Greenwood County School District 50’s ninth-grade academy committee, comprised of four board members, could soon meet its end, with committee members calling it ineffective and polarizing and saying it should be “put to bed.”
Committee chairperson David Trent said he will recommend to the full board of trustees that the committee be dissolved.
The committee met Thursday evening with an agenda set to discuss data, which it did, before coming to a final question, posed by Trent: What are the next steps for the committee?
The committee started well, he said. “As a board, we felt like this was a vulnerable population for a long time and that’s really what our intent was.”
“I think some things got a little hairy, a little off course a little bit, but I think at this point — at least from my perspective — we need to move on and maybe just have this committee phase out at this point,” Trent said.
Committee member Danielle Fields responded, saying: “I would certainly say at this time I don’t think our committee is effective any longer, so yes.”
The committee was tasked with studying the need for a ninth-grade academy in the district.
After the suggestion in February 2021 by board member Clay Sprouse, reported in an Index-Journal article, that the district could send all the district’s ninth-graders to Emerald High and the rest of the high school grades to Greenwood High, public perception and rumor dominated.
Emerald teachers especially — joined by parents and community members — stood up in defense of the school, emailing board members and speaking at board meetings. A smaller environment at Emerald, more extracurricular and academic options for students by having two schools and even rival gang activity were brought up in emails sent to board members as reasons why the merge should not happen.
Sprouse attempted to quash the rumors publicly, saying in May and October of 2021 that there were no plans to merge the schools.
“Shame on you,” he said in October, to whoever was spreading that a merger was a “done deal.”
Thursday evening’s meeting was a chance for the committee to discuss the data surrounding its quest, as well as the reasons for dissolving the committee.
“There are so many unknowns right now as far as the economy is concerned, as far as Greenwood County is concerned, that making some sort of move of this magnitude, I think would be highly irresponsible on the part of the board when we’ve got two high schools that are in good position financially,” Sprouse said.
He talked about the board’s need to “invest” in Emerald High School. He said it will never be an apples-to-apples comparison, but that there’s no reason the district can’t have two high schools “we’re absolutely gung-ho and proud of.”
Polarization and division were never what the committee intended, Sprouse said, the only intent was to discuss how to make students better.
He said in the future when the board has discussions of large magnitude, he hopes the board gets a little more benefit of the doubt.
Committee member Johanna Bishop said she was ready for the committee’s end.
She spoke directly to the audience, talking about the greatness she sees in the district.
“I want us to work together,” Bishop said.
“The board is a wonderful board, I’m thankful to work with these people. But I don’t want us to be focusing on this anymore. I really don’t.”
Trent said if the committee wants to dissolve, then he would make that recommendation to the school board chairperson at a future meeting.
Board of trustees chairperson Ken Cobb was in the audience. He said the agenda for the next meeting could be amended for an information item, and said a special board meeting would likely be set to consider the committee’s recommendation.
Fields rounded out the meeting with a final statement: “I do want to say, some of the most difficult and unpopular decisions this board makes may end up reaping the most benefits for the community.”