School board approves closing four schools, reconfiguring two others

 

The Richmond County Board of Education gave initial approval Tuesday to close four schools and reconfigure two others into 6-12 schools.

Before final action can be taken, Georgia law requires the board to hold two additional public hearings for input, which will take place March 26 and 27.

The board recommended the following actions:

-Close Collins K-8 School

-Close Murphey Middle and reconfigure T.W. Josey High into a 6-12 school

-Close Sego Middle and reconfigure Butler High into a 6-12 school

-Consolidate National Hills and Garrett elementary schools by closing National Hills

The scenarios were first proposed by education consultant Bill Montgomery, who was hired by the district last fall to analyze population data and building usages.

Since November, the school system has paid Montgomery Education Consultants about $60,000 for services, according to Charlar Weigle, secretary to the Controller.

Parents and community members at four townhall meetings held earlier this year to discuss the proposals overwhelmingly opposed the closures and reconfigurations.

However, Superintendent Frank Roberson said the changes are being made to address serious enrollment drops at various schools and enhance academic offerings for affected students.

“Realizing that whenever you close a school...that can be emotionally draining,” Roberson said, “we’re simply saying to you tonight that this particular school board and this administration have looked very, very closely at what is in the best interest of the community and the children in our various schools and how can we take limited resources and build, not necessarily physically build, but build in terms of designated educational programming that will benefit our children and benefit the community. That’s been our aim, that’s been our motivation the entire process.”

If the recommendation is finalized, Collins will close in June and those students will be reassigned to Craig Houghton, Wilkinson Gardens and Hornsby K-8 depending on their neighborhoods.

The closure was pitched primarily because the upcoming demolition of Cherry Tree Crossing housing complex has already caused enrollment to dwindle.

According to Cheryl Jones, assistant superintendent for elementary schools, Collins has lost 158 students since August and is currently at 327 in grades K-8, well below the building’s capacity.

The closure passed 6-3 with board members Venus Cain, Barbara Pulliam and Patsy Scott voting no and Jack Padgett absent.

The proposal to close National Hills in June 2015 passed unanimously. With National Hills’ enrollment flatlined at 225 and the recently renovated Garrett less than a mile away, Roberson said the move makes sense.

Roberson said students will benefit from academic programs at Garrett, like an expanding arts infusion program and a Science Technology Engineering and Mathematics focus.

The reconfigurations of Josey and Butler, both passing unanimously, would have more gradual implementations.

The board approved moving Murphey eighth graders to Josey in 2015 and having sixth and seventh graders follow in 2017. Sego would not close until 2019, with eighth graders transitioning to Butler in 2018 and sixth and seventh graders following the next year.

In both cases, the district would use capital projects funding to build separate middle school wings, limiting the time the different age groups would interact.

Roberson said both high schools will create honors academy for eighth grade students, Career Technical and Agricultural Education pathways for middle grades, a one-to-one student mentoring program, and a community advisory committee.

Josey will also expand its budding Science Technology Engineering and Mathematics initiative to all grades and both high schools will upgrade security cameras and assign a bus monitor to ride the bus with the students the first year.

Montgomery’s additional proposal to close Rollins Elementary School and move those students to the Sego building will be reexamined when Sego closes in 2019, Roberson said.

Montgomery also proposed building a new K-8 school to accommodate growth in west Augusta and adding a sixth grade to A.R. Johnson Health Science Engineering Magnet School.

The design work for the new K-8 school and construction to house sixth graders at Johnson are already included as contingency projects in the current phase of Special Purpose Local Option Sales Tax funding. Senior Director of Facilities and Maintenance Benton Starks said building the K-8 school will depend on the passage of the next SPLOST phase.

 

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TOWNHALL MEETINGS

The Richmond County Board of Education must hold two additional town hall meetings for input before taking final action on the school closures. Georgia law also requires the board to run legal advertisements in the local paper, detailing where students will be reassigned, proposed sizes of the new schools, student and grade configurations, total costs, plans for exisiting buildings, and other factors.

The townhall meetings will be held at the central office, 864 Broad St., as follows:

 

Wednesday March 26

noon to 1:30 p.m.: Collins closure

1:30 to 3 p.m.: National Hills closure

3 to 4:30 p.m.: Murphey closure and Josey reconfiguration

4:30 to 6 p.m.: Sego closure and Butler reconfiguration

 

Thursday March 27

2 to 3:30: Sego closure and Butler reconfiguration

3:30 to 5 p.m.: Murphey closure and Josey reconfiguration

5 to 6:30 p.m.: National Hills closure

6:30 to 8 p.m.: Collins closure

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