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Superintendent: New schools require new district lines in South Hall
Will Schofield
Hall County School District Superintendent Will Schofield

Public hearing

What: Discussion of redistricting in South Hall for new Hall County middle and high school

When: 7 p.m. Tuesday

Where: Flowery Branch High School gymnasium, 6603 Spout Springs Road, Flowery Branch

Discussions about redrawing school district lines in South Hall come 2018 should be focused on where the lines are drawn, not whether the lines are drawn, according to Hall County School District Superintendent Will Schofield.

Issues such as whether to open the schools have already been discussed and decided, Schofield said.

“Redistricting makes people mad because what we want is to stay in the same school with the same teachers and the same programs and, by definition, that’s not what redistricting is,” Schofield told The Times on Friday.

The second of two public hearings on the redistricting plan is scheduled for 7 p.m. Tuesday at Flowery Branch High School.

Hall County school officials are planning to open a seventh middle school and high school in August 2018 at the site of the current Flowery Branch High on Spout Springs Road. The currently unnamed schools would be housed in different sections of the current high school building, divided by the media center, cafeteria and gym.

The plan also calls for a new middle school to eventually be built, giving extra classroom space to the high school.

Under the plan, Flowery Branch High would move back to where Davis Middle School is now located, on Hog Mountain Road. Davis would move back to its former home at South Hall Middle on Falcon Parkway. South Hall would move back to its original site at the Academies of Discovery, where a new two-story addition is planned to accommodate those students.

An estimated 100-150 people attended the first redistricting public meeting at Johnson High School last week. Four of the 13 people who spoke against the plan called for a postponement of the whole proposal.

Some of those, as well as others at the meeting, suggested scrapping the idea for the new high school and middle school. Instead, they suggested the school district build more classroom space at Flowery Branch, making it a larger high school able to accommodate future growth.

Schofield said the district is comfortable with a high school population up to 1,800, but prefers they not get larger, adding that philosophy was a part of district thinking before his arrival in Hall County 12 years ago.

“That just has not been contemplated — having huge high schools,” Schofield said. “We believe there’s power in community. We’re relying on that data that says schools can indeed be too small because small schools can’t offer programs. But we also equally rely on that data that says that schools can get way too big and you lose that sense of community. Once you get to 800-900 kids you can offer programs.”

Schofield said the 138-acre property on Spout Springs was purchased more than a decade ago with the plan that it would house the district’s next middle and high schools. The building there was under construction when the recession hit in 2008, which led to a postponement of the two new schools. Flowery Branch HIgh was moved to that site when the building was completed and the other schools were moved to their current locations at that time.

Schofield said discussions about the seventh middle and high schools began again two or three years ago.

“Those were public meetings; there were no secrets,” Schofield said “It was a year and a half or so ago when we actually said it’s time, and 2018 is going to be the time when we go to middle school high school No. 7. We actually laid out the plan… it was in the minutes; it was voted on.

“So, I assumed that if there was a problem with that plan, people might have said something about it at that time,” he added. “Nobody said anything. The only decision left on the table was how are we going to draw the district lines. We’ve drawn some district lines; we put them online a couple of months ago and have given people an opportunity to comment on them.”

Most of the opposition at the hearing came from residents in the Sterling on the Lake community. That community would have its students in the Flowery Branch attendance zone when the high school moves back to the Hog Mountain Road building, which is two to three miles away from Sterling. The current Flowery Branch High School is less than a mile from Sterling.

Leaders of the Sterling group have formed a Facebook page, South Hall School Redistricting Forum, and say they have a petition signed by about 400 people asking the district let them go to the schools nearest their community.

In addition to the residents who called for a larger Flowery Branch High, some Sterling residents said they wanted their students to go to the same elementary, middle and high schools. Currently, Sterling elementary students go to Spout Springs. Under the redistricting plan, Spout Springs students would not all go to the same middle and high schools.

Schofield said the district is committed to keeping middle schools feeding into the same high schools and called what the Spout Springs parents are asking for “a noble desire.” But he added 40 percent of  Hall County elementary schools already split into multiple middle schools.

Other opposition last week came from a couple of residents who would be moved to the new school attendance district from Johnson, which is closer to their homes.

Schofield said the new schools will open up space in all the middle and high schools in South Hall, which will likely make school choice an option in South Hall for the first time. Spout Springs and Johnson residents could get their wish with school choice.

“One of our foundational principles is we want to offer families choice,” he said. “We have never had choice in the southern part of the county because Davis Middle and Flowery Branch have been over capacity since the day that they opened. The great thing about this plan is that it opens space in all of our schools, and for the first time, families are going to have some choice.”

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