Board will wait to vote on school's calendar

After about an hour of sometimes heated debate Monday night, the Rock Hill school board decided it wants to hear plans for turning Sunset Park Elementary School into a magnet school before voting on a new calendar.

Board members will hear a presentation Feb. 11 on plans for the magnet. Then, they will decide at their Feb. 28 meeting if the Ogden Road school should switch from the year-round calendar to a traditional calendar.

"My vote is not a condemnation of the administration," board member Jason Silverman said. "Given the choice, I just prefer to wait to hear everything."

Sunset Park operates on a year-round calendar, with three-week intercessions every nine weeks shortening the summer break. It also is a school of choice, which means parents can choose whether to send their children there regardless of school attendance zones.

The year-round calendar was implemented in 2004 as a way to increase enrollment and boost academic achievement, neither of which has happened. Principal Tammy White recommended the school go back to a regular calendar.

Now, Superintendent Lynn Moody said administrators are planning a new magnet program, although she did not specify what the school's focus would be. Moody will outline the "dramatic" changes at the board's next work session.

"As far as I know, there never has been and there will not be any conversation about closing Sunset Park, now or in the future," Moody said, addressing rumors that have been circulating the school's community. "All of the focus on this administration, as far as I know, from anybody on the board, has been how to make it stronger."

Moody did not say if Sunset Park would continue to focus on science and technology as it does now, but she said that it would remain a school of choice. A magnet program, she said after the meeting, is something different and enticing that draws people in, which easily goes hand-in-hand with being a school of choice.

During the meeting, board members threw out ideas that likely will be discussed at the next meeting. Some said they would like to explore the possibility of expanding the year-round program into middle school.

They also expressed frustration that research about the benefits of year-round schools failed to pan out and that the district didn't address problems at Sunset Park sooner.

"I'm not blaming anyone," board member Mildred Douglas said. "But for us to go out this far and see that the test scores are continuing to decline, why was something not done to step in to see, what was the problem, what needed to be done?"