One after the other, they called the idea an absolute injustice and a threat to a historic school’s rich legacy.
To close Collins K-8 School would be to destroy the heart of the community, they said. As articulated by an eighth-grader, educators at Collins have taught generations of families, so why stop now?
“You say you’re all about education, but you’re closing a school that’s been around many, many years,” said eighth-grader Satoya Mickens. “Why our school? Why not any other school? Make them come to us. Don’t make us go to them.”
The second public hearing on various rightsizing proposals Tuesday focused on a plan to close Collins K-8 School because of dwindling enrollment partially the result of the closure of the Cherry Tree Crossing housing complex.
About 150 staff, alumni and parents attended the meeting at Craig-Houghton Elementary School, and several dozen who walked up to a microphone begged district officials to reconsider.
Education consultants hired by the district proposed six closures, mergers or consolidations after analyzing 10-year school enrollment and county population shifts. The Collins closure was suggested because enrollment has dropped since residents have begun moving out of Cherry Tree, which is slated to close this summer and will affect 75 percent of students, consultant Bill Montgomery said.
Depending on their neighborhoods, the Collins students would be rezoned for Hornsby K-8, Craig-Houghton and Wilkinson Gardens elementary schools. Parents were also concerned about the possibility of the Collins 6-8 students being rezoned for a proposed 6-12 school formed by merging Murphey Middle and T.W. Josey High schools.
“I don’t understand why do we have to take away this school,” said parent Rudolph Brown, who said he could have moved anywhere after serving in the military but chose to live in the Collins neighborhood. “The way y’all are talking now, Collins is already closed. … The school has good educators and a good staff and it’s a community school.”
The board of education will hold two more community meetings before voting on the suggestions March 11.
Principal Thomas Norris said even after losing about 150 students since August, the school still serves an important role in the neighborhood. He said even though families have moved out of Cherry Tree, many still remain in the inner city and he doubted his enrollment would drop below the current 346.
“Collins was not built up on (Cherry Tree) and it should not be tore down because of (Cherry Tree),” parent Kimberly Jackson said. “I don’t understand how the board puts a price on our kids.”
The district could save about $600,000 in utilities and maintenance costs by closing Collins but less on salaries because faculty and staff would follow students to the receiving schools, consultant Thery McKinzie said.
Benton Starks, the senior director of maintenance and facilities, stressed that if the plan is approved, the school would not be demolished but maintained in the event it is needed in the future.
Alysha Griffin, an instructor of African-American history at Paine College, said closing Collins would be a threat to preserving the history of black leaders in Augusta.
The initial Steed Street School was formed in the early 1900s by a partnership of churches to educate black children and modeled after the Hains Normal and Industrial Institute founded by Lucy Craft Laney. It was absorbed by the Board of Education in the 1940s and renamed after its longtime Principal Ursula Collins, in 1951, Griffin said.
“For what may be a century or more, Collins has been on those grounds serving that community,” she said. “In so many ways, the neighborhoods and the communities that have been long established here in Augusta serve as a textbook for teaching and raising our young. The closing of Collins and the general neglect of our local landscape denies our children access to their history and their culture.”