Lake Carolina Elementary is among the most sought-after schools in Richland 2, known as a place that not only boasts impeccable school rankings but hearkens back to a time when most children walked or bicycled to classes.
Now, as the district prepares to open a new elementary school in its shadow, some parents are advocating splitting Lake Carolina Elementary into two entities. Under the proposal, kindergarten through second grade would be housed in the current location and grades 3-5 in the new school, the as-yet-unnamed Elementary School 19, on Kelly Mill Road.
That scenario could forestall a painful rezoning battle, akin to the angst that emerged three years ago, when Bridge Creek Elementary School siphoned off children in the Centennial neighborhood of Lake Carolina. The residential community off Hard Scrabble Road in suburban Northeast Richland encompasses more than 30 neighborhoods, shops and recreational facilities – with thousands more homes expected to go up in coming years.
Officials in the Midlands’ largest school district began exploring the idea of splitting the school last year after the idea bubbled up in the community, said Fred McDaniel II, the district’s chief planning officer.
“This was originally suggested by a couple of parents,” he said.
Some parents in favor of the plan spoke to the Richland 2 school board earlier this week, just prior to a presentation by district planning coordinator Will Anderson. Anderson told the board the parents came to the district “asking for a different model” in hopes of avoiding the redrawing of school lines.
“We’ve never done this in Richland 2,” Anderson said, of the potential division of an elementary school. The district has sought information from school officials statewide who operate split elementary schools, as well as surveyed Lake Carolina’s families, faculty, PTO and School Improvement Council members.
Anderson said 280 families responded to the survey, with about 52 percent favoring splitting the school into K-2 and 3-5. Among the Lake Carolina faculty, 58 percent want to keep the K-5 confirmation while 42 percent are willing to change, he said.
The PTO and SIC groups at Lake Carolina were in favor of splitting the school.
With that near-even split, the seven-member school board Tuesday asked for more community reaction to the proposal before taking action. .
Ed Gatzke, a Lake Carolina parent of two, spoke in favor of developing what he called an upper and lower school, seeing it as a way to retain community cohesion for those already zoned for the elementary school.
“Hopefully, we can continue as a split school,” Gatzke said. He said beyond staving off a rezoning battle, “there are some academic advantages to having it separated.”
Another parent, Connie Black, said she worried about fluctuating property values in the Lake Carolina neighborhoods if attendance lines were redrawn.
But Andrew T. Kaczynski, a parent of two Lake Carolina children, argues against the split, saying it will create more traffic congestion and diminish the strong community bonds that exist among many families who walk their children to school.
“Saying would you rather split up your neighborhood or would you rather split up your family isn’t a fair decision,” he said Friday. “I would love to see a third alternative presented, which would involve rezoning entire neighborhoods.”
In his personal case, his two grade-school children would go to separate schools, likely ending the family’s morning walking routine. He said that loss of 15 minutes or so each day, multiplied across hundreds of households, results in lost time and productivity, as well as more idling of vehicles in car pool lines.
Jack Carter, the district’s executive director of operations, said there would likely be a 10-15 minute delayed start to accommodate car pools as well as older siblings walking younger brothers and sisters to school.
Lake Carolina Elementary was never intended to serve all of the Lake Carolina community, McDaniel said. Now, in addition to Lake Carolina, students in the neighborhoods go to Round Top and Bridge Creek elementary schools.
Elementary School 19 will relieve some of the congestion at Lake Carolina, which now serves 800 students and has10 portable classrooms to handle the overflow.
Board members were in no hurry to make the decision, asking for more information and more input from the community, including ways to make sure the new school has walking paths that connect to the communities, just as Lake Carolina Elementary has.
“I feel the pain of those families living in Lake Carolina,” said board member Calvin “Chip” Jackson. But he and others pointed out that the community is expected to see even more growth in coming years, with another 7,000 housing units listed on the Lake Carolina master plan.