Class is in. Immediately.
When Gulf Shores takes over schools in the city from Baldwin County on June 1, learning will begin immediately, Superintendent Dr. Matt Akin said.
“We are really adamant about beginning June 1 and making an immediate impact,” Akin said. “Since I’ve been here, the conversation has been around changing learning, and learning not just being from 8 a.m. – 3 p.m. every day, but throughout the year in the summer and virtual.”
That will include programs at all three schools on the Gulf Shores campus, including offering classes for high school students to help increase options for their fall semesters.
“Let’s say they want to take English 11 this summer so they can take Physics 2 in the fall to fit in their schedule,” Akin said. “Or they want to take health so they’ll be able to take a theater class. We are offering those courses this summer so there’s an incentive. There’s a $50 fee for the course, but if you complete the course, we’re going to refund half of the money.”
At the elementary school, students will be offered a chance to begin studying a foreign language.
“In the elementary school we are hoping to do a Spanish immersion academy this summer,” Akin said. “In the middle school, we are doing eco-tourism and arts [classes]. They are going to be very low cost. Our goal is not the money. Our goal is expanded learning opportunities.”
Akin said he expects there to be about 1,900 total students at all three schools when the doors open this fall, with 770 students in the elementary, 400 in the middle school and 790 in the high school. To relieve what has been one of the most overcrowded elementary schools in the county, sixth graders will be moved to the middle school.
None of the schools will be over capacity even with about 70 out-of-district students signed up for classes there.
“We think we probably have room for roughly 50 kids in the elementary,” Akin said. “Middle’s a little tighter, where we only have room for 30 or so. In the high school, ninth grade is the one that’s open. We could certainly take up to 90 or 100 in ninth grade and I don’t think there’s that many out there. Any ninth grader, we’re 100 percent sure we could take.”
Out-of-district applications ended April 30 and the school system offered waivers or breaks in the tuition for those with financial concerns. The cost is $1,500 for the first student in a family and $1,000 for each additional student.
“Part of our policy [allows for] financial hardship and I’ve met individually with several parents who have requested waivers,” Akin said. “Confidentially we look over their income and the number of kids they have. So the waiver could [bring their cost] down to $0 or it could be 50 percent off. It just depends on their specific needs.
“The Board is adamant that we don’t want someone who wants to come to Gulf Shores to not be able to afford it.”
Those students out of district are also eligible for transportation services. Because the separation agreement requires the system to transport 10th, 11th and 12th graders who are out of district and want to graduate from Gulf Shores, other students can ride, too.
“If other students are in those same areas, which they will be, we’ll certainly provide transportation for them,” Akin said.
As far as staffing, Akin said the system is now gauging the numbers to see how many teachers will be needed. On April 26, the Baldwin County Board of Education, in a routine end-of-the-year move, sent 15 nonrenewal notices to current nontenured Gulf Shores teachers.
“Those teachers may be hired with Gulf Shores if they are interested or they may be rehired with the county,” Akin said. “As we looked at the reduction in enrollment, we knew we were going to lose teacher units. We’ll continue to look at our out-of-district numbers and look at the teachers who choose to go to county, then, obviously, we’ll have a need to bring teachers in.”
A recent hire is Dr. Stephanie Harrison, who was the secondary curriculum coordinator at Baldwin County. In her new job, she’ll be the assistant superintendent over instruction and innovation for Gulf Shores.
Earlier this year, Gulf Shores announced a project the system hopes to begin immediately to improve the look of the campus and address traffic. The three schools are stacked west to east off of Fort Morgan Road.
“If we’re going to change the culture, it’s going to start with our image and with the appearance and our pride in the buildings,” School Board President Kevin Corcoran said. “That’s why we’re jumping in right away.”
Besides sprucing up the exteriors, the system had a traffic study done to come up with a better way to get cars in and out of the campus. Currently, both middle school and elementary school traffic are in the same line. Before and after school, parents line the shoulders of East 2nd Street, also known as Fort Morgan Road, waiting to drop off or pick up students.
“We’re putting in a big traffic circle that’s a huge loop south of the elementary school where parents will come in and drop their kids off,” Corcoran said.
Elementary traffic will come in and go out at East 16th Avenue and enter the big loop from the west for drop-offs. The same pattern will be set up for the middle school, but traffic there will enter and exit from East 15th Avenue.
“We’re segregating the middle school and elementary school traffic so they won’t compete with each other for space,” Corcoran said. “We had traffic engineers and architects do a very intense study, and this is what they came up with. If there is stacking and waiting in line, it’s all going to occur on campus and get that load off of East 2nd.”
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