Sumter school board discusses proposal to close 3 rural schools at open meeting

SUMTER, SC (WIS) - A school board meeting was held Monday evening at Crestwood High school to discuss the potential closings of three Sumter County rural schools.

Across the board, many questioned the Interim Superintendent's proposal to close down the three schools. No decision was made at the meeting on if the schools would close.

The school board raised questions on transportation, alternative plans, and following up on previous studies done on the success of K-8 schools. The topic of discussion stemmed from a prior meeting Sunday evening where over 250 people came out to voice their concerns about the possibility of the school district closing Rafting Creek Elementary school for the 2018-2019 school year.

The proposal, made by the Sumter School District, will create a pre-Kindergarten through 8th-grade school and close three rural schools: Rafting Creek Elementary, Delaine Elementary, and Mayewood middle school.

A local community group called ICAR, which stands for I Care About Rembert, created an alternative proposal to consolidate High Hills amongst Rafting Creek, Oakland Primary, and Shaw Heights.

Currently, High Hills, Oakland Primary, and Shaw Heights only enroll two grade levels per school. The alternative proposal will serve pre-K-5th grade in hopes to create uniformity across the district.

The Sumter school board says Rafting Creek is unsustainable at the size they are at now and is hopeful consolidating the school will make it more successful in the long run.

"We have to put together a plan that is going to address the loss of population while keeping schools in our rural areas," Interim Superintendent of Sumter School district Debbie Hamm said. "So what we've proposed is to put an elementary school together with a middle school to form a K-8 school."

Parents are concerned that mixing elementary school children with 8th-graders will result in issues such as bullying seeing an increase in occurrences.

Monica Ransom, a parent of three Rafting Creek Elementary students, believes closing the school is "not a good idea."

"Putting the kids with the older kids, there is a concern for the bullying," Ransom said. "We have to think about you're going to mix those kids on the same bus."

"I know that right now that it's a little bit different of an idea for them but it's actually an idea that is being implemented more and more around the country" Hamm said. "It's a successful model. In fact, if you look at a lot of private schools, it's exactly the model that they've used successfully for a long time."

"This is not an appropriate environment for our kindergarten and elementary schools," Carlton Washington, ICAR Organizer, said. "They'll even be transported on buses with the middle school students as well. This is not a good look. Particularly when you have three schools six miles up the road who only serve two grades each."

ICAR advocates say the alternative proposal will help evenly balance the student population amongst schools across the district. Another part of the proposal looks at schools in the inner cities. The proposal also includes closing Wilder Elementary, which has the smallest enrolment of students, and will evenly balance out numbers at Lemira, Willow, and Crosswall.

Each school will then have 770 students.

With Rafting Creek being around for nearly 100 years, community members believe shutting down the historic school will result in a big loss for the Rembert community.

"Everybody knows what this school means to this community," Rafting Creek alumni Darrin Skinner said. "Now if this was an underachieving school, I can understand but it's not. It's the highest achieving school in the district. So why is it being targeted when so many other schools in the district are failing to meet the state standard?"

There will be a school board meeting Monday at Crest Wood High School where they will further discuss the new proposal. The school board plans to further look into the proposal made by the Rembert community. It has not been announced when the vote on the proposal will take place.

The next school board meeting is scheduled for April 16.

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