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Parents oppose closing National Hills Elementary

Thursday, Feb. 20, 2014 11:32 PM
Last updated Friday, Feb. 21, 2014 7:04 AM
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In a neighborhood where many families watch their kids leave the door on foot to go to class in the mornings, parents say even the thought of closing their school is a blow to a community.

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Richmond County school board members sit in the audience, listening to education consultant Bill Montgomery's presentation.  SARA CALDWELL/STAFF
Richmond County school board members sit in the audience, listening to education consultant Bill Montgomery's presentation.


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Rumors have swirled for years that National Hills Elementary School’s low enrollment would make it a candidate for closure. But now parents are hoping the Richmond County Board of Education will reconsider.

“For years and years the conversation has always been are we going to close National Hills?” said parent and business owner Pam Wilkins. “This whole entire room knows that we escaped the bullet many times and every time we escaped it everyone goes, whew, we dodged another bullet this year. So for all of us it’s hard.”

More than 100 parents and community members attended the Richmond County Board of Education’s final rightsizing town hall meeting Thursday, which focused on the proposal to close National Hills and merge those students with Garrett Elementary School in 2015. When National Hills’ enrollment flatlined at 225 and with the recently renovated Garrett sitting less than a mile away, officials said the merger makes sense to save money and provide more academic opportunities for students.

“We think the two schools merged together with increased academic programs will give you the opportunity to have one of the finer elementary schools, if not in the county, then in the state,” said Bill Montgomery, a Philadelphia-based education consultant hired to evaluate the school system’s building usages.

The consultants proposed six other scenarios to solve facilities issues in the district: close Collins K-8 School; reconfigure T.W. Josey High into a 6-12 school to take in Murphey Middle students; reconfigure Butler High into a 6-12 school to absorb Sego Middle students; relocate Rollins Elementary to the Sego building; build a new K-8 school for west Augusta; and add a sixth grade to A.R. Johnson Health Science and Engineering Magnet School.

Superintendent Frank Roberson said his staff will use feedback from the four community meetings to develop a recommendation for the board to vote on March 11.

Those who spoke at the National Hills meeting were largely against the idea of closing their school. Several worried about what would happen to the building and how putting 500 students at Garrett would affect class sizes and education quality.

“I’ve loved National Hills, we fought this battle back in the late ’70s and early ’80s about closing National Hills,” said Jerry Pardue, who served as principal from 1970 to 1994 “I hope whenever this time comes that it will not be closed.”

Mittie Connors and others complained that Garrett’s playground is not sufficient for the current students, let alone adding 225 more.

Garrett currently has a gated area for younger grades with matted floors and toys as well as an outdoor climbing set for the older grades.

Principal Doug Frierson said his PTA has raised $15,000 for a new playground and that the school is working on a way to raise local funds to build a walking track, an amphitheater and gardens behind the building.

Frierson said that is part of a larger effort to make Garrett a community school that welcomes the neighborhood to be more active in the educational setting.

“That’s the kind of school Garrett is,” he said. “It’s all about family here.”

Debbie Alexander, Assistant Superintendent for Instruction, said the proposed merger would also add more academic programs to the school. With more teachers and faculty, the school could use more local dollars to expand its arts infusion program and grow a Science Technology Engineering and Mathematics focus.

Media Specialist Leslie Olig also said the proposal would also allow her to work full time at the merged school, giving more attention to students and training to teachers on technology. Because state policy only allows media specialists to work full time in schools of 350 students or larger, Olig has to split her time between the two small campuses.

However, parents like Maria Nicholson said they do not want a school as large as 500 students. They also questioned why the board spent about $5 million renovating National Hills in 2010.

“When you knew down the road that you were probably going to close the school, why waste that much money,” Nicholson asked.


• Close Collins K-8

• Reconfigure T.W. Josey High into a 6-12 school to take in Murphey Middle students (Murphey would close)

• Reconfigure Butler High into a 6-12 school to absorb Sego Middle students (Close Sego)

• Relocate Rollins Elementary to the Sego building

• Consolidate National Hills and Garrett elementary schools (close National Hills)

• Build a K-8 school for west Augusta

• Add a sixth grade to A.R. Johnson Health Science and Engineering Magnet School


The Richmond County Board of Education will vote on these proposed changes at a meeting March 11. Superintendent Frank Roberson said he will include feedback from all four community meetings in his recommendation to the board. If any closures are approved, the board would then hold two more community meetings and have to disclose plans for the vacant buildings.

Comments (15) Add comment
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corgimom 02/21/14 - 06:33 am
The elementary school that I

The elementary school that I volunteered at had, at one time, 1200 students.

We all managed just fine.

Normal enrollment was around 800.

As the article states, the larger enrollments make them eligible for more specialists, more programs, more hours with a school nurse, more library funding, etc.

Small schools get virtually nothing.

Pops 02/21/14 - 08:10 am
No one seems to want their

school closed. Big surprise. Robinson and the elected board need to just bite the bullet and do what they have to do.

mosovich 02/21/14 - 08:21 am
Why did they renovate???

Here's my question.. What are they going to do with a school that they poured HUGE amount of dollars into.. National Hills just got a total facelift and remodel just a couple of years ago.. What are they going to do with that facility. Just flush that $5 million down the toilet?

qtinbell 02/21/14 - 08:56 am
Why they renovated

Mosovich, what they did with that $5 million dollars was give the students a top-notch school throughout its existence. Would it have been prudent to just "let the roof leak" because we were going to close it anyway? That would have been neglect.

The $5 million is a sunk cost. If consolidating the school makes fiscal sense and the quality of education is equal or better, closing the school is probably the right thing to do.

In these challenging, resource-constrained times, we have to take measures to reduce the overhead. We have to look past the nostalgia and convenience that we enjoy to do what makes sense for the greater community. The bottomline is we can afford it all, but are we taxpayers willing to pay for it? If we are, then let's keep them all open but not complain about the high (and increasing) taxes. We can't have it both ways.

theevangelist2 02/21/14 - 09:09 am
Schools Closing

Has the idea of using National Hills as the K-8 school instead of building a new school been talked about and thought about. We have empty schools now so why build another one. If National Hills needs more work to accomodate the students. Then both of them schools could remain open to save some money without building another one.

I think the other recommendations are feasible and great.

InChristLove 02/21/14 - 09:42 am
"Mosovich, what they did with

"Mosovich, what they did with that $5 million dollars was give the students a top-notch school throughout its existence. Would it have been prudent to just "let the roof leak" because we were going to close it anyway? That would have been neglect."

Seems to me the student's didn't need a "top-notch" school throughout its existence....they just needed one that was safe. Seems it wouldn't have taken 5 million to fix a "roof leak" and doing a remodel on a school targeted for closing in a couple of years doesn't seem very responsible.

deestafford 02/21/14 - 10:00 am
As far as the playground goes...

As far as the play ground goes, why can't the parents come together as volunteers and build it themselves. When I was in high school we built our own football practice field.

What all is needed anyway? Some open space for a ball field--it doesn't have to be anything but a place with spots for home plate, pitcher's mound, and the bases, nothing fancy; maybe some monkey bars and that's it. Just let the kid use their imagination. Why do they need a "walking track"? If they want want they just walk on the ground. Goodness gracious, why does everything have to be so cotton pickin' fancy?

triscuit 02/21/14 - 10:24 am
This article is SO

This article is SO inaccurate...and I do know, I was there, live in the area, and know the pulse of what's going on. The majority of the people in the neighborhood are not opposed to merging the schools. Their concerns are what will happen to that property, which sits right in the middle of the neighborhood. Those questions, and most others, went completely unanswered by Dr. Roberson and the rest of the Board reps. Some of the ones speaking against it...well, you can't suit some people for anything. The thing that DID get exposure was the terrible playground conditions at Garrett and so that will HAVE to be addressed if they have hopes for combining schools. As far as some quoted, they have no children at the school. They are concerned neighbors for sure but there are a LOT of National Hills parents that WANT the merger.

triscuit 02/21/14 - 10:25 am
And as far as parents

And as far as parents building the playground, I believe the Board of Ed will not allow that because of liability. I can assure you it is not because the parents are not willing.

qtinbell 02/21/14 - 10:53 am
InChristlove, The milk has


The milk has been spilled. The $5 million is spent, whether they keep NHE open or not. That shouldn't determine the way forward. If closing a school saves even more millions, then we should probably do that.

All they needed was a school that was safe, huh? Well, you get what you pay for. Safety ain't ever produced quality education. I'm not privy to the actual renovations; I just threw leaking roof out there because I did not know. But I'm willing to wager that some of those improvements involved multimedia or other enablers that directly affect learning. But even if they were quality of life improvements, workers are more productive when you increase their quality of life. I'm sure it's no different for learners. Four years is a long time to go to a school that was just "safe."

Triscuit has a point about the abandoned school in the middle of the neighborhood. There should have been a proposal put forth about the future of that school and the playground at Garrett. Triscuit is looking forward, unlike your comments; the solution won't be found back there in the past!

countyman 02/21/14 - 11:22 am
K-8 school

Theevangelistlist2.. The RCBOE and the local media needs to separate West Augusta from the Southwest Augusta area..

The homes on Jimmie Dyess, Belair rd, and Gordon Hwy near Harlem are zoned for Sue Reynolds which is overcrowded.

The K-8 school must open somewhere on Jimmie Dyess or Gordon Hwy..

Dixieman 02/21/14 - 11:58 am
This is getting boring

These parent public venting meetings are starting to feel like the movie Groundhog Day. Here is my post from January 31, several meetings ago:

Transcript (in advance) of school closing hearings:

"Don't close my kid's school!"
"Don't close MY kid's school!"
"You want to close MY kid's school? Never!"
"Close that other school over there!"
"You don't agree with me? Racist!!"
Now you know what will be said, you can skip the meetings.

And now that all the parents have had their chance to vent, the Richmond County BOE will do what it bloody well pleases anyway.

corgimom 02/21/14 - 12:23 pm
deestafford, not anymore, you

deestafford, not anymore, you can't do that.

Playgrounds are very expensive, because they have to be built to specific requirements to avoid lawsuits. In our day, kids played and got hurt; now, every parent wants to sue over every little scrape.

They are a major, permitted project that has to be inspected and built to code by licensed contractors or qualified school employees.

Little Lamb
Little Lamb 02/21/14 - 12:42 pm

The parents are wrong to want to stop the merger; but the parents are right to be concerned about the RCBOE. If RCBOE merely mothballs the National Hills school building and leaves it to rot like they usually do, then the parents (and all residents in National Hills subdivision) need to get up in arms and wear their school board trustees out.

RCBOE needs to demolish National Hills school building and remove all materials from the property. Then they need to obtain R1 zoning status for the parcel and offer it for sale to the highest bidder, no minimum bid.

That land is quite valuable as single-family residential property.

GnipGnop 02/22/14 - 12:26 am
Well duh....

And now that all the parents have had their chance to vent, the Richmond County BOE will do what it bloody well pleases anyway.

That was the plan from the start. The public meeting facade is only to fake interest in what the public wants anyway. Always has been always will...

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