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Hall County school system considers shuffling grades

Option would avoid redistricting, keep children in same schools

POSTED: March 7, 2008 5:01 a.m.
Scott Rogers/The Times

Construction crews hurry to cover freshly poured cement Thursday afternoon during a rain shower at the construction site of Hall County's newest high school on Spout Springs Road.

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The Hall County school system typically redraws attendance boundary lines when it prepares to open a school.

But the system is looking at another option that won’t require families to change school districts when it opens the new high school in South Hall in the fall of 2009.

Administrators are considering a plan to reconfigure grades between Davis Middle School, Flowery Branch High School and the middle/high school complex being built off Spout Springs Road, behind The Springs church and diagonally from Spout Springs Elementary School.

Davis Middle would house sixth and seventh grades, Flowery Branch High would house eighth and ninth grades, and the new school would house 10th through 12th grades, said Will Schofield, Hall’s superintendent, in an interview last week.

Under the scenario, eighth-graders still would be Davis Middle students, and ninth-graders still would be Flowery Branch High students. Also, the setup would allow for the county system to operate its first-ever ninth-grade academy, a school common in many school districts as a way to provide students a smoother transition into the upper grades.

"If we embrace that scenario, there’s a possibility we won’t have to have middle or high school redistricting until 2012 or 2013," Schofield said.

School officials came up with the concept after several months of "talking with parent groups, faculty groups and working behind the scenes trying to determine" an option to redistricting, Schofield said.

Redrawing attendance lines seldom goes over without school officials drawing opposition — and sometimes angry derision — from students’ families.

This winter, the Hall system completed redistricting for the new Chestnut Mountain Elementary School off Union Church Road.

The Hall Board of Education ended up moving families out of the Friendship Elementary and Spout Spring Elementary districts to complete the task.

At a public hearing in December, the board heard from a dozen or more residents asking to be spared from the changes.

The splitting of grades is not a new concept.

The Gainesville school system did just that when it opened Centennial Elementary School in the early 1990s. To complete their elementary career, students had to travel to all the system’s elementary schools – Enota, Fair Street and Centennial.

The school district since has opened two new elementary schools – Gainesville and New Holland – and now allows students to attend the school of their choice based on specialized programs at each school (for example, arts at Centennial).

Ongoing growth in the Hall system is forcing construction of the new high school, which would serve as a middle/high school if the district goes forward with redistricting.

"As we look at our growth projections … almost all of our growth — and it has been explosive growth — is occurring in Davis Middle School and Flowery Branch High School," Schofield said.

"Those schools each are 300 to 400 students over capacity … and if our projection models hold true and current trends continue, we could see that double over the next 10 years," he added.

Schofield said he would like to see a decision on how to proceed with the new school — either through redistricting or the grade changes — by Sept. 1.

He said he also foresees public hearings on the matter.

"We’re open to input from the community," Schofield said.

For his part, Bill Nash said he would like the realignment of grades.

"It makes sense to me for (the system) to do it this way," said Nash, who has a daughter in eighth grade at Davis. "… To me, this keeps a real sense of community.

"I’ve got my feet in the Flowery Branch High School community now, because I have a daughter there and just feel a lot better continuing with the same teachers and group of friends."

Paula Dobbs, who has a sixth-grader and twin eighth-graders at Davis, also favored the idea of spreading the grades among the schools.

"I absolutely love it," she said. "I’ve never been comfortable with sixth-graders being with eighth-graders and, even more so, ninth-graders being with 12th-graders.

"The age difference, the maturity level is just so different."

And she certainly is no fan of redrawing district lines.

"My children have made friends and I hate to see those relationships separated by redistricting," Dobbs said.


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