GREENSBORO — They’ve shared space since a tornado last year displaced Peeler Open Elementary students and Bluford Elementary made room for them.

Next school year, they’ll share their magnet programs.

Students from both schools will take part in special programs in arts (Peeler’s magnet program) and science, technology, engineering and math (Bluford’s magnet program).

Guilford County Schools Superintendent Sharon Contreras said Wednesday that school officials are not planning to close Peeler. However, they intend to shrink the school’s enrollment over the next few years by not taking in new students with the hope that a new, combined Hampton-Peeler building will be built by the time Peeler is down to just fourth- and fifth-graders at Bluford. The school board voted in May to close Hampton Elementary, which also suffered severe tornado damage.

The joining of Peeler and Bluford magnet programs would make it the first and only “STEAM” program in the county school system, Contreras said, using a common acronym for programs that combine the arts with science, technology, engineering and math. She said she expects that could be attractive to many families, and that the school system is interested to try it out to see how it goes.

Contreras said an administrator will be looking into how to further integrate STEM and arts together at the combined school.

She said that ever since Peeler moved in with Bluford, she has been hearing from families who really want their children to be able to access the programs of the other school. That goes for Bluford students who want to learn to play the violin, for example, and Peeler students who want to try out Bluford’s science and engineering/tech labs.

Contreras said she had hoped a bit of that could happen this academic year, but it didn’t pan out.

The school system plans to have any students who move into the Peeler attendance zone in coming years enroll at Bluford.

Also, next year Peeler won’t take new kindergarten or first-grade students and will operate as an elementary school for second through fifth grades. As each class moves on to the next grade, a grade level will be dropped until the school just has fourth- and fifth-graders.

After that, Contreras said, the school system hopes it will be able to open the planned Hampton-Peeler Elementary School on Peeler’s old site. That school would likely serve students from both the former Hampton and Peeler attendance zones.

Having all the youngest students be part of Bluford will allow the school to better spread out students and manage class sizes, Contreras said. She referenced K-3 class-size requirements mandated by the General Assembly.

Currently, she said, a few Peeler classrooms are located in the basement of Bluford. The hope is that Peeler will eventually be small enough that all its students can be on the main floor.

Peeler, which had about 290 students before the tornado struck last year, was at about 170 as of April 1. By comparison, Bluford had about 284 students as of that date.

The new academic year will also bring a new principal for Bluford and Peeler.

Johnita Readus, currently the principal at Sumner Elementary, will replace Gradesa Lockhart, who will become the principal at Hairston Middle School next year, Contreras said, adding that Lockhart has previous middle school experience. Hairston’s current principal, Calvin Freeman, is leaving for a position in another school system, Contreras said.

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Contact Jessie Pounds at 336-373-7002 and follow @JessiePounds on Twitter.

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