As the recession declines, the housing market improves and area schools scramble to make room for students in their halls.
It’s a trend across the country today, and Gainesville High School is no exception to its effects. As the only high school in the city school system, Gainesville currently enrolls 1,800 students on a campus with a capacity of approximately 2,000.
“Our main building holds about 1,200,” Principal LaCrisia Larkin said. “Then of course we have some outer buildings, including our (Career, Technical and Agricultural Education) building, our gyms and we are using two 12-unit modulars. That increases the number of students we can accommodate.”
Since 2012, the high school has seen an annual increase of 250-300 students, meaning it could reach capacity in the next year if the growth continues.
The growth is systemwide, according to Superintendent Wanda Creel, much of it in the elementary and middle schools.
As those students age, their growing class sizes then fill the high school as well.
Larkin said the growth at the middle school level in the last few years certainly contributed to growth at the high school, but they also have students coming in from surrounding areas.
“It’s growth all over,” Larkin said.
The high school accepts tuition from students who live outside the city limits in Hall County. Currently, 99 students living outside the city limits pay to attend the high school.
“For one student, it’s $585 a year,” Larkin said. “Of course, if you have additional children, for the second and on the price goes down.”
Creel said the administration has to address the growth from not only a facilities perspective, but also instruction.
“Growth is being looked at from a holistic standpoint throughout our entire system,” Creel said. “Looking at our elementary schools, our middle schools and our high school as we continue to look at facilities and capacity, it’s part of our capital outlay plan that we turn into the state department.”
Class sizes at the high school average between 30-32 students.
“If you did a comparison of class sizes at our high school versus other high schools, we really do have a pretty low pupil-teacher ratio,” Creel said. “We’ve been working toward about a 28:1 pupil-teacher ratio. A lot of high schools have a much higher ratio than that.”
According to the Georgia Department of Education, Gainesville High School’s pupil-teacher ratio rose significantly this year from 17:1 last year, a relatively low number compared to others in the state. Last year’s highest high school pupil-teacher ratio in the state, according to the DOE, was 28:1.
Creel said the growth in schools is due primarily to the diminishing recession.
“We’re starting to see that homes are being purchased in our area that maybe had been on the market a while,” Creel said. “Additionally, we’re seeing new homes, particularly in the Mundy Mill area. There’s a contract out for 81 homes to be built in the next year in that area, so we’ve got new people coming into our community.”
Both Creel and Larkin said there are solutions to accommodating additional students in the high school. Larkin said she believes they will continue to admit paying students from the county, saying they wouldn’t “literally close the doors to outside students.”
“But we can certainly look at expanding our usage of the buildings available on our campus,” Larkin said. “We would love to expand by renovating some of our buildings. That’s always something that should be talked about, looked at and addressed as our growth continues.”
Another solution, according to Larkin, is enrolling more students in dual enrollment opportunities, which can balance class loads at the high school.
Larkin said building a second high school isn’t something she thinks the community will want as a solution.
“People love our single high school situation,” she said.
Creel said a second high school or changes to the existing high school have not been discussed in the four months she’s been at the system’s helm, nor are they part of the capital outlay plan.
That said, she believes there are multiple viable options for high school facilities. Officials have to carefully determine the best fit, not only for the high school, but for all students pre-kindergarten through 12th grade.
“We just really don’t have that element laid out yet,” Creel said. “Hopefully by July 1, 2015, we will have that plan in place and our board will carry out with that.”