By BRUCE MILLS
From most ways any observer can look at it, R.E. Davis K-8 College Preparatory Academy seems ready to go for this year.
Formerly R.E. Davis Elementary School, the K-8 school was in its first year in 2018-19, a year many considered a “work in progress” after Mayewood Middle School was closed and those middle-schoolers were moved 1.3 miles over to the Eastern School Road school.
Just how much of a “work in progress” it was was a source of debate to many. Ultimately, the state Board of Education ruled Sumter School District’s revamped Board of Trustees needed to push forward with the school as opposed to reopening Mayewood, as it had voted to do.
A previous board had made the decision in April 2018 to close Mayewood because of low enrollment and in an effort to save money after a financial crisis was discovered in the district with the release of the fiscal 2016 audit report in December 2016.
The Sumter Item toured the school Wednesday, the second day of the school year, with new district Superintendent Penelope Martin-Knox and two school administrators. Many previously discussed concerns appear to have been corrected during the summer.
Last year, middle-schoolers didn’t have lockers. District maintenance staff installed about 160 lockers that were previously at Mayewood at R.E. Davis this summer. Middle school enrollment, as of Wednesday, was 145 students, according to district data.
Last year, middle-schoolers had to walk on the grounds across campus to get to the band room. This year, the band room has been moved closer to the middle school hall and is accessible via a 15-yard covered breezeway. The new band room is the former media center from last year, according to Principal Anita Hunter.
Last year, middle-schoolers had to share their hallway with fifth-graders. This year, grades 6-8 have their own hall, and middle-schoolers and elementary school students crossing paths has been reduced to during breakfast in the cafeteria, Assistant Principal Elaina Lemon said.
Last year, some exterior doors to the school remained unlocked during the day. Now, all exterior doors remain locked, and a teacher or administrator must unlock doors with a key during student transition times, Hunter and Lemon said.
Staying on exterior changes, a new school sign with the K-8 school’s full name is now displayed in front of the school, and all of the school’s sports teams have new uniforms that read “VIKINGS” across the front. Last year, some of the middle school teams had to reuse their Mayewood uniforms.
With the shift from having both an elementary school principal, Michelle Curry-McBride, who is now principal at Pocalla Springs Elementary School, and a middle school principal, R.E. Davis has added Lemon as a full-time assistant principal.
The 145 middle-school students consist of 44 sixth-graders, 54 seventh-graders and 47 eighth-graders, according to school enrollment data. Total enrollment across the nine grades was 427 students at the start of the school year.
Official middle school teacher-to-student ratios for main content classes (English, math, science and social studies) are 22 students for each sixth-grade class, Hunter said. Ratios range from 14 to 21 students per class for seventh-graders and 14 to 17 students per class for eighth-graders. No class exceeds district regulations for student counts, Hunter and Lemon said, which are between 30 and 35, depending on grade level.
Middle school science labs lacked room for teachers to do their prep work last year, and the district has decided now to begin construction to expand those classrooms, Hunter said.
Lemon and Hunter said the school was able to iron out kinks from last year for year two.
“Being able to see what works and what didn’t work and just having more time to really figure things out was important,” Lemon said.
At the end of the tour, Martin-Knox said she was pleased.
“It is great right now where we are at,” Martin-Knox said. “It’s an ongoing process, though. [On] some of the bigger things that I heard from the community over the summer, we’ve made the adjustments necessary.”