Parents voiced concerns over plans to move students from Guyton Elementary and Marlow Elementary to Sand Hill Elementary at a public hearing Thursday.
The school board is considering three plans that would move approximately 130 to 150 students from the two schools.
“What is going to sway you from each plan?” said Karen Owen. “Is it based solely on numbers? In order for me to even comment, I need my questions answered.”
Superintendent Randy Shearouse said he thought the board is open to listening to comments, and if there is a valid concern raised, the board would look at that.
Board chairperson Vera Jones said the board is looking at the entire picture.
“This is not us against you,” Jones said. “We love your kids. We had kids grow up in the system, and we want to do what’s best for them. Tell us what you feel.”
Owen said she is very upset about the plan.
“We purchased our home because of the Guyton school, not because of Sand Hill,” Owen said. “I don’t know where you got your mileages from, but the mileage I got is not the same. It is way far off.”
Karla Gatewood asked the board if the first plan was up to or included Azalea Point.
Schools transportation coordinator Jimmy Helmly said it did not include Azalea Point.
Michael Edwards said Marlow is the reason he moved to Effingham.
“It was why I left where I’m from, over 150 miles away,” he said. “I left that to come here, not only for a better life for myself, but a better life and education for my kids. I found that at Marlow. Marlow is what brought me here, and I would love to stay with Marlow because Marlow is what will keep me here.”
Edwards said when someone first moves to the county they may not realize how much better it is than somewhere else, and he has lived there before.
“I feel like this is where I need to be,” Edwards said. “And I feel like if I can’t have Marlow, then I don’t need to be here, and I love it here. This is my home.”
Jennifer McCollum said her family left Chatham County for her son to go to Guyton.
“Since he’s been there, he’s done great,” she said. “The teachers and staff are amazing. He’s excelled academically. He’s been on honor roll. We’d hate to see him leave there.”
McCollum said the one question she had was in regard to pre-kindergarten. She said she has a child who will be in pre-k and asked if her son went to Sand Hill would her pre-k child still go to the Central Learning Center or to Marlow Learning Center?
Shearouse said the intent would be for the students to go to the Marlow Learning Center so siblings would be attending schools in the same area.
Donna Murray said she had negative and positive comments about the redistricting. She said she was positive about the changes when she first heard about them.
“We moved out here too from Chatham County for good schools, and I thought we were going to be in the Marlow district, but we got put in the Guyton,” Murray said. “I did not want my kids going there, and now I do not want them leaving there.”
Murray said her concerns are about the level of education and change and stress on the children.
“I don’t really care for them having to go to school an hour earlier,” Murray said. She said she has done research and found that the two schools perform comparably on tests and are rated very closely.
She said she would prefer not to have her children change schools, but understands if they have to.
Cheryl Luyster said she has a child who will be in fifth grade next year and does not understand why he would be required to move to Sand Hill for one year and then move to another school the next year.
“Can he remain in Guyton if I’m willing to drive him back and forth,” Luyster asked. “He’s only got one more year. If he moves to Sand Hill and makes all new friends then when he goes to middle school he will have to make all new friends again because all Sand Hill goes to a different high school and middle school.”
Luyster said she is also concerned because her son has asthma and the nurses and teachers know about his condition.
Jason Moore said if the school board had not already made up their minds about redistricting before the public hearing why the additions had already been built at Sand Hill.
“Where I live I don’t have a choice,” Moore said. “Number one, I will tell you right now, my house will hit the market next week, and will sell my house and I will leave this county. I hate to do that. My wife is from here. I love that school at Guyton. The staff is wonderful, no offense at Sand Hill I don’t know them.”
Moore said he chose where he moved to because he knew what school his children were going to be attending.
“That’s the biggest investment in their life,” Moore said. “They spend $150,000 or $200,000 on a house, and they based that decision on where their child was going to go to school.”
Moore said he is in sales and is not always home, and his wife works in Savannah.
“You know right now if you live in Effingham County and you work in Savannah, and you have to be at work at eight o’clock in the morning and you leave at five in the afternoon, there’s no way to get back in the county before six o’clock,” he said.
Moore said currently a pastor from his church watches his child after school.
“There is no one who can watch my child from the time school lets out to the time we make it home,” he said. “I ask that you go home and pray about this and you pray hard.”
Alicia Howe said she thinks the main concern with all the parents is change. She said her concerns are because her child has special needs, and she has concerns about the change.
Shearouse said with special needs students the child would go to the school with the program they need. He also said there has been legislation passed that allows vouchers for special needs children to go to the school of their parent’s choice.
Board member Troy Alford said he has a child with special needs. Two graduated from South Effingham High, one is a student at the high school, and another is at the middle school.
“I moved to Effingham County for the school district,” he said. He said the school district has been growing since 2003, with the exception of this year.
Alford said he wants the parents to know the board is on their side.
“Please don’t think we’re against your children,” he said. “I promise you I love your kids just as much as the four I had grow up in this county.”