Take a look around the Upstate, there’s growth everywhere and schools are becoming packed.
As Anderson County continues to grow, more students and expanding campuses are coming.
The Independent Mail spoke with all five Anderson County school districts about their growth expectations and plans.
District Five is the biggest with around 13,000 students while District One is seeing the fastest growth. Districts Two and Three are in more rural areas and are seeing growth in what typically would be a steady year.
All five superintendents are watching for new subdivisions and housing annexations as more people come to Anderson County.
Anderson District One sees rapid growth out of Powdersville schools
Anderson District One is the second largest district with 10,619 students and has seen explosive growth from Anderson’s fastest growing city, Powdersville.
Three schools got an eight-room addition last year: Powdersville Elementary, Spearman Elementary and Cedar Grove, District One Superintendent Robbie Binnicker said.
Powdersville Middle School and Powdersville High School each had 10-room additions, he said.
“For us, it’s just a process to keep up with the rapid growth while trying to expand buildings and getting the funds.” Binnicker said.
Binnicker has considered redrawing district lines, but doesn’t see that as a current fix since there isn’t much room to work with.
Concrete Primary is the only school in the district over-capacity and utilizing a portable, with the goal to add two more portables.
Over the next few years, Binnicker anticipates the other Powdersville schools reaching capacity and adding portables too.
The most ambitious solution to the growth, and the only plan out of all five districts, is to add a new school.
“In seven to eight years, we plan on adding an elementary school in Powdersville to relieve Concrete and Powdersville Elementary,” Binnicker said.
In addition to that move, he thinks redrawing a few lines would help relieve Spearman Elementary.
“With the growth comes new opportunities for us. To build other schools, that’s exciting,” he said.
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For Binnicker, though the growth excites him he is concerned about uncontrolled growth.
“Uncontrolled growth is really difficult for the district to manage. It is hard for us to snap our finger and build an eight-room addition. It’s more difficult to keep up when the growth isn’t controlled.”
Anderson District Two sees more people moving to rural areas
On a Friday afternoon in November, District Two superintendent Jason Johns wrapped up substitute teaching for the day.
Johns teaches a class in the area schools once a month, it’s a way to help ease the staffing shortage since there aren’t enough substitutes to go around.
The district added 67 more students this year as it hovers around 3,680 students.
Marshall Primary, Honea Path Elementary and Belton Middle are currently at capacity but no schools in the district are over capacity.
Buying a portable is about the same cost as hiring a teacher, so Johns is looking for other ways to meet the growth without portables or new buildings.
Anderson Districts Two and Three are the most rural, which could account for the increase in students as rural areas create the buffer from a busier city life, Johns said.
The district is currently working on a report of all the buildings to see what each school can handle moving forward. Some of the schools were built in the 1950s and renovated in the 1980s and 2000s, so the district wants to reevaluate their condition.
He’s looking forward to a national board certification program where teachers can be certified. The district is paying for 42 teachers to go through the two-year program, which would give them a $5,000 stipend a year once they’re certified.
Anderson District Three focused on COVID impact as population increases
The focus for District Three has centered on academics, District Three Superintendent Kathy Hipp said, especially focusing on gaps due to the pandemic.
“We’re just trying to focus on making sure we get any gaps closed academically,” she said.
This year, enrollment in District Three is up by 120 students to reach around 2,620, Hipp said.
She credits some of this growth to virtual alternatives in place last year, but with a district that typically remains the same, 120 students is significant.
The district has not reached a point where they need portables or more buildings. They have added new teachers to make smaller class sizes, but that was done primarily to help with COVID learning gaps rather than for growth.
Crescent High School has had substantial growth and will need to add a teacher next year.
Opening the career center has helped with numbers at the Crescent High since 100 students go in the morning and then another group goes in the afternoon. That center is shared with districts four and five.
Though the district doesn’t have plans on adding new buildings they plan to remodel, in the next five to 10 years they’ll keep working on small construction and maintenance projects.
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No schools are at maximum capacity currently but Starr-Iva Middle is close to reaching capacity.
Looking back at what the district has accomplished, Hipp was happy to see the football stadium renovated which was the last project from the penny sales tax for capital improvement.
The track, baseball field and field house have all been completed as well.
In the next couple of years, the district will participate in a population and building study to see what they’ll need moving forward, Hipp said.
Anderson District 4 is seeing sustained growth
District Four is larger now than it has been in the past 10 years, the district’s superintendent M. Dee Christopher said.
“We really feel like in (District) Four, that we’re at the beginning of some sustained growth over the next 5-10 years,” he said.
Christopher is used to seeing around 2,800 students but with 2,910 right now he’s expecting just under 3,000 next year.
A recent enrollment study on population growth leaves the district with a projection of 8% increase over the next five years and an estimated 768 new students in the next 10 years, Christopher said.
There isn’t a plan in place yet for where those 768 students would go, since the enrollment study was just the first step in the process, he said. Next they’ll be reviewing facility needs to plan for space.
That number is significant since the district has been steady for so long, Christopher said.
Christopher said schools in District Four are moving back to normalcy. Instead of having to focus on how to manage the pandemic, he feels principals and teachers can focus more on academics.
None of the schools in the district are at maximum capacity but several are closing in on the maximum number including La France Elementary and Mt. Lebanon Elementary.
Portable classrooms could be an option in the future, Christopher said, but there is no pressing need for them next year.
Looking ahead, Christopher said the district is prepared for growth due to the work of superintendents before him but said no one has dealt with this level of potential growth in the area yet.
Anderson District Five doesn’t see growth this year, but expects future increase
District Five is the only one of the five Anderson school districts to have less students this year than previous years, it is also the biggest.
“We’re flat on growth this year but we anticipate growth in the future when you look at the construction in the district,” Superintendent Thomas Wilson said.
The district has a population of around 13,000 students.
No schools are at maximum capacity and there is not a need for portables or additional buildings.
Wilson anticipates growth along US 81 corridor near T.L. Hanna as well as the Homeland Park area.
Moving forward, the district will work with a demographer to watch for patterns of growth to evaluate options like filling vacant classrooms or rezoning.
COVID has slowed growth temporally, Wilson said, but in the next five to 10 years, the district will have to address enrollment increases at T.L. Hanna and Robert Middle School.
Wilson says he’s not a fan of portables so having renovations planned helps prevent portables. The current anticipated growth in the district is manageable, he said.
The buildings around the district are in great shape, because of the hard work that went into the renovating schedule– not just being reactionary, Wilson said.
In ways this year has been harder because of all the political fallout that public schools have had to face, Wilson said.
A vast majority of the district’s employees are vaccinated and the district also offered high school students an incentive of $100 to get vaccinated.
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“We’ve weathered the storm last year of COVID, we were the first district in the state to say we were going back face-to-face,” Wilson said.
The priority will continue to be, Wilson siad, for students to learn and be cared for at school.
Sarah Sheridan is the community reporter in Anderson. She’d appreciate your help telling important stories; reach her at [email protected] or on twitter @saralinasher.