Before Fort Mill School District’s eighth and ninth elementary schools open in 2014, elementary school attendance zones will be redrawn to accommodate the growing district.
Three of the district’s elementary schools, Gold Hill, Orchard Park and Pleasant Knoll have frozen enrollment. A fourth, Sugar Creek, recently announced a modified enrollment freeze, slated to begin on June 7. A modified freeze means that students are only allowed to enroll in the school if the grade level they are enrolling in has not reached capacity.
At Tuesday night’s board meeting, Dr. Dale Holden, a consultant hired by the district to guide the process, gave the school board a brief timelineand some information on how the process will work. It’s expected to take months to complete.
Holden and district staff are gathering enrollment projection data and developing preliminary attendance area plans. Typically, he said, they develop two or three possible plans and present them to the board and the community at a public forum sometime in the fall.
“The input we have gotten in the past from the public has played a significant role in changes in how those attendance areas are finalized and I expect that will happen again,” Holden said.
Holden warned that redrawing attendance zones will be a somewhat different process than the last time the district redrew attendance zone lines, for middle schools in 2010-2011. At that time, Holden said, several criteria were considered when creating the attendance zones that “need to be treated differently” this time, he said, such as preserving neighborhoods.
He pointed out that with more than 271 different developments in the township, sending entire neighborhoods to the same school would be difficult, if not impossible.
“While we would all like to say, ‘Let’s preserve neighborhoods. Let’s send all of one neighborhood to a particular school.’ That may not be realistic. We have neighborhoods that could fill one and a half elementary schools. You’ve got to be realistic.”
Elementary school attendance lines have been redrawn once in recent years, in 2008 when Sugar Creek and Pleasant Knoll Elementary School opened. Middle school attendance zones were redrawn in 2005 and 2010, and high school attendance zones were redrawn in 2007.
Elementary school attendance zones are the only attendance zones being redrawn this time, district spokesperson Kelly McKinney said.
Transportation, Holden said, will likely be inconvenient for some. For others, he added, commutes to school will be shorter because attendance areas will shrink.
Among the criteria are also demographics, the socio-economic and ethnic composition of the schools.
“Our purpose is to educate the children and as a result we don't control who decides to move there and who doesn't. We're in the business of educating the children,” Holden said. “That may result in slightly different demographics in the schools, but you have that now and look at the ratings."
All of the district’s elementary schools received a Palmetto Gold award from the South Carolina Department of Education for academic achievement. Five received a gold or silver award for high rates of improvement. The elementary schools each also have excellent ‘Absolute’ and excellent ‘Growth’ ratings in 2012 on the annual report cards issued by the Department of Education.
The Fort Mill School District is the smallest in the state in physical size at 53 square miles, Holden said, but one of the fastest growing.
Right now, 5,281 students are enrolled in the district’s seven elementary schools.
“Where children go to school is highly important and people moving into the district should feel completely at ease about putting their children at any one of their schools,” Holden said.
“And what is important is that this district has never opened an elementary school that hasn't lived up to these standards. They will be just as strong as the schools already in this district. It goes back to putting children first.”