Sunset Park back to normal calendar

After two months of discussions, Sunset Park Elementary School now has a new calendar and a new direction for next school year.

The school will switch back to a traditional calendar and will begin to transition toward a Center for Accelerated Studies, the Rock Hill school board decided Monday night.

The center will place an increased focus on gifted and talented programs and on identifying students' unique skills. Students likely will be offered a foreign language, extra electives and some variety of extended time, although how that will be accomplished has not yet been decided. The school also will continue to have an emphasis on technology.

Principal Tammy White said about 60 to 65 parents showed up at meetings last week to learn about the new program.

"It was nice to see that this has turned some heads, that this is something that interested the parents," she said. "I think this is something they are actually looking forward to and that they think we should have had for some time."

School choice policy coming

Parents still will decide whether they want their children to attend Sunset Park, regardless of attendance zone, at least for the 2008-2009 school year.

The school district is forming a committee to create a school choice policy that defines exactly when students will be allowed to choose whether to attend a school outside their attendance zone. That policy would take effect for the 2009-2010 school year.

The committee will be asked to explore possible ways to expand choice options in the district, for example by opening up enrollment at schools with international baccalaureate programs.

Students who stick with Sunset Park through the transition to the Center for Accelerated Studies will be granted first priority, Superintendent Lynn Moody said.

Teachers will not lose their jobs in the transition. Teachers who don't want to take part in the new program will be allowed to transfer to other schools.

The need for a specialty program at Sunset Park stems from trouble keeping enrollment and student achievement as high as they should be.

A year-round calendar and science and technology focus were introduced several years ago, but enrollment and standardized test scores have continued to decline. Sunset Park has about 270 students. The school, near Heckle Boulevard and Crawford Road, should have about 500 to 550.

Early estimates place the cost of starting the new accelerated studies program at about $255,000 the first year and $217,000 in 2009-2010. That includes one-time costs such as giving the building a facelift and buying new materials, as well as reoccurring costs such as hiring an accelerated studies coordinator.