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Education: Board hears plea for more staff at elementary school

By Charles Swenson
Coastal Observer

A plea from a Waccamaw Elementary School parent for additional staff is among the requests from schools around the district that are being studied for mid-year funding, according to Superintendent Randy Dozier.

Susan Nevitt chairs the school improvement council at Waccamaw Elementary. She told the school board this week that “we desperately need a kindergarten teacher or another PE teacher.”

The school lost a teacher in kindergarten, first-grade and second-grade at the start of the year and got one second-grade teacher in return, she said.

“Our administration had to shuffle students and teachers around after the school year began to accommodate the overabundance of kindergarteners,” Nevitt told the board.

The school has also asked for a part-time physical education teacher. Nevitt pointed out Waccamaw Intermediate has fewer students, but a full-time and a part-time PE teacher.

Adding a part-time teacher at the elementary school would allow students to take PE instead of spending time in a computer lab. The lab “is providing zero education value to the students,” she said.

Nevitt is a parent volunteer in the computer lab. She said she doesn’t have the skills to help the students use software the district added to help them. The students are left at the lab to play games while their classroom teachers use the time for planning, she said.

Nevitt told the board she would prefer students have PE instead of the computer lab. “How can you justify computer games as educational, healthy or active?” she asked.

Waccamaw Elementary lost 40 to 50 students this year to Coastal Montessori Charter School, Dozier said. “I’m sure there’s enough personnel in the building,” he said.

Computer lab assistants were cut from the budget as the district saw its revenue drop during the recession, but Dozier said the labs are not supposed to be run by parent volunteers. “If that’s happening, we’ll have to address it.”

Schools were asked to make more time for teacher planning this spring. For elementary schools, that means teachers plan while students are in art, music, PE and other “exploratory” classes.

Although Nevitt said those classes at Waccamaw have an average of 26 students, Dozier said that is well below the state limit. “We really need to help them with their schedule because you don’t really qualify for any more teachers,” he said.

However, he has requests from most district schools for extra staff that he began looking at this week. He expects to recommend the school board draw funds from its reserve to fund part-time positions, although those are likely to be for academics that come with standardized tests.

And hiring would be done after Oct. 15 when the district can offer temporary contracts without benefits. Dozier said that would cost about half the $65,000 average cost to the district of a contract teacher. “We do have a limited budget,” he said.

Another reason for trying to address concerns at Waccamaw Elementary through scheduling is that restrictions on federal education funds that pass through to the district mean it would have to balance additional hiring at Waccamaw with additional staff at schools with a higher proportion of low-income students.

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