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Balch proposes split of Priceville school, provides few details

By Bayne Hughes 340-2432

New Superintendent Bob Balch proposed splitting Priceville High into two schools at Thursday's called Morgan County school board meeting.

But he didn't provide a timetable, cost estimate or details on how he would split Priceville into a grades 6-8 middle school and a grades 9-12 high school.

Balch also proposed hiring someone to handle personnel duties, taking them off the superintendent's secretary. He didn't, however, have a job description for the board to consider as a voting item. He said he would have one at the Jan. 11 meeting.

With 352 students in the three grades, Priceville has more middle school students than any other school but, along with Falkville, is one of two schools with grades 6-12. Balch said Falkville, with 186, is not big enough to warrant consideration for such a split.

Balch said the advantages of separating the middle school and high school students are:

? There's a separation between 17- and 18-year-olds and the 12- and 13-year-olds, which reduces bullying.

? A reduction in discipline problems because there's more control with a principal focusing only on the middle school.

? An increase in pride and giving the middle school students an identity because they'd have their own school.

"I don't really see any disadvantages (in a split)," Balch said. "This is really only going to cost you (what it would cost to hire) a principal."

School board member Carolyn Wallace said the idea for splitting middle and high school students started with the construction of Danville-Neel Elementary in the early 1990s. She said she tracked academic achievement in the first three or four years and said the students made major strides.

She said it also helped improve attendance and failure rates, while making high school as easier adjustment.

The school board separated West Morgan into a middle school and a high school in 2005 by simply promoting assistant principal Bruce Sparkman to middle school principal. The only cost in the split was the $3,000 raise that went with the promotion.

The two operate in the same building and with the same office staff.

West Morgan High Principal Billy Hopkins said he was for the split at the time, but he would not be for such a split again because the middle school didn't get it's own office staff.

"It's great that age groups don't mix, but this is more of an administrative issue," Hopkins said.

The board may, however, have to give West Morgan its own middle school bookkeeper when it goes through accreditation in the coming months.

Hopkins said the school system is losing federal computer grant program because the federal government considers West Morgan one school instead of two.

Most school board members voiced support for a Priceville High split, although Dora Woodard said she did not want to consider any action that would cost additional money.

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