Across Aiken County today, nearly 25,000 students and 3,350 employees – including about 1,500 teachers – will return to 20 elementary schools, 11 middle schools and seven high schools.
And while it is just the first day of the 2016-17 school year, John Murphy, the principal at North Augusta High School is already looking forward to next year.
That’s when the big construction project at his school will be finished and students and teachers can move in to a new main office, media center, cafeteria and freshman academy and new classrooms for NJROTC, art and culinary arts.
But today, he’s got 1,575 students on the way and he and his staff are focused on getting them back to learning.
“We get started full speed,” Murphy said about what happens on the first day of school.
The school has doubled the number of students in advanced placement classes and has started an Advanced Placement Magnet School.
It’s open to any Aiken County students, not just those who attend North Augusta High, as long as the district office approves their requests and parents can provide transportation.
“Our primary goal is to prepare students for college and careers,” he said. “As long as we have seats in the school, parents can request to attend through the district office.”
The district has another big construction project underway at Aiken High School to provide classrooms, special-needs spaces, a media center, cafeteria, room for guidance and administrative offices and business labs by next fall.
In 2018, construction is scheduled to start on a new auxiliary gym and classrooms for art, sewing and child care, culinary arts, ROTC, band and chorus. Eventually, a new 720-seat auditorium and career technology/vocational wing west will be added.
The new Leavelle McCampbell Middle School, a 113,000-square-foot facility at Bettis Academy Road and Weldon Way in Graniteville, is also scheduled to be open by the start of the 2017-18 school year. The site is adjacent to Byrd Elementary, where a new football field will separate the two schools.
Like Murphy, Superintendent Dr. Sean Alford is looking ahead, thinking about other facilities that need to be replaced or renovated using 1-cent sales tax money approved by the voters.
“For example, that Midland Valley area, Graniteville (are) bursting at the seams,” he said in a recent interview. “We are in the beginning stages of having those types of conversations, because not only now do we face a circumstance where we have older buildings like Hammond Hill, Millbrook Elementary, we still have those buildings that are 40 to 60 years old. But we’re also facing now and in the near future a population surge.”