Necessary changes to school zoning

Every day, each of us is faced with making a multitude of decisions. Some decisions are easy to make, while others are difficult. I find that all the decisions I have ever made fall into two categories: situational or sustainable. Situational decisions temporarily address the problems of today yet have the potential to leave bigger problems for the future. On the other hand, sustainable decisions may sacrifice the comforts and convenience of today for a better outcome tomorrow.

As your superintendent, I wish to make sustainable decisions that will benefit our students and families for years to come. School District Five of Lexington and Richland Counties is currently making decisions about the 5-Year Master Facilities and Redistricting Plan. As outlined in the FY22 Annual Report, our district is faced with challenges with infrastructure needs in Dutch Fork and Irmo schools and increased student capacity issues in the Chapin schools. According to the 135th-day reports submitted to the South Carolina State Department of Education in 2013 and 2023, the in-person student enrollment in Chapin-zoned schools increased by 13 percent over the last ten years. Over the same time period, Dutch Fork-zoned schools and Irmo-zoned schools decreased in-person student enrollment by 9 percent and 5 percent respectively. As a result, we have a decision to make. Do we build more schools in the Chapin attendance zone or change the attendance lines so that we fill existing buildings in the Dutch Fork and Irmo zones?

I recommend the latter. Redistricting is not a popular decision to make or an easy process to accomplish; however, our school district needs a sustainable decision and plan. The best way to redistrict is to establish the instructional priority for the redistricting plan and then redistrict based on the instructional priority. On March 27, the school board approved the administration’s revisions to board policy IE- Organization of Instruction. Before the revision, School District Five of Lexington and Richland Counties was committed to maintaining nine different grade structures. Students in District Five currently attend 3K and 4K early childhood programs, Kindergarten through 4th grade elementary, Kindergarten through 5th grade elementary, 5th and 6th grade intermediate, 6th grade intermediate, 6th through 8th grade middle school, 7th and 8th grade middle school, 9th through 12th grade high school and District Wide Programs (see the chart below).

With the revisions to the instructional structure policy, our school district will redistrict into the new five levels. These are early childhood programs with an additional 3K/4K program in Chapin, Kindergarten through 5th grade for all elementary schools, 6th through 8th grade for all middle schools, 9th – 12th grade for all high schools, and our District-Wide programs which include the Academy for Success, Adult Education, the Center for Advanced Technical Studies and the Flexible Innovative Virtual Education (FIVE) online program (see the chart below).

There have been three drafts of this plan. Draft #1 did not include all the 3K and 4K programs in the District. Draft #2 did not illustrate the transitions of three of our schools: the current Chapin Intermediate will transition to Chapin Middle; the current Chapin Middle will transition to Spring Hill Middle; and the current CrossRoads Intermediate will transition to CrossRoads Middle. Spring Hill High School will continue to be a district-wide All-Magnet High School but will increase enrollment of Chapin-zoned students while maintaining the current enrollment numbers for the Dutch Fork and Irmo-zoned students. The plan calls for at least one additional building and another sustainable decision by our district: the decision to build a new alternative programs building or a new Dutch Fork Elementary School.

All of the District’s buildings are currently undergoing an assessment of safety and infrastructure conditions conducted by an architectural and engineering firm. The results of this assessment will help School District Five develop a prioritized list of facility needs and make sound sustainable decisions for our present and our future. Our District seeks your thoughts and recommendations for this plan. You can share your thoughts at [email protected].

We thank you for helping our community make sustainable decisions that will ensure the vision that all students will feel loved and be able to grow in our schools is realized for years to come.