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School board passes motion to look into reopening Ridgecrest Elementary

The Stanly County School Board passed a motion to allow Superintendent Dr. Jeff James to begin exploring what it would take to reopen Ridgecrest Elementary as a way to help deal with upcoming state-mandated elementary class sizes.

Recent state legislation has restricted K-3 class sizes across the state. Last school year the average K-3 class size allowed under state law was an average of 20 students, according to information from the North Carolina Association of School Administrators. It dropped to an average of 19 students for the current school year. It’s scheduled to drop to a maximum of 16 to 18 students in a class, depending on the grade level, for the 2021-22 school year.

The state will fully fund art, music and physical education teachers for each school that complies with the class size mandates by 2021-22, James said. The county currently does not have enough local funding to supply each elementary school with full-time AMP instructors.

The school system can gain 33 additional teachers if it can comply with the new class sizes, James said.

James said it’s not good for schools to have capacity above 90 percent, though many of the elementary schools already meet or exceed that standard and the ones that don’t likely will in 2021-22.

In order to better meet capacity needs in the future, the school board discussed reopening Ridgecrest Elementary for 2021-22.

“I would recommend to the board that you direct me tonight to move forward on how we could open Ridgecrest back up,” James said.

Many steps would need to be taken before Ridgecrest would open, including addressing capital needs. James thinks Ridgecrest needs at least $800,000 worth of repairs, which the school system does not currently have in capital funds. Steps would also involve looking into redistricting and holding public meetings for community input.

“Time is of the essence,” James told the board. “It will take a year and a half to get a study, to have parent and community meetings that we need to have to get input.

“There are some decisions as a county that we’re going to have to make in the next two to three years for our students because we are growing, we’re not shrinking.”

On the request of the school board’s facilities committee, James looked into the capacity for each elementary school for the 2021-2022 school year, taking into account the addition of the art, music and physical education instructors and lowered class sizes.

Here is a look at each school’s capacity for the current school year and its estimated capacity in 2021-22, when the class sizes will be lowered.

• Aquadale Elementary’s student capacity is 69 percent and would increase to 96 percent.

• Badin Elementary’s student capacity is 104 percent and would increase to 112 percent.

• Central Elementary’s student capacity is 92 percent and would increase to 103 percent.

• East Albemarle Elementary’s student capacity is 95 percent and would increase to 105 percent.

• Endy Elementary’s student capacity is 72 percent and would increase to 104 percent.

• Locust Elementary’s student capacity is 85 percent and would increase to 96 percent.

• Millingport Elementary’s student capacity is 144 percent and would increase to 163 percent.

• Norwood Elementary’s student capacity is 77 percent and would increase to 87 percent.

• Oakboro Choice STEM School’s student capacity is 71 percent and would increase to 104 percent. This includes students enrolled in a prospective Montessori program which has been discussed.

• Richfield Elementary’s student capacity is 81 percent and would increase to 95 percent.
• Stanfield Elementary’s current student capacity is 85 percent and would increase to 89 percent.
During closing comments, Board Chairman Melvin Poole mentioned his excitement that Ridgecrest could potentially reopen. He was on the school board when the school closed and he said it was a “very stressful time for the community” and “very heart-wrenching” to see kids crying, which he said stuck with him.
“I hoped I’d live long enough to see it come back around and hopefully tonight is the start of it,” he said.

About Chris Miller

Chris Miller has been with the SNAP since January 2019. He is a graduate of NC State and received his Master's in Journalism from the University of Maryland. He previously wrote for the Capital News Service in Annapolis, where many of his stories on immigration and culture were published in national papers via the AP wire.

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