Community forums on school shake-ups set for next week

Published 5:40 pm Friday, June 14, 2019

Beaufort County Schools has set the times and dates for two community forums regarding potential changes at the Beaufort County Ed Tech Center and S.W. Snowden Elementary.

The first will be held at S.W. Snowden Elementary at 6 p.m. Tuesday, and the second will be held at the Ed Tech Center at 6 p.m. Thursday. Driving the forums are a pair of plans under consideration by the Beaufort County Board of Education that would relocate students to new campuses in the school system.

In the case of Ed Tech, the school system’s alternative learning program would be relocated to modular units on the campus of Washington High School, a proposal designed to help the school system cover an approximately $600,000 shortfall in its budget for the coming year.

In the case of relocating Snowden’s middle school students, the question is one of academics and utilizing facilities efficiently. BCS Superintendent Matthew Cheeseman speculates that moving those middle school students would have a few positive effects. Making Snowden a true elementary school, with Pre-K through fifth or sixth grade, would allow the school to focus exclusively on that elementary school range, possibly helping boost that school’s academics and state ratings.

The move would also allow Southside to better utilize its classroom space. With around 400 students enrolled there, the high school is at approximately half of its capacity. Including a junior high wing at the school could allow Southside to better use its space and foster collaboration between middle school and high school instructors.

Both S.W. Snowden and Southside were listed as possibilities for closure in an N.C. State study on school enrollment and capacity. The study, funded through the county, was criticized by some board of education members for its methodology and failing to take a variety of factors into account.

During the board’s meeting Tuesday, board members heard about the two plans in front of a packed house of community members and educators there to rally in support of Ed Tech and Snowden. For Cheeseman, the crowd at the meeting was a good sign that the community cares about the education of children.

“In my own experience, having worked in many places across the country, you get really excited when people come to meetings,” Cheeseman said. “You want to see their level of interest, you want to gauge what their perspectives are, and you want to gain an understanding of what new ideas and solutions they can come up with and help us with.”

That same sense of gauging the community’s perspectives on school system decisions will guide the forums next week. Each event will be divided into two portions, the first presenting information on the proposed changes and the latter offering community members a time to share their thoughts.

“Ultimately, the community meetings will serve two purposes,” Cheeseman said. “We’re providing open, honest, very transparent information about where we are now. Secondly, maybe we’ll get some new ideas brought to the table that might change some of the outcomes people aren’t happy with. If that were to be the case, that would be a win-win scenario.”