Two new schools – in repurposed buildings – will open for Aiken County Public Schools' students in Aiken and Graniteville when classes start Aug. 19.

The district also will introduce new thematic programs, including German, Spanish and Mandarin Chinese language immersion classes in elementary schools; continue renovations and new construction projects with help from the 1 percent sales tax Aiken County voters approved in November 2014; and provide a 4 percent cost-of-living increase for all district employees and recurring funds for fine arts in middle schools, more media aides and additional money for security at athletic events in the 2019-20 budget.

Aiken Intermediate School

All sixth-graders in Area 1 in Aiken will attend Aiken Intermediate School at the former Aiken Middle School for the first time this school year.

Promising a nurturing environment for sixth-graders to explore arts, athletics and world language while helping students discover their interests, talents and opportunities for future success in middle school and beyond, the new Aiken Intermediate School has been branded the “Home of the Explorers,” according to a news release from the school district.

The Aiken County School Board approved the school district's recommendation to create Aiken Intermediate School in January 2018.

Following their sixth-grade year at the school, students will attend either Kennedy Middle School or Schofield Middle School for seventh and eighth grades, according to their attendance areas. Students at Kennedy will then attend South Aiken High, and Schofield students will attend Aiken High.

During a series of town hall meetings before the School Board approved the recommendation, school district officials said creating the sixth-grade intermediate school would create a more balanced student population in Aiken's middle schools and allow for more efficient use of facilities.

Graniteville Elementary

Renovated classrooms and a new cafeteria will welcome kindergarten and elementary school students at Graniteville Elementary, which was built in the 1950s as the original Byrd Elementary and later was the school district's Aiken County Learning Center for adult education.

Graniteville Elementary School's name, logo and mascot reflect the historic textile community's history and its founder, William Gregg.

A capital “G” based on the former Graniteville Company's logo is a prominent feature of the school's new seal. The school's mascot, Gregg the Gator, recognizes Gregg, who founded Graniteville Company in the 1840s and also the Graniteville community.

Thematic programs

In January, the Aiken County School Board approved new thematic programs for three elementary schools and three middle schools that will begin this year.

Belvedere Elementary will begin a wold language immersion program in Mandarin Chinese, Clearwater Elementary in Spanish and Millbrook Elementary in German.

North Augusta Middle will adopt a math focus and Paul Knox Middle a science focus. Schofield Middle School will adopt the Cambridge Lower Secondary program, which will pair with the Cambridge International program at Aiken High. Aiken High was the first school in the state to adopt the Cambridge International program. Schofield will be the first middle school in the state to adopt the Secondary program.

One of the key goals of Cambridge at the middle school level is to help students develop and improve confidence, responsibility, reflection, innovation and engagement. The internationally-recognized program and curriculum are designed to offer a more comprehensive understanding of the world for students, providing them with an expanded base of knowledge attractive to job creators, according to the school district's website.

“Our goal as a school system is to produce future-ready students who have all the skills necessary to succeed in post-secondary studies and the modern workplace,” Aiken County Public Schools Superintendent Dr. Sean Alford said in a news release. “These new areas of thematic focus will greatly expand the scope of individualized educational opportunities available here in Aiken County.”

Construction updates

Renovations and construction continue at the James Taylor Gymnasium at Aiken High School, the new Ridge Spring-Monetta High School and the new restrooms at the Silver Bluff High School football stadium.

Aiken High's Taylor gym will feature new bleachers, HVAC system and ticket booth. The $6.5 million project should be complete by November.

The roof went on the second floor at the new Ridge Spring-Monetta High and on the new baseball press box over the summer. Sod was laid, and the irrigation system was completed at the school's new football stadium, which should be ready for games in September.

Work on the $32 million new school and athletic facilities should be complete by the end of the year.

At Silver Bluff High, the new restrooms at the football stadium should be finished by the start of football season.

Also, site preparation began over the summer for the expansion of Midland Valley High School to help alleviate overcrowding.

School budget

The Aiken County Public Schools' 2019-20 budget includes pay increases for all staff.

“We’re very pleased with our school board’s continued commitment to attract the very best teachers and employees for our public schools,” Alford said. “All staff members received a 4 percent cost-of-living adjustment. In addition, those eligible for a step increase also received one, creating about a 6 percent overall salary increase for most employees.”

The budget also includes additional pay for extra duty work, two new teaching allocations to serve students learning English as a Second Language, extended contracts for secretaries in elementary schools to cover the summer months and increased funds to support teacher supplies. Other 2019-20 Budget highlights include the following:

• The reconfiguration and re-titling of the attendance aide position to provide additional support to schools at all levels. The new position will be titled "student information clerk."

• Guidance clerk positions increasing from 7.5 hours per day to 8.0 hours per day.

• Clerical aide positions, only allocated at the five large high schools, reclassified as secretaries.

• A second secretary allocation for Wagener-Salley High.

• $94,000 in recurring fine arts funding for middle schools. Stage two of a three-phase plan to provide recurring fine arts funding at all levels. Recurring fine arts funding for high schools was added to the budget in 2018-2019.

• Increasing half-time media aide positions at 18 elementary and middle schools to full-time, ensuring that all schools at the elementary and middle level have a full-time allocation.

• $75,000 for athletic events security.

• Increasing the 220-day secretary at elementary schools to 12-months to ensure front office coverage throughout the summer.

• $25,000 for supplies to aid in the recruitment and retention of employees.

• Increases in the maintenance budget, including $300,000 in nonrecurring funds for vehicle replacements.

• Creations of a coordinator of employee relations (Human Resources department) and a budget specialist position (Business Services department).

• $250 increases in school travel budgets.

• The hourly rate for teacher extra duty increasing from $25 to $30.

• The school district will contribute an additional $25 to each teacher supply check, above the amount funded by the state budget.

Alford said the school board has not had a school operating millage increase since the 2013-14 school year.

“We’re grateful for the work of our finance team for managing requests as well as school and employee needs within our existing budget,” he said. “Our resources are focused right where they should be – on our teachers and employees who challenge, support and encourage the students and families we serve.”

Larry Wood covers education for the Aiken Standard.