CONWAY — Horry County Schools has formed a districtwide committee, which will study whether attendance line adjustments are the answer to optimizing the space in current school facilities and easing overcrowding in some area schools.
The group includes school board and community members from each high school attendance area, and initial meetings were held Tuesday and Wednesday at the district office. The goal is for the group to reach a recommendation that can be shared with the school board, although the board will not be obligated to approve it.
“We need your help in deciding how to proceed in using our buildings as efficiently as we can,” Superintendent Cindy Elsberry told the group. “You’re here to represent your area, but it is very important to take a big-picture view. … Your recommendations could shape the future of the school district.”
School overcrowding was discussed by the school board last fall with regard to the Carolina Forest attendance area, where Ocean Bay Middle School was experiencing overcrowding, while Black Water Middle School had extra space. Both middle schools feed into Carolina Forest High School.
When talk turned to the possibly of adjusting attendance lines, there was some resistance from the community, said board member Neil James, District 10, who is on the committee. He said that led to the creation of the districtwide committee so that parents and taxpayers could help establish criteria the district can work from before being obligated to move forward, whether in building a new school or moving attendance lines.
“We wanted to get input on what are the priorities. Is it community integrity? Is it ensuring maximization? We’re trying to find a balance,” James said.
Overcrowding is an issue in several attendance areas, including Loris Elementary School, where a new building is being built on the existing campus to be ready for fall 2013. Growth also is being experienced in the North Myrtle Beach and St. James areas, affecting their middle schools, and in Aynor at the elementary school level. Carolina Forest had issues at the elementary school level, but those have been eased with the opening of River Oaks Elementary School this fall.
Over the two sessions, the committee received a crash course on the different types of capacity, as well as a primer on how and why schools at each level are designed. High schools were shown to be the most complex, based on the varied programs offered from school to school, which can blur campus boundaries and complicate the capacity formula. Challenges were discussed in small groups, and a variety of questions were raised, from what projected enrollment numbers are from five to 10 years out, to whether changing the alignment of grade levels at certain schools is an alternative solution.
“It’s not a simple formula to decide what the capacity of a school is. There are a lot of variables,” said Amy Warner from the Myrtle Beach area, a comment echoed by other committee members.
Rick Maxey, the district’s chief operations officer, said the committee is getting an overview of the process now and will be able to form site committees to study any attendance area problems and report back to the group. He said the district’s enrollment numbers never stabilize until after Labor Day, and they will have the first state enrollment benchmark Oct. 25.
“This is not going to be a quick fix,” said James, who said he expects the process to take several months, “but whatever comes out of this will be valuable components.”
Contact VICKI GROOMS at 443-2401 or follow her at Twitter.com/TSN_VickiGrooms.