Back to School 2022: Pender County Schools Superintendent says need for district expansion is urgent

Back to School 2022: Pender County Schools Superintendent says need for district expansion is urgent
Published: Aug. 31, 2022 at 3:36 PM EDT
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PENDER COUNTY, N.C. (WECT) - As the bell rings in a new school year in Pender County without masks or virtual learning, the district is still feeling some of the impacts of the pandemic.

An influx of new students has put the issue of growth and expansion into the forefront across Pender County’s schools.

“Especially with COVID, there was a pullback of students for that year,” said Superintendent Dr. Steven Hill. “So, there’s a wave of a larger class coming through that we’re seeing. And again, that’s a national effect. People, you know, you don’t have to go to school until you’re seven years old, legally.”

As Pender County grows, Hill says there is an urgent need to expand the school district, and a new $178 million bond could do just that if approved by voters in November.

“It’s not for kids that are coming,” Hill said. “We need to build right now for the kids that we have. We can’t supply the space that we need right now, so this is a detriment situation that we’ve got to go after a bond to get a new structure.”

Hill fears what could happen if the school system does not act fast to get ahead of the issue.

“We are now in dire need for some serious resources, and if we don’t provide those, the fail rate is going to start increasing to the degree that this school system is not going to be performing at the degree it’s been performing,” said Hill.

The increase in student population has not exactly come with more faculty and staff. Hill says higher enrollment this year lead to new positions being allotted later in the summer that the district is still working to fill.

“A lot of positions that we don’t have filled were just allotted because, as we move through the end of the summer, all the enrollments are upticking, parents are filling out the paperwork, submitting it. So, we’ve added quite a number of teachers in the last few weeks, so now trying to fill those positions has become our struggle,” said Hill.

In the classroom, teachers are hoping to turn some of the initial struggles of the pandemic into a positive as they continue to brace for change.

“I had to learn a lot of new programs, how to interact with students across the screen, get the feedback I needed from them. So I think I’ve learned to teach them those things right from the beginning: how to access things that they need to in case we were to go virtual at a moment’s notice, because we know that that could happen,” said C.F. Pope Elementary School Teacher Melissa Jackson.

WECT’s back-to-school coverage continues on-air and online all week.