GUILFORD COUNTY — The Guilford County Board of Education took the first formal step Tuesday night toward transforming education for generations to come.

The board voted to approve a series of school construction projects, including one in High Point, to move forward through $300 million in bond money approved in last fall’s general election by Guilford County voters. The new facilities will allow Guilford County Schools to offer magnet programs and other innovative educational approaches to prepare students for careers of the 21st century.

The vote to advance the projects was 8-1 with board member Anita Sharpe casting the dissenting vote.

A comprehensive master plan developed by the school district lists more than $2 billion in school construction needs. So the district will focus on the schools with the greatest needs during the first phase of bond construction. Land purchases for all phases are also included.

The first phase involves a High Point project, a new format kindergarten through eighth-grade school in southwest Guilford County, which will include a STEM center for regional use.

The design phase for Allen Jay Elementary in High Point and Sternberger Elementary in Greensboro also will move forward. The construction phase for both schools would fall under phase two.

The first phase includes work at seven Greensboro area schools. Much of the discussion Tuesday evening revolved around the conversion of Archer Elementary School in Greensboro to a Montessori magnet school, which has prompted pushback from some Archer parents who don’t want to relinquish their traditional neighborhood school.

The board and Guilford County Schools leadership have spent years pressing for attention to deteriorating school facilities.

More than half the buildings in the school district have been rated in poor or unsatisfactory condition following a study of facilities. Dozens of mobile classroom units are more than 30 years old.

Board member T. Dianne Bellamy Small said the school district should make it clear that the $300 million in bond projects is a beginning in addressing the overwhelming needs of long-neglected educational facilities.

“We need to continue to talk about this,” she said.

The board also adopted for public comment a set of possible traditional school calendars for the next two academic years. The board will approve final calendars after receiving feedback.

School district leadership and board members say they want to approve a final calendar for the 2021-22 and 2022-23 academic years that will allow making up learning loss by students during the pandemic.

Board member Linda Welborn said the final academic year calendars should have at least as many instructional days as recent previous school years.

The board also debated whether the school district would give the superintendent authority and flexibility in the future to shift to remote learning days during emergency situations such as inclement weather. The shift to remote learning days wouldn’t be required but implemented on a case-by-case basis depending on circumstances.

“A lot of districts around the country are doing this,” said board member Pat Tillman, adding that the flexibility of remote learning in the future could preserve spring break or keep from extending classes into the early summer.

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