(TNS) — BRUNSWICK COUNTY, N.C. — A group of second-grade students stared intently at their computer screens, locked into their assignment. Headphones draped over their heads blocked out any noise as they worked.
Patty-Ann Holden walked around the computer lab, one of three at Town Creek Elementary School, monitoring her young students as they focused on completing their assignments.
Technology, Holden said, is a “critical component” to creating 21st century learners.
“It’s very, very important for us to have access to it and for us to have updated technology.”
Despite having three computer labs, a multitude of pink, blue and yellow post-it notes overlapped on a calendar outside the lab as teachers pushed to get their students more computer time.
Along with technology, Holden said having the ability to provide one-on-one teaching to her young students is critical. Yearly population growth in Brunswick County, however, is causing an influx of students to Brunswick County Schools, which in turn increases class sizes and makes it difficult for teachers to provide one-on-one instruction.
“When we have smaller class sizes, you’re able to really meet all of the needs of all of your students and that’s your goal as a teacher,” Holden said. “You want to meet the needs of all of your students and when you have a class size of 30 it makes it a little more challenging to meet all of their needs.”
Town Creek is one of 19 Brunswick County schools that would receive technology and building improvements, among other updates, should a $152 million bond referendum pass in November.
Laura Sokol-Scott has been an eighth-grade social studies teacher at Leland Middle School for 11 years. In recent years, she said she’s experienced class sizes of more than 30 children.
As the landscape of teaching changes, Sokol-Scott said, managing large classes grows increasingly difficult.
“As a teacher now, our base job is to prepare students for potential jobs, college, so the idea of sitting in a classroom and just having a teacher instruct you is not the way we teach anymore,” she said.
In today’s classroom, Sokol-Scott said, teachers focus more on interactive, collaborative teaching methods that have students moving and talking in creative spaces around the classroom.
“We just don’t have an environment that’s always so easy for doing things that really prepare students for the things they need in the future,” she said.
Principal Patricia Underwood said they “outgrew” the Leland Middle building a long time ago.
About two years ago, Underwood said Brunswick County added modular buildings to the back of the school, which house most of the eighth grade. Though it increased her capacity slightly, she said crowding is still a problem at the school.
“When you see rooms like the art room, you’re going to see the crowding.”
For Leland Middle, fine arts program improvements are another thing that would come to the school through the bond if it’s passed.
Band teacher Brenda Flowers said the band program has grown tremendously over the years as the community has grown.
When she looks at projected growth rates for the school, Flowers said she wonders where she will put more students.
“I don’t know if this school was ever intended to house the population that we’re even housing now, much less in the years to come,” Flowers said. “I don’t think anybody had any idea when this school was built that this area was going to see the growth that it’s seeing.”
To address growing concerns of overcrowding at Leland Middle, the bond proposal includes construction of a new Town Creek Middle School, which would be built in the area near Leland Middle and would take the pressure off the aging middle school by housing some of the incoming Town Creek Elementary students.
At Town Creek Elementary, a six-classroom addition has been proposed to alleviate its crowding problem.
Principal Walker Constantinesco has guided school staff as assistant principal and principal since the school opened in 2009. She said when the school opened, it welcomed about 450 children. Now the school is home to roughly 570.
To accommodate the influx of students, Constantinesco has switched rooms around and converted them to whatever space was needed. She said she's seen a particularly large increase in the number of students in the upper grades and she worries about what she’s going to do with her fifth-graders next year.
While three fifth-grade classes have typically been enough, Constantinesco said next year the school will have to create a fourth fifth-grade class. But there isn’t another classroom available on the fifth-grade hall.
“Somebody will have to move off that hall possibly or I may just have to do whole grade-level switches across halls,” she said. “Which, it doesn’t hurt them to clean out every now and then. Got to look at it positively.”
The bond proposed by Brunswick County Schools aims to address overcrowding and safety issues while also covering technology and facility improvements at each of the 19 schools. School officials spent several months assessing the school system’s needs, which were originally estimated at $252 million.
The last time a bond was approved for the county school system was 1999 in the amount of $83.5 million, which is projected to be paid off by 2023.
Superintendent Leslie Tubb said the purpose of seeking a bond now is to take advantage of current construction costs and get projects started that will take two to three years to complete to address overcrowding issues already plaguing the system.
School officials determined that the school system has maximized its ability to borrow money and pay back loans, said Jessica Swencki, executive director of quality assurance and community engagement. Capital improvement dollars and lottery proceeds are already being used to pay down debt service on the additions at Waccamaw School and North Brunswick High School, as well as covering technology initiatives, heating and air issues, roofing and other minor projects at the schools.
One option considered before the bond was a quarter-cent sales tax, which would’ve generated about $3 million annually. But the money would’ve been shared with the beach nourishment fund.
Since school officials have elected to pursue the bond referendum, which will be on the ballot in Brunswick County Nov. 8, projects the money would be addressing throughout the school system have been outlined in a bond plan book.
Should the bond be approved by county residents, projects will be undertaken in three phases.
The first phase includes construction of the new Town Creek Middle School, a 12-classroom addition to West Brunswick High School and a six-classroom addition to Town Creek Elementary and Lincoln Elementary schools.
Phase two would include a 12-classroom addition to North Brunswick High School and a kindergarten through second grade building addition at Waccamaw School.
Phase three focuses on construction of the new Brunswick County Early College High School.
All three phases consist of athletic, building and technology improvements.
If the bond is approved, residents would see a property tax rate increase of about 3.79 cents, meaning the owner of a home valued at $200,000 would be paying an additional $75.80 annually.
©2016 the Star-News (Wilmington, N.C.), distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.