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At retreat, school board outlines ambitious plans

During four hours of brainstorming at a retreat Saturday, the Rock Hill school board came up with a list of plans designed to provide facilities and academic programs for every student and forestall prospects of another bond referendum as long as is practical.

They formulated a spectrum of "for sure," "probably" and "let's seriously study" items.

For sure:

• A Rock Hill Saturday school beginning in January for students who came close to, but did not meet state standards on PACT -- the Palmetto Academic Challenge Test -- that all third- through eighth-graders must take each spring; it probably will meet at Independence Elementary, and Independence's principal Mary Chandler will be Saturday school principal.

• Secure large land tracts if possible and "bank" them as potential future school sites.

Probably:

• In January, provide a separate school for expelled 19- and 20-year-olds, probably in the facility that currently houses the Rebound program.

Study:

• Construction of a downtown high school that would house specialized programs.

• Expanding existing facilities or building alternate schools on existing sites that are large enough.

Ideas include:

• Converting the Applied Technology Center into a Northwestern High ninth-grade academy and moving ATC to the district office property where there may be room for expansion.

• Acquiring more land for a ninth-grade academy or other specialized school at Rock Hill High.

• Sharing space with the county library, with York Technical College and/or with Winthrop University.

"We are trying so many different things, I hope in a couple of years we're not sitting here wondering which ones of them worked," Superintendent Lynn Moody said.

Some of the proposals would require the board to alter its philosophy on school size. The district currently considers 550 to 600 students the ideal elementary school size, 800 to 900 students the optimum middle school capacity and 1,800 to 1,900 students best for high school.

Even with Mount Holly Elementary opening next year, 12 of the district's elementary schools are expected to be over capacity or in the two-year warning stage the following year.

While district officials are reluctant to increase school size for the smaller children, the administration has discussed increasing middle school size somewhat.

Under the current school size philosophy, the district's middle schools would be beyond capacity in 2012, based on projections. Increasing each middle school's capacity by about 250 students would prolong the need for another middle school until about 2019-2020.

Under the current size philosophy, the high schools are projected to be beyond capacity in 2012. Adding 100 to 200 seats would push that back three years, although retaining South Pointe's size would put it at beyond capacity in 2014.

A district chart indicates that the only schools that do not have the geographic capacity to expand are Ebenezer, India Hook, Lesslie and Richmond Drive elementaries, Sullivan and Rawlinson Road middle schools and the high schools.

"Keeping the number of students in a class down is important," said board member Walter Brown. "The number in the building is not as important."

John Hair, associate superintendent of business and finance, said purchasing a 4- or 5-acre tract downtown would cost the district about $3.5 million, about the same as what it would cost to purchase a 100-acre tract in a rural area. The savings would most likely come in construction costs because a downtown magnet school would not require athletic fields and other facilities that other high schools do. Hair estimated the cost of a fourth high school similar to existing ones at about $50 million.

Moody will ask architects to make drawings of what a downtown magnet school might look like.

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