Thanks to a curious Chatham resident, Our Chatham took a look into something that’s still early in the works: Seaforth High School. The school is scheduled to open in fall 2021, but we have the answers to this reader’s key questions:
- How will Northwood High School be affected by the opening of Seaforth High School?
- Will Northwood kids in the attendance zone for Seaforth immediately be sent there?
- How are they managing overcrowding at Northwood in the next two years until Seaforth opens?
Plans for Seaforth
Last year, Chatham County Schools announced the opening of two new schools: Chatham Grove Elementary, scheduled to open in fall 2020, and Seaforth High School. Because Chatham Grove has an earlier timeline, the county hasn’t made plans for Seaforth’s attendance zone yet. However, Chris Blice, chief operations officer for CCS, shared the districting process for Chatham Grove, which will look similar for Seaforth.
The Operations Research Education Laboratory from N.C. State University works with CCS to make logistical decisions such as the location of a new school and the projected population. CCS then uses this information to make proposals to the county’s Board of Education about attendance zones.
After the board gives feedback about the proposal, CCS hosts public Community Input Meetings at schools affected by the opening to collect opinions in the form of a survey. The school system also uploads a presentation to its website with a link to the survey for residents who weren’t able to attend the meetings. CCS officials make changes to the proposal based on the survey data—in the case of Chatham Grove, it resulted in the addition of another attendance zone.
Once the board approves the final proposal, CCS and other officials implement the plans. Chatham Grove’s final proposal will be published in July, and then CCS will direct its attention to Seaforth.
Although Seaforth doesn’t have an attendance zone yet – and some students are concerned about whether they will have to swap schools – CCS does have a plan for phasing in students. The school will open with ninth and 10th graders. By the third year, when the first 10th graders are seniors, Seaforth will officially have ninth through 12th grade students.
“I’m quite familiar with when you get to be a junior or a senior how intensely loyal your feelings are about your high school and your desire to stay there,” Blice said. “The goal with opening at nine-10 is to eliminate some of that.”
Northwood’s Crowd Control
Right now, Northwood High School is Pittsboro’s only high school, and it’s feeling the strain of the exponential growth of Chatham County. The building was designed for 1,000 students, and the student population is now at 1,365, according to the school’s website.
Northwood’s outside trailers have added about 20 classrooms to the school, but some teachers have to share rooms to accommodate the number of students. Educators teach three class periods per day, which leaves one period open for each classroom.
“Sometimes, it means there are three home teachers and one teacher who floats between three different classrooms—that’s very rare,” Assistant Principal Zack Chutz said. “Usually, two teachers will share one classroom. They’ll teach two periods a day in that classroom and then their third period class will be somewhere else.”
Seaforth’s building plans say the school will accommodate 1,200 students with a maximum capacity of 1,400.
Northwood received an almost entirely new administrative staff for the 2018-19 school year, with a new principal and two new assistant principals. Principal Bradford Walston visits every class every day, which has helped him develop relationships within the school.
“It takes me 90 minutes to touch every classroom in the building,” Walston said. “It’s a brief drop in: ‘Hey, how are you doing?’ If somebody needs something or if something’s going on, the kids know they can step out, and teachers know they can step out.”
Both Chutz and Walston agreed that Seaforth would alleviate some of the logistical problems of having a population over the capacity of the building, such as large lunch periods and crowded class changes, but they noted that their solutions have been effective.
Parent Tammy Trotter, who has two freshmen and a senior at Northwood, said Walston’s ability to build rapport with the community over a short period of time is “amazing.”
“Before school started, when my boys were starting football practice as incoming freshmen, and my daughter was working out for cross country, [Walston] was out there meeting parents and kids,” Trotter said.
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