PS board members are reviewing design options for the new school, bell schedule and books

PS board members are reviewing design options for the new school, bell schedule and books

(Port City Daily/File)

PENDER COUNTY — There will be eight options for a new K-8 campus in Pender County that will be presented to the Board of Education later this month.

Read more: PCS restricts two previously approved “litter” library books after a board member reads the passages aloud

Two board members on the strategic planning committee got a sneak peek at the schematic design Thursday. The offer included all three designs, although staff recommended only two options.

A new school is included in Pender County’s $178 million bond approved by voters for 2022, with more than $111.5 million allocated to elementary and middle schools. The campus is essential to relieve overcrowding in the area. In January, the district announced that its buildings had reached 90% capacity. The new campus will be able to accommodate 2,000 students from kindergarten to eighth grade.

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

Moseley Architects are the ones behind the design of the new school. Most concepts are two-story and range from a compact model to something closer to an airport with terminal wings.

PCS staff recommends the council choose between options four and five. Both show a core section with a cafeteria and gymnasium flanked by two administrative offices where the entrances will be located. From there, two corridors extend on either side, with a total of four wings of different grades.

In the fourth concept, two wings and 21 classrooms for elementary students extend to the right of the main building. There is also a media center, music room and another gym on this side.

The left side is for the middle school. The first floor includes a five-classroom dedicated electives section and a sixth-grade wing with 16 classrooms and laboratories. Grades 7 and 8 are located in private wings on the second floor, totaling 32 classrooms.

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

The fifth design is identical to the fourth, except that the right side of the madrasa extends in the opposite direction from the main portico.

Chief Ancillary Services Officer Michael Taylor said staff chose these concepts based on convenience and minimizing classroom interruption. Board member Brent Springer said the district should consider the first option based on his personal conversation with the Pender County Sheriff. Springer said that while he wasn’t a fan of the first design, it was the best choice for student safety based on feedback from law enforcement.

The first design is more compact with less distance between the four wings. Instead of connecting via a long, narrow corridor, the wings extend directly from the main 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 details have not been determined.

The Board of Directors will discuss the design concepts at its meeting on November 14.

The three-level bell table returns

The Strategic Planning Committee also advanced an action plan to develop and adopt a three-tier bell schedule, an unpopular setup the board voted to implement for this school year in June but abandoned a week later.

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

The board chose to delay implementation until the 2024-2025 school year, but earlier this month, staff informed the board that it needed to start the transportation process soon, due to a shortage of bus drivers.

“More people are not coming to work, so we have to make changes to the way we do our work 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 dual tracks affecting nearly 1,200 students, an increase of five compared to the 2022-2023 school year.

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

By choosing from five options, the board voted to arrange the bell times from 7:15 a.m. to 8:52 a.m., but without adding any additional time to the end of the day, creating 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-tiered schedule that works best for them.

Parents criticized the staggered schedule due to schedule conflicts with work schedules or the needs of their other children, as well as the early or late dropout times students would be subject to.

The plan proposed on October 10 was to publish the survey by the end of the month and vote on the timeline at the February board meeting. The business plan presented to the board Thursday shows the plan aims to gather community feedback from Nov. 1 to Nov. 30. The Strategic Planning Committee will then make a formal recommendation for a vote by the Board of Directors on February 13, 2024.

Global decision

Not only did the Strategic Planning Committee meet Thursday, but so did the Policy Committee, made up of board members Ken Smith and Phil Cordero.

The two members continued to discuss their views on the district’s selection of instructional materials and challenge processes, a hot topic of discussion at the recent board meeting.

Cordero wants to amend the policy to require a district-wide decision on the book review. It comes as the council banned eight books earlier this year and temporarily removed two previously cleared books last month.

In Cordero’s view, if a school removed a book due to inappropriateness, it would trigger a review at every school at the same grade level. If different decisions are reached, a district-level committee will determine the fate of the book

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

At Thursday’s meeting, Superintendent Brad Breedlove shared that view noting that the requirement would be to “create jobs in schools where that is not an issue.”

This applies only to books that have been removed for suitability, and not to material considered outdated, irrelevant, or in poor physical condition. Breedlove said this would be “critical,” although Kevin Taylor, assistant superintendent for human capital and accountability, noted that the lack of relevance or outdatedness of the book would be the same across the district.

The committee has made it clear that basic materials, such as textbooks, are not subject to challenge by parents. The policy will be rewritten to include that language before it returns to the board on Nov. 14. The comprehensive resolution requirement still applies.

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