The Rock Hill school board agreed Monday to build a new $5 million Montessori building and move out of The Children’s School at Sylvia Circle, though some members said the decision was made too quickly.
Board chairman Jim Vining and members Ann Reid and Helena Miller said they were concerned about the speed of a decision that affects several hundred children. Changes recommended by Superintendent Kelly Pew were announced in early January.
“I don’t think we’ve had adequate time to address Montessori,” Vining said, referring to the program that has been based at The Children’s School.
Vining noted the decision made Monday required the board to suspend a policy that requires decisions on school choice, including Montessori, to be made a year in advance of enrollment, a move he and Reid opposed.
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But the board was united on votes to build a new Montessori center at Ebenezer Avenue Elementary School and move third-to fifth-grade students in the Montessori program at The Children’s School to Ebenezer Avenue in the fall.
Allyn Foster, parent of three daughters at The Children’s School, told board members the change has been “too much, too fast.” He asked that “a little more consideration be given to parents” who would be affected.
Miranda Smith, who has four children at Sylvia Circle, supported the change, saying “from the beginning of the process, our continued plea has been please don’t forget about Montessori.”
The board approved these changes:
▪ Moving the Head Start program for 271 children into The Children’s School at Sylvia Circle this summer. Pew wants to sell Edgewood Center, which houses Head Start, saying that spending $1 million or more on needed repairs isn’t a good use of taxpayer money.
▪ Moving children in third- to fifth-grade Montessori at The Children’s School to Ebenezer Avenue Elementary this fall, when an inquiry-based program would begin. Pew said the inquiry program allows the district to make sure students are learning state standards, a mandate beginning in third grade, while keeping student choice and other popular elements of Montessori.
▪ Spending up to $5 million to build a specialized center for Montessori instruction and to make renovations to the Ebenezer Avenue Elementary campus over the next year or more.
▪ Moving children in 3-year-old to second-grade Montessori from The Children’s School into the new Montessori building during the 2017-18 school year.
▪ Rezoning about 120 children at The Children’s School who are not enrolled in the Montessori program to attend Belleview Elementary School this fall.
▪ Allowing students in a Science, Technology, Arts, Engineering and Math – or STEAM – program at Saluda Trail Middle School to choose to attend South Pointe High School in the fall. Pew has recommended developing a high school curriculum at South Pointe for students moving up from the middle school program.
Pew has recommended moving the ParentSmart program on East Black Street into The Children’s School. She wants to demolish the Black Street building.
Vining has said the move will allow the school district to run more efficiently, by closing The Children’s School and moving about 300 students who attend there.
Both Ebenezer Avenue and Belleview elementary schools are under capacity. Ebenezer Avenue has about 300 students, with a 440-student capacity, and Belleview has 486 students, with a capacity for 690, according to October 2015 enrollment figures from the district.
Design plans for the Montessori center call for a 20,500-square-foot addition, or about eight classrooms, a new kindergarten classroom and about 3,000 square feet of administration office space.
In other business the board:
▪ Approved a school calendar for 2016-17 that would end fall high school exams before winter break for the second consecutive year. Spring break would be April 10-14, 2017, in an effort to align with three other districts in York County. Classes would begin Aug. 16, 2016.
▪ Approved a policy change that would allow school district employees to serve as officers in school support organizations such as PTOs, PTAs and booster groups as long as they don’t have the authority to handle money. Miller had argued that a policy ban on this practice was too restrictive.
Jennifer Becknell: 803-329-4077