AIKEN -- Expectations for the new school year in Aiken County are as high as the flagpole that towers above the district office.
And with opening day fast approaching, "academics" remains the buzz word among educators, but school safety is also a priority.
In the wake of last year's school shootings, a group was formed to ad dress school safety. From a series of meetings that involved Board of Education members, principals, parents and administrators, members recommended placing an intercom system in every classroom at every school that allows teachers in emergency situations to call the front office without leaving their classrooms. Before school begins, every classroom will be equipped with the call-back system.
Safety monitors will patrol high school halls and carry walkie-talkies, and a full-time resource officer has been added at Silver Bluff, Ridge Spring and Wagener-Salley high schools. And through a grant written by the Aiken County Sheriff's Office, armed resource officers will work at the Langley-Bath-Clearwater and Leavelle McCampbell middle schools.
Administrators continue to wrestle with the idea of equipping halls with security cameras, but it is not known whether that will happen this year, partly because it costs so much -- $25,000 per school.
Another big-ticket item is the construction of the new North Aiken Elementary School, with a price tag of just over $7 million. It's the fourth new school in Aiken County since 1994, said deputy superintendent William Gallman.
The school is part of 400-plus acres on Wire Road next to Aiken Middle School. In the past 10 years, North Aiken Elementary, built during segregation, had grossly outgrown its confines, much as it did in 1970, prompting construction of East Aiken Elementary. Before that, 850 pupils attended the elementary school.
"It's high time we had a new building," said first-grade teacher Annie Ruth Williams, who occupied the same classroom at old North Aiken Elementary for 23 years. "Still, it's going to be hard to leave. It's like home here."
The old school, a landmark on Rutland Drive, is now part of the Aiken High campus. But administrators are still undecided about which classes will be moved to the facility.
Here is a rundown of other significant changes for the new school year:
All high schools will be using the seven-period day schedule. The change is being made because of a fairly new law that requires students to have 24 credits to graduate. Before the change, the number was 20.
More emphasis will be placed on reading, especially in kindergarten through eighth grades. Recent results from a national test showed that at least 20 percent of the county's eighth-graders could not comprehend what they read. Several strategies will be employed. Among them, training students to concentrate on what they have read by asking them to put it in their own words.