The battle is over for Jones Elementary School.
At Monday’s Hall County Board of Education work session, Superintendent Will Schofield recommended that the school be closed and students be redistricted to Chicopee Woods and McEver elementary schools. The board agreed with a unanimous vote.
“This is an extreme time in education,” said Nath Morris, vice chairman and North Hall representative for the board. “Everyone has had painful cuts, and we’re trying to hold onto positions and salaries. It appears we can do that. This is a vote for the entire school system.”
With an estimated $1 million in savings, the closing will move staff and about 350 students out of the building built in the Chicopee Woods community in 1949.
“This type of closing is unprecedented in the county,” Schofield told The Times on Monday.
The superintendent’s office recommended that current Jones Elementary students’ families be notified within seven days of their new home district. They also will be provided an opportunity to apply for placement in Oakwood Elementary or Lyman Hall Elementary, if space is available.
In addition, all current and new Chicopee Woods district families will be contacted within 14 days and given first priority, based on available space, to enroll at Chestnut Mountain Elementary’s Creative School of Inquiry or Martin Elementary’s charter school for science and technology.
The board approved the recommendations as well.
“I was undecided until yesterday, and no decision has weighed as heavy as this one,” said Brian Sloan, the board’s South Hall representative. “Without this, we’d have to raise taxes or take salaries, and I’m unwilling to do that. I appreciate that so many of you have dissented with respect and let your voice be known.”
Staff for Jones Elementary will move as well.
“Unfortunately, we won’t know where to place them until enrollment has settled,” Schofield said. “The worst thing to do would be to move them twice.”
Staff will be notified of pending placement within seven days if possible. Current teachers will be able to give their preference of moving with the Jones students or transferring to other elementary schools in the district.
With Chicopee Woods Principal Janet Adams retiring at the end of the school year, Jones Principal Hank Ramey has agreed to fill that position.
“I think it’ll help to give some familiarity to Jones students and parents,” Schofield said.
Schofield suggested a few options for the empty Jones Elementary building. A part-time caretaker will maintain the school grounds and coordinate security with district security personnel and the Hall County Sheriff’s Department. District staff also will begin negotiations with local adult education programs and North Georgia College and State University regarding revenue-generating education programs to occupy part of the space.
Schofield added that district staff will request state funding for a three-year renovation project for the campus, but for now the school doors will stay closed.
“It was something like this or pay cuts or 20 jobs,” said Richard Higgins, the board’s chairman. “As we look down the road, we don’t see the light at the end of the tunnel. We started cutting back a few years ago and have ended up in better shape than other school systems. We’re still trying to stay in the black.”
Chad Cobb, Jones Parent Teacher Organization president, spoke out against the closing at public meetings and said he was disappointed by the board’s decision. His wife and two daughters left the meeting in tears.
“All three of them went to Jones,” Cobb said, motioning toward his family as they hugged. “The school is a part of our family. The board has hard decisions to make, and we don’t like the decision they made. When re-election comes around, maybe people in my family will run against them.”
Although the decision was tough for the group of teachers, parents and students in attendance to accept, fourth-grade teacher Emily Williams keeps looking forward.
“You want to keep the great things going, and you improve each year. Jones is our home,” she said. “When you disperse, you lose some of that progress. Jones is a diamond, but I have high expectations for our students and teachers no matter where they go.”
The board also approved a priority list of possible furlough days and three technology projects using the one-cent local sales tax for school technology and construction.