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NCSS revises its plan for theme school

COVINGTON - After low enrollment figures were reported for the Newton County School System's new parent involvement themed middle school, the Newton County Board of Education has decided to reorganize the grade levels at both of the planned theme schools.

At its regular meeting earlier this month, the board approved a recommendation from Superintendent Steven Whatley to designate the theme school at Fairview Elementary for kindergarten through third grade and the theme school at the Clements Middle School site for grades four through eight.

"This configuration of grade span is not a new concept," Whatley said during the meeting. "It has been used in many districts across the state."

He said this layout better utilizes each site and allows the schools to operate more effectively.

Additionally, the school board agreed to evaluate the reassignment of rising sixth-grade students from Livingston Elementary and South Salem Elementary schools to Liberty Middle School, rather than Veterans Memorial Middle School, to alleviate any overcrowding at Veterans.

At the meeting, Whatley reported that, as of March 16, the school system has received 618 applications for the elementary theme school and 277 for grades six through eight.

A chart provided later by NCSS shows that it received 449 applications from students who will be in kindergarten through third grade for the 2009-10 school year and 455 applications from students who will be in fourth through eighth grades next school year as of March 18. The final deadline to apply to the schools for the 2009-10 school year was March 13.

"(The numbers are) not where we want them to be, but it does allow this concept to grow," said school board Chairman C.C. Bates during this month's meeting. "This is a new initiative for Newton County. ... It takes time. ... We look forward to days when the doors are closed for overcrowding."

The deadline for parents to rescind their applications to the theme schools is April 3, according to the NCSS Web site.

Earlier this year, NCSS officials said they needed a minimum of 450 students at the elementary theme school and 208 students at the middle theme school to receive full state funding. Whatley said during the meeting this month, however, that the state will provide funding to each school NCSS develops, but it is not eligible for capital outlay, which provides state funding for construction projects.

"The state provides funds for the principal at every school facility," he said in a memo to the board members. "The system earns teachers and support personnel, which are distributed based on the student enrollment at various schools. Staff allocations and transfers will be made as is always done when the system opens new school facilities."

Whatley said the school system and board won't treat any school differently from another when it comes to finances.

According to the NCSS Web site, at 7 p.m. today, a meeting is scheduled at Clements Middle School for parents of students currently in third and fourth grades to discuss the changes, allow parents to receive updated information and tour the building.