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Local parent voices gratitude at brief town hall meeting with Aiken County school board

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The Aiken County Board of Education's town hall meeting at North Augusta High School lasted 15 minutes Tuesday night, with just one family addressing the school board.

Local parent Melinda Ball, along with her sixth-grade daughter Melanie, thanked the school board for returning schools to the traditional five-day schedule earlier this month. The Ball family has been vocally in favor of the five-day model at multiple school board meetings.

Public schools in Aiken County had previously been operating under hybrid schedules. Middle and high school students attended in-person classes two days per week in separate cohorts, and elementary students went to school every day but Friday.

After the meeting, Ball said she feels very excited.

"Melanie feels so much better, so much more confident. It's just made a world of difference in everybody's attitude – not just our family's attitude, but in the kids' attitudes that I see in the community," Ball said.

Ball said her family had difficulty coordinating their jobs with their daughter staying home three days per week.

"That was a hardship on my work schedule. I can't work a full-time job on a hybrid schedule, and I had to change my work schedule," Ball said. "And so now I'm kind of glad and happy to be getting back to a normal routine."

Melanie Ball said it's nice to see her friends at school, and school is less stressful now that she can talk with her teachers every day and ask more questions.

Vice Chairman Dwight Smith, board member Barry Moulton and board member Sandra Shealey were absent from the town hall.

Other business

The Highland Springs Elementary and Middle School project is projected to be complete by December 2022, said Dr. Corey Murphy, chief officer of operations and student services for the school district. The new school will serve grades K-8 in the North Augusta area.

Construction on Highland Springs will begin this summer, with groundbreaking scheduled for July. The project will cost about $40 million, said Murphy.

Chief Officer of Finance Tray Traxler said penny sales tax collections, which fund projects like Highland Springs, are continuing to grow every year. December 2020 marked the highest month's collection since the inception of the penny sales tax in 2014, Traxler said.

The Aiken County Board of Education will meet again next week on March 23. It will begin at 6 p.m. at 1000 Brookhaven Drive. To view a livestream of the meeting, visit acpsd.net.

Blakeley Bartee covers the education beat at the Aiken Standard. She graduated from Georgia Southern University in 2020. You can follow her on Twitter: @blakeleybartee.

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