Sunset Park Elementary School would be transformed into an accelerated learning magnet school with an increased focus on gifted and talented programs under a proposal presented to the Rock Hill school board Monday night.
The switch to the magnet program would be complete in the 2009-2010 school year. Sunset Park would remain a school of choice and would be called Sunset Park Center for Accelerated Studies.
Superintendent Lynn Moody said the plan was to present the board with a framework for what district officials want to do with the school, then gradually make decisions about the specifics.
One of the first steps would be looking for an accelerated studies coordinator, who would not only help plan the magnet school, but also would serve as the community's primary link to the school. The coordinator would help conduct focus groups to find out what people want from the new magnet program and help get the word out to recruit students after the magnet is implemented.
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"We really want the Sunset Park parents first, so that it's not just something being done to them; they are part of the process," said Rich Melzer, director for elementary education.
Possible components of the magnet could include:
• Allowing students who already understand the material to work ahead.
• Enriched instruction. That means giving students interesting ways to deepen their understanding of a topic. This could include more research projects, field studies and guest speakers.
• Elective classes such as outdoor learning, photography or robotics. These might be in addition to the special classes: art, music and physical education.
• Extended instructional time, which could be accomplished through a longer school day, Saturday school or during the summer.
• An increased focus on technology, including hiring a technology teacher.
• More gifted and talented-endorsed teachers providing more gifted and talented instruction.
• Giving the front of the school a facelift and building an outdoor classroom.
School officials are hoping the magnet program will help combat declining enrollment and poor academic achievement, which have hurt Sunset Park in the past.
Since 2004, when Sunset Park adopted the year-round school calendar, no more than 326 students have attended the school in any given year.
But Moody said the school should have 500 to 550 students. This year, the school's enrollment is 269.
Palmetto Achievement Challenge Test scores also have declined, keeping the school from meeting federal Adequate Yearly Progress standards for the past three years.
"We're hoping it will attract more students who are in that attendance zone now, and some of those gifted students who are in the district now who want additional services that they cannot get," Moody said.
Caroline Massengill, president of Magnet Schools of America, said the proposed changes at Sunset Park could help overcome problems such as low teacher retention, a transient student population and discipline issues that often plague schools with high poverty rates.
"The kinds of programs that can be offered at that school will change the whole culture there," Massengill said, adding that the program could help Rock Hill gain state or national attention.
School board Chairman Bob Norwood said he is concerned the magnet's focus on gifted and talented programs could overshadow the needs of lower-performing students.
But Massengill said the idea behind the magnet is to accelerate all students, no matter what their starting point, and to find gifts and talents in all students, even if the gifts are in the arts or other special subjects, rather than in academics.
The school board has to vote to take Sunset Park off a year-round school calendar before the magnet program could be implemented. That vote is scheduled for Feb. 25.