Hispanics have long dominated the student population in Gainesville city schools, but the ethnic group is quickly becoming a predominant group in Hall County schools as well.
The group makes up nearly 34 percent of Hall's overall enrollment of 25,585 students, according to October enrollment counts recently released by the Georgia Department of Education.
Just six years ago, Hispanics made up 22 percent, or little more than a fifth, of students in the system.
Meanwhile, during that same period, the number of white students has dropped to 14,498 students from 14,672. Whites used to make up 69.5 percent of the enrollment; they now make up 56.7 percent.
Large numbers of white students "moving into certain parts of the county are being accompanied by large numbers moving out of other locales," Hall schools Superintendent Will Schofield said. "These move-outs are being replaced by predominantly Latino children."
Hall County schools grew by 708 students from 24,877 last year, or by nearly 3 percent. The number of Hispanics in the system grew from 8,078 students in the 2006-07 school year to 8,623 this year, or by 545 students. They made up 77 percent of the district's enrollment growth.
In Gainesville schools, Hispanics went from making up 44 percent of enrollment in 2001 to 53.4 percent this school year. Black and white students each make up 20 percent of this year's enrollment.
Except for a drop in number of blacks in 2006, black and white students have made steady increases in enrollment, however. Whites, for example, grew in number by 5.3 percent in 2006, compared to 4.8 percent for Hispanics. The number of blacks grew by 6 percent this year and whites, 4.6 percent, compared to 9.7 percent for Hispanics.
The somewhat even growth among the three major student groups had city school officials "attributing the changes (in Hispanic numbers) to tougher border enforcement," city superintendent Steven Ballowe said.
Also, school officials are finding that "our Hispanic students are mostly children born or raised in the USA," Ballowe said. "Much of the other growth comes from our (school) choices offered parents and allowing for tuition students."
And children arriving as immigrants no longer have "big gaps in education," Ballowe said, a trend of several years ago that prompted the system to open its Phoenix Academy.
The impact on both systems has been great, particularly in the addition of schools and classrooms.
For example, this year alone, the growth in Hispanic students in Hall County is equal to a small elementary school.
Plus, the districts have to annually hire additional English for Speakers of Other Languages teachers.
Some schools, such as Lyman Hall Elementary and Jones Elementary, have become almost entirely Hispanic.
But while the Hispanic influx has presented challenges, school officials say they are doing what they can to meet educational needs.
"Increasing immigrant children's grasp of the English language is fundamental to academic achievement," Schofield said. "We are going to continue to stress the importance of language acquisition as a prerequisite to school success."
The board voted in early November to sell $2.6 million in no-interest Qualified Zone Academy Bonds to set up "language acquisition labs" at Lyman Hall, Myers and Tadmore elementary schools, and East Hall and South Hall middle schools.
Schofield said he believes these labs are "a positive step in the right direction."