Rollings Middle School of the Arts students will be on the high school bell schedule next school year.
Dorchester District Two board members voted unanimously to change the time to accommodate the location of the new school and the projected increase in students who reportedly plan to ride the bus.
Under the current schedule, the morning bell is at 7:40 a.m. and dismissal is at 2:45 p.m. The time change puts students starting school at 8:55 a.m. and dismissal at 3:55 p.m.
Board members heard from staff, parents and even one student before making a vote Monday night.
Some families were all for the changes while some encouraged alternative ideas.
Maxine Limehouse Thompson, who spoke at a previous parent meeting, said she was all for the change. She has a rising eighth-grader who has to ride the bus with Thompson’s 10-year-old, who goes to Alston-Bailey Elementary, and then take a bus to Rollings and then has to take the bus home from Alston Middle in the afternoon.
Rising seventh-grader Darby Moody is the only boy in the dance program at Rollings and also has a contract with Charleston Youth Ballet. Moody requested that students who will be negatively impacted by the time change be able to take classes through online program VirtualSC while remaining enrolled at Rollings.
Krista McCraken spoke in support of the dedicated busing and the time change – even with the scheduling conflict for after-school commitments her own family will have to plan around.
“My daughter practices three days a week with her gymnastics team, and will be late to every one of those practices with the change in Rollings’ scheduling,” she said. “However, my family, in conjunction with her team and coaches, will deal with this. It is not the school nor the district’s responsibility to accommodate our extracurricular activities. The school and district’s responsibility is to provide these students with a robust, integrated and safe learning environment and to remain committed to having Rollings as an option for all district students who are willing to audition.”
Elizabeth Priest asked for creative solutions to accommodate families and also requested how the majority of families felt about the change.
The school’s current shuttle system is reportedly not going to work when the school community moves to its new location in Summers Corner next school year. Director of Transportation Steve Shope most recently spoke with Rollings parents in March about the issue, and reiterated some of those issues to board members at their April 16 board meeting.
“We’re making it work right now with the central location but our problem is the new location,” Shope said.
Shope said 18 to 22 buses will be required for the new location and its projected ridership – “and those buses are not available during the elementary and middle school busing tiers.”
Shope recapped a survey that went out to Rollings families earlier this year asking how many families use Rollings’ bus shuttle system – the survey reportedly received more than 700 responses and showed that at least 550 students need to ride the bus next year while another 14 percent of responses said “maybe.”
Shope said changing the bell schedule would allow for later pickup times, no loss in instructional time with a seven-hour school day, the option to explore an early-bird program, and bus stops at the high schools for extracurricular activities.
In further discussion district officials also revisited the VirtualSC topic; Assistant Superintendent Julie Kornahrens said the VirtualSC program is only offered in the district’s high schools. She also said that with the exception of high school seniors who are ahead on credits, the district doesn't allow for an early-out option.
However, Darby Moody’s mom, Vanessa Moody-Laird, said VirtualSC is set up for seventh through 12th-grade students, among other parameters. Kornahrens said it would take the district discussing and making more policy changes “if we decide that that is in the best interest of all students of our district.
Board member Lisa Tupper asked Shope what the “climate” was like from the two parent meetings in March. Shope said the first meeting had a group that was “fairly vocal” in opposition and also had another group that wanted the busing, regardless of the time change. The second meeting, he said, was mostly positive feedback.
Board member Justin Farnsworth, who is also a Rollings parent, said the first meeting felt different from the second.
“For me personally, I just want folks to know, that we really – I can’t speak for the rest of them – but I personally have lost a lot of sleep about this decision,” he said. “This is not an easy decision. …We’ve got to do what’s best for the most number of kids in our district.”
Chairwoman Tanya Robinson also called it a hard decision.
“I think we’re trying to do what the majority has asked us to do,” she said.
Board members went on to pass the time change.
The new Rollings is nearing a summer completion; board members and district staff toured the building earlier in the day April 16. Pending an OSF inspection in May, the district hopes to do student tours the last week of school.
Superintendent Joe Pye said they saw some aesthetic items that need to be fixed but no safety issues.
“We’re in good shape,” he said.