Little feedback shared during Carolina Forest meeting on overcrowding options

vgrooms@thesunnews.comDecember 5, 2013 

— More than 20 people – including principals, district officials and two Horry County school board members – attended a Carolina Forest Advisory Board meeting Thursday to air various plans for solving overcrowding in the area’s schools, but little discussion occurred.“This was the quietest advisory board meeting we’ve ever had,” said Lorraine Mallon, advisory board chair, who said she called the meeting to make sure everyone was aware of all possible options, and so board members could hear from potentially affected principals, who would have to enact any changes at their schools. The advisory board is made up of parents who are appointed by the school board, and there is one for each attendance area.

Mallon had to coax interaction during the meeting from most of the principals, and other attendees were fairly silent during the two-hour meeting except for district officials, including school board Chairman Joe DeFeo, who answered questions about different options. Janice Morreale, who represents the Socastee and St. James attendance areas, was the only other school board member in attendance.

Mallon presented nine options, not all new, that she gathered from other parents. The first option, which was discussed at the last school board meeting, was to shift sixth grade from Ocean Bay Middle School back to River Oaks, Carolina Forest and Ocean Bay elementary schools, and to realign so that students living north and west of Gardner Lacy Road and Myrtle Ridge Drive would attend Palmetto Bays Elementary School and Black Water Middle School.

The proposal has caused some concerns about classroom space and curriculum structure, especially electives, but DeFeo said research shows that students are successful in a K-6 model, and that the board isn’t looking at the plan as a temporary fix. Most district officials and principals said the plan could work, especially with the school board’s support for any personnel and space needs, and that they will follow through on the board’s wishes.

Principal Dennis Devorick said the plan is doable at Carolina Forest Elementary, where only one classroom is available, with the realignment of some students to Palmetto Bays, otherwise, the school would be overcapacity. Ben Prince, principal at Ocean Bay Elementary, said he has five classrooms available, and that while any change causes some anxiety, there are challenges and opportunities with every model.

But June Moorhead, principal at River Oaks Elementary, said a deeper look was needed at the plan and the significant growth in the area to make sure they aren’t shifting the problem from one school to another.

“After 36 years in Horry County, I know we do what we need to do, but I want you to look at the entire picture,” said Moorhead, who is retiring at the end of this year. “It’s going to be more than just shifting a few children and a few teachers. … We’ve done far, far more difficult things, but I don’t want anyone to sit here and think it will be an easy shift.”

A number of options for Carolina Forest schools have been debated for the past six months, including unpopular attempts to change attendance lines in several areas, as part of a district plan to ease overcrowding and to better utilize facilities across the county.

Other options on Mallon’s list included an idea to remove sixth grade from Ocean Bay Middle, reconfigure Carolina Forest and River Oaks elementary schools into K-4 schools and make Ocean Bay Elementary a school for grade five and six. The school board already has approved a new intermediate school for grades five and six for the St. James area, and Mallon said if it’s been decided that would work for St. James, then the idea should be explored for Carolina Forest.

The other ideas ranged from building an addition to Ocean Bay Middle; to moving programs at the Academy for the Arts, Science and Technology to buildings with vacant space and using AAST for a fifth- and sixth-grade school; to putting Ocean Bay’s eighth grade at Carolina Forest High School.

The school board has taken several nonbinding votes and most recently was against building an Ocean Bay Middle addition, but nothing is completely off the table until a final vote is taken, DeFeo said.

“In all reality, we’re not moving AAST, and I don’t think the board is going to move eighth grade to the high school,” he said, but the advisory board can push for whatever options they want.

The school board could take a final vote on a Carolina Forest plan at its Dec. 16 meeting, but it doesn’t have to, although a decision should be made no later than January for anything to take affect in the 2014-15 school year, DeFeo said. He said the K-6 plan and Gardner Lacy Road/Myrtle Ridge Drive realignment plans will be on the agenda. He also said there may be others, and the board probably will move ahead on a plan for the Conway attendance area, which has been on hold because of the Carolina Forest debates.

Contact VICKI GROOMS at 443-2401 or follow her at

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