Sunday, February 25, 2024

PS board members review design options for new school, bell schedule, books

(Port City Daily/File)

PENDER COUNTY — There will be eight options for Pender County’s new K-8 campus presented to the board of education later this month.

READ MORE: PCS restricts 2 ‘garbage’ library books previously OK’d after board member reads passages aloud

Two board members on the strategic planning committee got a sneak peak of the schematic design on Thursday. The presentation included all three designs, though staff is only recommending two options.

A new school is included in Pender County’s 2022 voter-approved $178 million bond, with more than $111.5 million set aside for the elementary and middle schools. The campus is needed to alleviate overcrowding in the district. In January, the district reported 90% capacity for its buildings. The new campus will be able to hold 2,000 K-8 students. 

In April, the Pender County commissioners approved $6 million from its fund balance to secure a 145-acre parcel on North Carolina Highway 210 in Hampstead. The district approved the design-build contract with Bordeaux Construction for the project last week. 

Moseley Architects are behind the design of the new school; most of the concepts are two-story and range from a compact model to something more akin to an airport with terminal wings. 

PCS staff recommend the board choose between options four and five. Both show a core section with a cafeteria and gymnasium flanked by two administrative offices where the entrances would be locared. From there, two hallways extend on either side with four total wings for the different grades.

In concept four, there are two wings and 21 classrooms for elementary students extending to the right of the core building. A media center, music room and another gym are also located on this side. 

The left side is dedicated to the middle school; the first floor includes a section dedicated to electives with five classrooms and a sixth-grade wing, with 16 classrooms and labs. The seventh and eighth grades are housed in respective wings on the second floor, totaling 32 classrooms. 

The K-5 school is located on the right side of the campus with 21 classrooms on the first floor and 23 on the second. The elementary students also have their own gym on the first floor.

Design five is identical to design four, except the right side of the school extends in the opposite direction from the main hallway.

Chief Officer of Auxiliary Services Michael Taylor said staff chose those concepts based on comfortability and reduced classroom interruption. Board member Brent Springer said the district should consider option one based on his personal conversation with the Pender County sheriff. Springer said that while he was not a fan of design one, it was the best choice for student safety based on feedback from law enforcement.

Design one is more compact with less distance between the four wings. Instead of a link via a long narrow hallway, the wings extend directly from the core building, K-5 on the left and the , middle school on the right. 

The strategic planning committee, made up of Springer and board member Beth Burns, raised the idea of facilitating a public information and feedback session on the designs, though the details were not determined.

The board will discuss the design concepts at its Nov. 14 meeting.

Three-tier bell schedule returns

The strategic planning committee also moved forward a work plan for developing and adopting a three-tier bell schedule, an unpopular setup that the board voted to implement for this school year in June but  abandoned it a week later.

Under the proposed system, start and end times would be staggered across the district to alleviate traffic congestion in some areas of the county and avoid bus drivers running extra routes due to a worker shortage. 

The board chose to delay the implementation until the 2024-2025 school year, but earlier this month, staff informed the board it needs to begin the transfer process soon, due to the bus driver shortage.

“More people are not coming to work, therefore we have to make changes to the way we do our job in order to maximize resources at a much greater rate,” Taylor said at the Oct. 10 board meeting. 

This school year, the district has 17 double routes affecting almost 1,200 students, up five compared to  the 2022-2023 school year. 

“A three-tier bell schedule is not a panacea; it’s not going to solve every problem that we have regarding transportation,” Taylor said last month. “But it is a step in the right direction.”

Choosing between five options, the board voted to stagger bell times from 7:15 a.m. to 8:52 a.m., but not add any extra time to the end of the day, resulting in the need for seven additional instructional days. However, that could change based on a survey the district plans to conduct asking parents to choose a three-tier schedule that works best for them. 

Parents have criticized a staggered schedule due to conflicting timelines with work schedules or needs of their other children, plus early or late drop-off times students would be subjected to.

The proposed plan on Oct. 10 was to deploy the survey by the end of the month and have a vote on the schedule by the February board meeting. The work plan presented to the board Thursday shows the plan is to gather community feedback from Nov. 1 to Nov. 30. The strategic planning committee will then make a formal recommendation to be voted on by the board on Feb. 13, 2024.

A universal decision

Not only did the strategic planning committee meet on Thursday, but so too did the policy committee, made up of board members Ken Smith and Phil Cordeiro.

The two members continued discussing their views on the district’s instructional material selection and challenge processes, a subject of a heated exchange at the last board meeting.

Cordeiro wants to amend policy to require a universal district decision on a book review. This comes as the board banned eight books earlier this year and temporarily removed two previously cleared books last month. 

In Cordeiro’s view, if one school were to remove a book due to inappropriateness, it would then trigger a review at each school of the same grade level. If differing decisions were reached, a district-level committee would determine the book’s fate

Smith and Burns have demonstrated resistance to this move, advocating that each school should have the autonomy to make decisions based on its population.

At Thursday’s meeting, Superintendent Brad Breedlove shared this view indicating the requirement would be “creating work at schools where this is not an issue.”

This would only apply to books removed for appropriateness, not material deemed outdated, irrelevant or in bad physical condition. Breedlove said this would be getting “too in the weeds,” though Kevin Taylor, assistant superintendent for human capital and accountability, pointed out a book’s irrelevance or outdatedness would be the same across the district.

The committee did clear up that core material, such as textbooks, were not subject to a challenge by parents. The policy will be redrafted to include that language before it heads back to the board Nov. 14. The universal decision requirement remains in place. 

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