Beaufort County School District considers changes to Bluffton middle, high schools

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Beaufort County School District considers changes to Bluffton middle, high schools

By RACHEL HEATON
rheaton@beaufortgazette.com
Published Friday, November 30, 2012   |  571 Words  |  

More questions than answers remain for Bluffton-area parents concerned about changes that could bring ninth-graders to Bluffton High School next year.

About 250 parents and teachers assembled at Bluffton High for a community meeting Tuesday, where they heard from district officials -- that nothing has been decided yet. Ninth-graders could move from H.E. McCracken Middle School to Bluffton High next year -- but they could not. Mobile classrooms could be added to Bluffton High next year -- or they could not. In the long-term, a new high school could be built, but that might not be the solution either.

A community committee of representatives from all Bluffton-area schools has been charged with finding the solutions to the problems of over-capacity schools.

District officials have said that the two Bluffton middle schools -- the sixth- and seventh-grade Bluffton Middle and the eighth- and ninth-grade McCracken Middle -- are too crowded to maintain their current grade structures next fall. There's also no space to put mobile classrooms at those schools.

The schools have that grade structure, which is different from all other middle schools in the district, to relieve crowding at Bluffton High. But when it was approved by the Board of Education in 2011, the structure was only supposed to be a two-year solution.

To accomodate the influx of students should ninth-graders be moved to Bluffton High, mobile classrooms would have to be added. But those classrooms may or may not be used specifically for ninth-grade classes.Bluffton High principal Mark Dievendorf will work with staff to decide which classes or which grades could be housed there.

There's no consensus from the parents who spoke at Tuesday's meeting, either. Some said there's nothing wrong with mobile classrooms, while others suggested adding another wing to Bluffton High. A few suggested changing schedules from block scheduling -- in which students take classes on alternating days -- or to allow for students' early dismissal in order to relieve crowding at Bluffton High.

One said she didn't want to see the community eventually split into two high schools.

"Becuase of our growth, we have done great things, not just in sports but in academics," said Vicki Neitzel , who has children in three Bluffton schools. "What are you doing to keep us together?"

But another said she didn't see anything wrong with two high schools.

"I've lived in many cities that have numerous high schools, and they compete back and forth, and that's OK," said Julia Gwynn, who has students at M.C. Riley Elementary and McCracken Middle. "Why would we not build another high school?"

Another parent, Emily Beirman, the co-chairwoman of the School Improvement Council at Okatie Elementary, suggested sixth-graders be moved to elementary schools next year, and that the middle schools house seventh- through ninth-graders.

Rosswurm said Beirman's suggestion, along with the feedback from all who spoke, would be considered by the community committee when it begins meeting in early January.

The committee is expected to recommend a short-term solution in early March and long-term plans in early May.

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