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Aiken County Public Schools Considering Rezoning Changes, More Options for Eastern County Students

AIKEN COUNTY, S.C. (WRDW/WAGT) -- Potential changes across southern and eastern Aiken County's school zone were the focus of Tuesday night's town hall meeting at Silver Bluff High School.

The Aiken County Public School System held its penultimate meeting inside the school to talk with parents about the district's rezoning plans and potentially moving more students to schools across Area Five. The hope is to make it better for students and easier on parents who have to commute from eastern Aiken County and to talk options.

Superintendent Sean Alford says the schools in Area Five, including schools in New Ellenton, Beech Island and Jackson have room to spare while other schools are filled and looking to expand.

Parents crowd inside Silver Bluff High School to get a closer look at potential changes coming to Aiken County's Area Five. With more families and students moving west to North Augusta and the Savannah River, Superintendent Sean Alford says they have to expand options for parents and students living in the eastern part of the county near the Barnwell County line.

One idea they are considering is redrawing the school's attendance lines and let kids attend New Ellenton Middle School and Silver Bluff High School instead of being forced to ride or drive all the way to Aiken's schools. Superintendent Alford says they are losing families in that part of the county either to the "western migration" or to nearby middle and high schools in Barnwell County.

"The Williston schools are three, four miles away from where they live," Superintendent Alford says. "As a parent, I'd have to consider that; sending my kids to school three or four miles or sending them 15, 16 miles to town every day."

He says Area Five schools have plenty of room for more students.

Aiken County School System attendance records for the 2017-2018 school year show New Ellenton Middle has a capacity of 436 students while Silver Bluff High has a capacity of 850. Only 181 students are attending New Ellenton Middle, while Silver Bluff High has 626 students attending this year.

That's enough to fill just 42 percent and 74 percent of each school's respective capacities. Greendale Elementary (78 percent capacity), Redcliffe Elementary (66 percent capacity) and Jackson Middle (46 percent capacity) are other schools across the area that are far below capacity limits this year, as well.

The new plan would see enrollment jump at each school with more room to grow, including up to 220 students at New Ellenton Middle and 712 students at Silver Bluff High. It would still leave each school with a 50 percent and 84 percent capacity rate, but school leaders say it'd provide the option for parents to move their kids to schools in that area.

But with renovations proposed for schools in areas 1 and 2, some parents here feel left out.

"North Augusta is the elite and the rest of the area is kind of treated like the step kid, I would say," says one parent at the meeting. "That's just the perception."

Superintendent Alford says they're looking into making some improvements for the area, but have to address the overcrowding and lower resources at other schools first.

"We've got to address those things first and I feel good about it," Superintendent Alford says. "I can sleep well at night because I know we're addressing the necessities."

Story by Ben Billmyer, WRDW 12

December 5, 2017