Using maps, charts, numbers and plenty of slides, Bryan County Board of Education members and school officials spent nearly 90 minutes Thursday night trying to figure out which kids will attend the new McAllister Elementary when it opens next fall.
At times it seemed part math, part science and part group effort at solving Rubik’s cube, as school officials met at a work session at the Richmond Hill Pre-K center. McAllister is the first elementary school in South Bryan to be built outside the city, which is forcing the BoE to draw district lines for the first time.
While the numbers discussed at the work session were what school superintendent Dr. Paul Brooksher called a “first draft,” it appears the BoE may try to open the new school with around 700 students.
But it evidently won’t be easy to reach that number as officials try to draw attendance lines that they hope will remain static as new students continue to pour into the system and subdivisions change.
“I know we can’t anticipate everything, but as a parent, I’d hate to live in a neighborhood in one school zone for two years, then get moved to another zone for two years and another two years later,” BoE member Amy Murphy said.
If there was a consensus during the meeting, it’s that more schools will be needed. And soon.
“In five years we’re going have grown by almost 1,200 kids. The majority of that will be on the south end,” Brooksher told BoE members. “In five years, as a school board, I’m going to be honest, we’re going to have to build a new school. We have to talk about building a new middle school, we’ve got to talk about another elementary school. We’ve got to talk to developers (about acquiring land).”
Projections based on a revived economy have neighborhoods in the area growing again, though Brooksher told board members the population already in a small section of South Bryan surprised him.
“It’s amazing how densely populated it is,” he said, pointing at a sliver of a map showing various neighborhoods south of Richmond Hill. “And it’s amazing how densely populated it’s going to be.”
A forum on the districting process was held Nov. 6 at Richmond Hill Middle School cafeteria and approximately 50 people attended – though school administrators had dual plans: one for more than 360 attendees, another for under that number.
Officials expect more people to show up at the Dec. 4 forum, which is set for 7 p.m. at the RHMS cafeteria. That school, too, is almost over capacity despite opening just three years ago.
A final forum is scheduled for Jan. 8, where those who attend will be able to review draft plans and provide some last bits of input as administrators begin to “finalize a recommendation for the Board of Education,” according to the school system.
At the first forum, which included facilitated small group discussions, those people who attended discussed everything from demographics to traffic control to taxes and how resources would be allocated. Brooksher called it a positive crowd, telling the BoE those who attended were glad to be included in the process.
McAllister is being built to accommodate 1,000 students, but officials want to open it with some room left for additional students due to growth projections which show it could be full within a decade.
Richmond Hill Primary, Richmond Hill Elementary and Carver Elementary are all well over capacity. Richmond Hill Primary was built for 700 students, but 924 are currently enrolled. Richmond Hill Elementary was opened in the fall of 2009 and was built to hold 775 students, but 927 are enrolled.
Carver was built for 875 kids and has 981 students currently enrolled.
While the new school will take some pressure off those schools, fast growing neighborhoods down 144 are adding new students at a rapid clip. Brooksher told the BoE he talked with county officials and developers to try to get a handle on how much growth is projected in coming years.
Among the larger developments in the works are East Buckhead with a potential 500 homes, WaterWays Township with plans for 3,894 homes, Terra Pointe with a possible 4,485 homes, Dunham Marsh with plans for 298 homes and the Bluffs at Richmond Hill with as many as 145 homes, according to Brooksher. Some will take years to build out, others could fill up more rapidly, the BoE was told.
BoE members also discussed traffic – right down to the difficulties of making left turns off 144 and onto 144 at the meeting, and the new interchange at I-95 which could bring additional industry and commercial development to South Bryan.
Knowing where elementary school students currently live is also part of the process– and Brooksher said school officials used Versitrans software normally used to schedule bus routes to show how many students in each grade live in each neighborhood in South Bryan as they looked at various district alternatives, which include opening McAllister with as many as 800 students, though BoE members seem uncomfortable with that idea.
“I say we need to open with under 700,” BoE Chairman Eddie Warren said.
The school board expects to decide on its final attendance lines for McAllister in February. More information on proposed attendance lines will be online soon, Brooksher said, calling it a first draft.
“We’re trying to be transparent, we’re trying to listen to their feedback, which we have done,” Brooksher said.
BoE members said it’s important to let people get involved and understand the process.
“Put it online. I say let people see it,” BoE Vice Chairman Joe Pecenka said. “Don’t surprise them.”
Bryan County Schools already has a webpage with districting information – including an email address for people to share their opinions with school officials – at its website at www.bryan.k12.ga.us.