proposal at this point is a draft and that she wants to gather community input from the four sessions.
Board Chairman the Rev. Daryl McGhaney said after the meeting that no board members were opposed to Hamm moving forward with a draft consolidation proposal in the community meetings.
"The board always said we wanted community input," McGhaney said. "Now, we have a proposal presented to the board, and we want to make sure the community's voices are heard."
What did the community say?
Ten community members spoke during public participation at the beginning of Monday's meeting. Several said they were from the Rembert area near Rafting Creek, and all spoke out against closing any low-enrollment schools in rural parts of the county. Their comments were made before Hamm gave her presentation proposal.
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