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Oakwood officials surprised by schools demographics
Hall County system dealing with more poor and Hispanic students
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Oakwood city officials will consider student demographics more intensely as residential growth continues in the city, City Manager Stan Brown told the Hall County Board of Education on Tuesday.

The assurance came after the board produced statistics that show the number of Hispanic and "economically disadvantaged" students has risen dramatically in elementary school districts that include property in Oakwood city limits.

"I had no idea about this," said Councilman Gary Anderson as he flipped through a document handed out by school system Superintendent Will Schofield.

The school systems’s presentation came after Brown had spent several minutes giving an overview of city’s growth and economic development.

As part of that, Brown mentioned that Oakwood’s tax is about one-fourth residential/agricultural and three-fourths commercial/industrial.

Schofield said he appreciated Oakwood’s progressive attitudes, but he needed to point out student trends that were occurring in all of the district’s schools.

He noted that residential growth, as reflected in the schools, has changed dramatically over the years.

The statistics Schofield presented showed the number of white students declining or remaining stable at Martin,
Oakwood, Chicopee Woods, Jones and McEver elementary schools.

At the same time, for example, McEver Elementary off Montgomery Drive jumped from 32 percent of its students classified as "economically disadvantaged," or qualifying for the free and reduced-price lunch program, in 1999 to 80 percent in 2007.

"We all believe we should help those less fortunate, but what we’re talking about is the disproportionate nature of what we’re picking up," he said.

Neighboring school systems, meanwhile, aren’t seeing quite the increase in poor and Hispanic populations.

Schofield didn’t include Gainesville, which has seen a rapidly widening Hispanic/poor student base over the past years, in his analysis.

"People are under the illusion that only Gainesville city schools is changing," Schofield said. "That’s not the case. We’re right on their heels."

He also said he wasn’t singling out Oakwood.

"We deal with this issue" with all area cities, as well as the county government, Schofield said.

"From a global perspective … it’s kind of frightening what has happened to our schools the last 10 years," he added.

Schofield noted that "single apartment buildings have turned a school overnight."

He added that he looks around Hall County and believes, as a parent, "we have enough starter housing in Hall County."

"You just look at our numbers," he added.

School officials said the district has had to build more schools and hire a higher percentage of English for Speakers of Other Languages teachers, as a result.

Richard Higgins, school board chairman, said the board would like for the council, when considering potential developments, "to factor in what it’s going to do to us as a school system."

"If you don’t, it’s going to make it more and more difficult for us to make a difference," he said.

Higgins went on to say, "If each one of us knows each other’s obstacles, we can work together for the better of the community. Just working together and sharing information — that’s what it’s all about."

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