This week the Moore County Board of Education will enter the homestretch in what’s been a yearlong process of redefining attendance lines for individual schools across the district.
As new elementary schools open in Aberdeen, Southern Pines and Pinehurst in 2020 and 2021, Moore County Schools aims to redistribute the district’s enrollment more evenly across its schools.
Potential redistricting plans that the board discussed this spring proposed shifting lines so that no elementary school from Aberdeen to Highfalls will, in the short term, enroll more students than it was designed for.
The district corrected some of its most glaring examples of over-enrollment this fall with the opening of McDeeds Creek Elementary on Camp Easter Road, which drew students from Vass-Lakeview and Sandhills Farm Life. But crowding persists at schools around the county — particularly the schools serving Pinehurst and the area west of it.
New and larger elementary schools, each built for 800 students, will help somewhat. The old Pinehurst Elementary was built for only 450. But enrollment in schools south of Carthage is projected to grow across the board over the next few years, and none of the middle schools that feed into Pinecrest and Union Pines have a great deal of room to spare as things stand.
“We’ve got to look at how we assign students among those schools. While we’re at it, given the amount of disruption we have, we think that the time in the history of our school district has come where we need to look at the whole school district, particularly our middle schools,” Superintendent Bob Grimesey told the school board during its August work session.
“It’s fair to say that as we’ve moved into this process we’ve learned about some new needs, or some needs that turned out to be more urgent than we thought they were.”
A Shift Northward
On Tuesday, Grimesey will formally recommend a county-wide redistricting plan to the school board.
Broadly, the plans the board has discussed so far have proposed to draw students north — shifting them from crowded elementary schools like West End, West Pine and Vass-Lakeview and moving students into Westmoore, Highfalls and Robbins where the population is now dwindling. Those plans would make progress toward bringing each elementary school’s enrollment below capacity in 2022, the district’s target year for full implementation of new attendance lines.
But no new middle or high schools are on the school district’s horizon. With the opening of the new elementary schools, the 10-project master facilities plan that the board adopted in 2015 will be halfway to realization — if a year or so behind the schedule that board envisioned.
That plan made a new middle school in the Pinecrest attendance area a priority, but not until 2026. By the time that year rolls around, traditional feeder patterns are likely to be a lot less meaningful.
The existing proposal, which the schools rolled out in May, divides several elementary school populations. Along with Cameron Elementary, McDeeds Creek would send students to New Century and Crains Creek. From there, students living in Southern Pines would attend Pinecrest for high school where the rest would end up at Union Pines.
From Pinehurst Elementary, students would attend West Pine Middle and Southern Middle. The Southern Pines area elementary school would send students to both Crains Creek and Southern.
The overall shift would send a handful of students to the North Moore-area schools, mostly from the Carthage and Eagle Springs areas. But that has little effect on the total middle school population between Crains Creek, New Century, West Pine and Southern.
Last year, those four middle schools enrolled 2,585 students. Between them, they have space for 2,578 without resorting to the use of modular classrooms. Enrollment is still stabilizing over the first few weeks of school, but those middle schools are expected to enroll about 2,600 students this year.
“We knew this problem. We also knew that there are over 4,000 students attending high schools that have a capacity for 3,277,” Grimesey said of the 2015 master facilities plan. “They knew back then that something needed to be done to relieve the conditions that the schools were experiencing at that time.”
Of the middle schools, West Pine is by far the most crowded with more than 800 students in a school designed for 700. Current projections indicate that it will eclipse 1,000 students in 2024, the same year New Century reaches 710. Meanwhile, enrollment at Southern Middle — which in 2013 was the district’s most crowded middle school with 776 students — has declined and is projected to continue on that path.
As staff at Sandhills Farm Life discovered, crowding is about more than turning trailers into classrooms, although that setup isolates those classes from amenities like restrooms and the cafeteria. Funneling an excess of students through the cafeteria each day can make for unreasonably early and late lunch times for some students, and traffic around the West Pine middle and elementary schools at the beginning and end of the school day is a challenge as it is.
Help from Crains Creek
Last month, school staff proposed effectively buying time by adding modular classrooms at Crains Creek Middle School. That school opened in 2011 and currently serves Cameron and Vass students.
Crains Creek was designed along the same lines as the other three middle schools to serve 700 students, so the building’s central amenities — cafeteria, gymnasium, hallways and access roads — could easily handle an enrollment boost. As a cost-cutting measure though, the school was only built with enough classrooms for 480 students.
Over the next two years, the schools are proposing to move a dozen modular classrooms to Crains Creek to create enough classroom space for an additional 200 students.
Some of those units would come from the existing Pinehurst Elementary on Dundee Road, whose students are now on a temporary campus while that school is being rebuilt. The rest would come from North Moore High once the expansion there is complete in 2021.
“It does, in the long run, save a lot of money moving forward but it would be a way that we can make better use of Crains Creek Middle School given that … we’re going to need that space,” Grimesey said.
“This approach here at least allows us to use the appropriate capacity of Crains Creek Middle School during this next three to 10 years, while the number of students exceeds the capacity and we’re in no position to build another school or build onto Crains Creek. This is a remedy that we could employ to manage that mismatch between the number of students and the total capacity of New Century, Crains Creek, Southern Middle School and West Pine Middle School.”
West Pine and Southern, which are the same size, are projected to have a 300-student difference in enrollment by 2022 if the current attendance lines stand. The schools’ enrollment projections extend for nearly a decade, and indicate that West Pine would enroll more than 1,100 students in 2028. To accommodate, the school would end up with more than 20 modular classrooms.
Draft plans the board discussed this spring involved moving 130 middle school students out of West Pine and Southern. Of those, 50 would go to Crains Creek and New Century and 80 would go to the North Moore-area middle schools.
Under that proposal, West Pine and Southern would be crowded, but more evenly so with 782 students at Southern and 708 at West Pine in the first year of full redistricting.
“If we didn’t assign children from West Pine Middle to some other school, then this would be the destiny of West Pine Middle School based on current projections,” said Grimesey.
Grimesey will present his final redistricting recommendation to the school board on Tuesday at 3 p.m. at Moore County Schools’ central office in Carthage. A public hearing on that plan will follow on Sept. 12.