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Aiken school district sets new school hours, discusses discipline, enrollment trends

Aiken County Public Schools will operate on a new start and end time schedule starting next school year, making hours for elementary, middle and high schools consistent across the district.

Beginning with the 2017-18 school year, the district’s school start and end times will be as follows: 7:30 a.m.-2:30 p.m., elementary schools; 8 a.m.-3:10 p.m., middle schools; and 8:20 a.m.-3:30 p.m., high schools.

“These times represent the standard seven-hour school day for elementary schools and the standard seven-hour and 10-minute day for secondary schools,” said District Superintendent Dr. Sean Alford, who announced the new hours April 18 at the regular School Board meeting. “Transportation leaders are now working with school leaders to iron out logistics and routing to maximize this opportunity for consistency.”

District representatives asked parents and school stakeholders to choose their preference from three different start and end times during six town-hall meetings held across the district during the winter. Currently, start and end times vary by school.

Alford also updated the board on two other issues, discipline and enrollment trends, discussed at the town-hall meetings.

Discipline and school safety were top topics at the town-hall meetings across the district, with parents, teachers and community members often saying that teachers could not teach because of disruptive students in their classrooms.

In response, the district has developed a draft schedule of training on discipline, Alford said. The 12-month training period will begin in June.

Concerning safety, the district enhanced procedures for entering school events just a few days after a shooting following the Aiken High-South Aiken High basketball game at South Aiken on Jan. 27. Three people sustained non-life-threatening injuring during the incident.

The new safety measures included additional lighting in parking lots and the use of metal scanning wands to detect weapons in pockets and backpacks as people enter school buildings.

“In addition to enhancing safety procedures we established this semester, we now realize that our current level of execution regarding our disciplinary procedures is not where it needs to be,” Alford said. “Students and teachers deserve to have learning environments that are free from disruptions, and we have an obligation as school and district leaders to build and nurture these environments.”

Concerning enrollment trends, the board approved adding four “learning cottages,” or portable units, at Byrd Elementary in Graniteville to alleviate overcrowding and meet future needs. Byrd is at 119 percent student capacity.

“The overall enrollment at Byrd Elementary is an urgent matter that must be addressed with the start of the 2017-18 school year,” Alford said.

During the town-hall meetings, school representatives described how most of the growth in the district has shifted from Area 1, which includes Aiken schools, to Area 3, which includes Byrd and Midland Valley High, and Area 2, which includes North Augusta and Belvedere schools.

In particular, district officials cited growth along Bettis Academy Road in Graniteville, where Byrd is located, and along U.S. 25 in North Augusta.

To address these growth patterns, Alford requested and the board approved the district to hire a consulting firm to study past, current and future enrollment trends and use of school facilities and report their findings to the enrollment trends work group.

“The professional firm will provide objective guidance regarding enrollment trends and facilities use in Aiken County Public schools over the next three, five and 10 years,” Alford said.

Specifically, the chosen firm would look at enrollment trends from at least three different perspectives.

From the first perspective, the firm would consider the demographic and enrollment balance within the five geographic areas across the district.

“We currently have predetermined geographic lines by area,” Alford said. “We want feedback with those lines as hard lines – no zoning across those lines.”

In the second perspective, the firm would consider demographic and enrollment balance across specific geographic areas.

“The work group wants the firm to consider what they call soft lines among Areas 1, 2 and 3, where we’re seeing a majority of the growth and movement in the district,” Alford said.

The third perspective would be a comprehensive demographic and enrollment balance review across the entire district with no lines, Alford said.

Alford said he hopes to report the findings early in the next school year.

Alford said the town hall meetings allowed district officials to engage in “two-way communication with stakeholders across the district.”

“I believe the conversations were both enlightening and authentic, so I would consider that effort a success,” he said. “Not only is the community more informed about the challenges that we have as a school district, but we also have a much clearer understanding of the community’s expectations. I believe that everybody wins when we are all well-informed.”

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