Collins Elementary means a lot to community, critics of closing say

Tuesday, March 25, 2014 10:21 PM
Last updated Wednesday, March 26, 2014 8:50 AM
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James Ryans remembers walking to Collins K-8 School from his house on nearby Holley Street more than 50 years ago and not wanting to leave.

Collins K-8 School students sing in the middle school choir Tuesday.
Collins K-8 School students sing in the middle school choir Tuesday.

While his mother worked two jobs, Collins was his home. The teachers challenged him not to allow his shyness to keep him from participating in class, and the after-school choir and reading programs kept him there long after the dismissal bell.

He said he believes his experience at the school helped mold him into the person he grew to be – a pharmacist in New York, a sports consultant and an award-winning scout for the New York Knicks.

When he heard Collins was one of four schools slated to close for budget issues, Ryans said he couldn’t help but feel it was like erasing history.

“It’s part of my background – that’s where I learned to read and write, that’s where I got familiar with the world faculties,” said Ryans, 67. “You want your history to be there for you, to (be) something you can count on and look back on. You’re taking away history, and I don’t think that’s right.”

Since the Richmond County Board of Education gave initial approval March 11 to close Collins and three other schools to save money, many people in the community have feared what will happen to the legacy of the historic school and to the neighborhood left behind.

The potential closures in Richmond County are on a much smaller scale than the sweeping actions that shut down 49 schools in Chicago and 23 in Philadelphia last year. However, Pauline Lip­man, the director of the Col­laborative for Equity Jus­tice in Education at Uni­ver­sity of Illinois at Chicago, said much of the social impact seen in those cases also translates to smaller communities.

Closures often occur in neighborhoods such as the one around Collins, with low-income minority students where schools have generational meaning, Lipman said.
Their absence can often destabilize the already struggling communities, where parents often come to the schools for activities or to use resources.

Collins had recently established a computer lab where parents can work on résumés, do job searches and check out books on parenting skills.

“Closing a school is a very drastic move,” Lipman said. “Schools are not McDonald’s. It’s not another franchise, and you just go get your hamburger somewhere else. Those schools have real, meaningful relationships with the communities.”

School closures occur across the country for varying reasons, from cost savings to solutions for poor performance.

In Collins’ case, the board approved its closure because of dwindling enrollment, partially in the wake of this summer’s demolition of the Cherry Tree Crossing housing complex.

The school has lost about 150 students since August as families have moved out of the complex, and enrollment is currently at about 320, Principal Thomas Norris said.

Although education
consultants who proposed the closures predicted the school will be down to
150 students by the fall, Norris contests that figure. He said a survey of parents conducted this month showed 218 have committed to return next year. Because the school also receives students from outside the zone, Norris said that number will be closer to 300.
Board member Jimmy Atkins said he understands the emotional connection the community has to the school, but in a year with a $23 million budget shortfall, it doesn’t make sense to keep an under-enrolled school running.

According to data provided by education consultant Bill Montgomery, the district will save $714,000 the first year and $3.5 million in five years by closing the school.

“The board has said that we would be open to the idea of opening the school back up if the time arises,” Atkins said. “That’s why we’re not going to sell the school, we’re not going to condemn it, we’re going to keep it up so we can use it later if needed.”

It’s unclear, though, how soon the district might need the Collins building again.

Walton Communities, a Marietta, Ga., based development company, was selected by the city in October to build a modern, mixed-income apartment complex on the Cherry Tree Crossing site.

Dave Loeffel, Walton Communities’ managing director of affordable housing, said the five- to eight-year project is still in development, but if financing is secured this year, residents could begin moving in by summer 2016.

Laverne Moore, 67, who attended Collins in the 1950s, also said its rich history cannot be ignored.

The original Steed Street School was formed in the early 1900s by a partnership of churches to educate black children and was modeled after the Haines Normal and Industrial Institute founded by Lucy Craft Laney.

It was absorbed by the Board of Education in the 1940s and renamed after longtime Principal Ursula Collins in 1951.

“Cities are changing and communities are changing, and often times a lot of the history gets abolished with the changes that sometimes we call progress,” said Moore, a 40-year member of the National Black Theater in Harlem, N.Y. “But it leaves a lot behind. That’s the part that means so much to people. It was like an incubator of really great people.”

Alfa Anderson, a Lucy C. Laney High School graduate and retired New York educator, said Collins could play a role in revitalizing the community by bringing business partnerships into the school to work with students and provide cultural relevance for the neighborhood.

Instead of closing the school and moving students elsewhere, Anderson said, the district could capitalize on its small enrollment by offering more one-on-one attention to students and building the school into a drawing point for others outside its zone.

“You’re not just closing the school, because the school is bricks and mortar,” Anderson said. “You’re really destroying an institution that has deep roots and relevance for a community.”

Georgia law requires the board to hold two more community meetings for public input before taking final action to close the schools. The meetings will take place at the following times at the central office, 864 Broad Street:

Wednesday

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

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

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

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

Thursday

2 to 3:30 p.m.: 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

Comments (11) Add comment
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soapy_725
43672
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soapy_725 03/26/14 - 08:47 am
0
0
Progress. Many attended Butler and Murphey. Get over yourself.
Unpublished

Progress. Many attended Butler and Murphey. Get over yourself.

soapy_725
43672
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soapy_725 03/26/14 - 08:48 am
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0
Only Richmond Academy and Laney must be preserved.
Unpublished

Only Richmond Academy and Laney must be preserved.

soapy_725
43672
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soapy_725 03/26/14 - 08:50 am
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No physical remains of "my" Butler or Murphey years either.
Unpublished

No physical remains of "my" Butler or Murphey years either.

soapy_725
43672
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soapy_725 03/26/14 - 08:51 am
0
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Soon nothing will remain of "my" P&G years. Get old. Get gone.
Unpublished

Soon nothing will remain of "my" P&G years. Get old. Get gone.

internationallyunknown
4052
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internationallyunknown 03/26/14 - 09:14 am
0
3
Keep the Collins family together.

Could these students be bussed to National Hills, instead?
Or would that not be politically correct in Augusta, GA?

Pops
7709
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Pops 03/26/14 - 09:54 am
3
2
I agree with a couple of things

in the article......"You’re taking away history, and I don’t think that’s right.”

Say that to those that are attempting to take away Civil War statues and memorials, etc.

Pops
7709
Points
Pops 03/26/14 - 09:58 am
3
1
Seems as though those

interviewed in the article couldn't wait to get out of Augusta and move to New York. I guess that's where they got smart enough to tell the Richmond County BOE how to run their finances.

triscuit
2991
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triscuit 03/26/14 - 11:14 am
3
3
"Collins had recently

"Collins had recently established a computer lab where parents can work on résumés, do job searches and check out books on parenting skills.".... I would venture to guess there is more Facebooking going on than job searching or parenting skill research. And why should a school offer a computer lab to for parental use?

Sweet son
10053
Points
Sweet son 03/26/14 - 11:49 am
3
2
Pops is exactly right and made the point before I got here.

“It’s part of my background" So this is offensive to us who grew up in the South just as he did but we can't have our 'background' regarding the Civil War. The Civil War is history and Collins will be history and those facts can't be erased. I am glad this guy got a good foundation at Collins but he is not here and does not have a card in this game. My grammar school, my background, too is on the chopping block but I am smart enough to know that economically these changes are the right thing to do.

Common sense will prevail and all of the rightsizing proposed by the consultancy will be enacted. I hope!

dichotomy
32018
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dichotomy 03/26/14 - 12:15 pm
3
1
Yes, I am nostalgic about my

Yes, I am nostalgic about my elementary school too. But you know what? They tore the damned thing down about 20 years ago and moved the students to another newer school because the population had shifted.

It's not history....it's just OLD and UNDERUSED and EXPENSIVE TO OPERATE.

Young Fred
16597
Points
Young Fred 03/26/14 - 12:25 pm
2
1
I've got fond memories

of my elementary school also. Like dichotomy, they tore most of mine down - what little is left is a fire station. But I can almost promise, if it was still an operating elementary school, it would bear little resemblance to the school I attended. A school were parents would put the belt to your hiney after the teacher and/or principal put the board to your hiney earlier in the day!

lifelongresident
1323
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lifelongresident 03/26/14 - 02:44 pm
0
0
failing school, low test
Unpublished

failing school, low test scores, high rates of violence...but "keep dah school opin, cause it be part uh hiss-sto-rie" typical backwards ghetto thinking that has destroyed the black community wheither its "keep failing schools open, gib moh welfare to rise out of poverty, lets dem out uh jail cause mah son jess got caught up" or any other idiotic asinine statement the facts are the school district is failing to meet ayp, broke due to mass migration of law-abiding citizens, neighborhoods taken over by welfare moochers, leeches, and parasitic broodmares turning neighborhoods from nice and peaceful to war zones and battle grounds due to large number of illigitimate, uneducated, saggin pants, single parent households where "baby daddy" is either in jail or off some where else getting another broodmare pregnant...close the school and give the poor proterty owner a break, its not like a whole lot of learning is going on in there anyway...you know the old saying..."if you want to hide something from blacks (especially males) put it in a book" then if you want to hid a lot of stuff put the book in a school library....

lifelongresident
1323
Points
lifelongresident 03/26/14 - 02:44 pm
0
0
failing school, low test
Unpublished

failing school, low test scores, high rates of violence...but "keep dah school opin, cause it be part uh hiss-sto-rie" typical backwards ghetto thinking that has destroyed the black community wheither its "keep failing schools open, gib moh welfare to rise out of poverty, lets dem out uh jail cause mah son jess got caught up" or any other idiotic asinine statement the facts are the school district is failing to meet ayp, broke due to mass migration of law-abiding citizens, neighborhoods taken over by welfare moochers, leeches, and parasitic broodmares turning neighborhoods from nice and peaceful to war zones and battle grounds due to large number of illigitimate, uneducated, saggin pants, single parent households where "baby daddy" is either in jail or off some where else getting another broodmare pregnant...close the school and give the poor proterty owner a break, its not like a whole lot of learning is going on in there anyway...you know the old saying..."if you want to hide something from blacks (especially males) put it in a book" then if you want to hid a lot of stuff put the book in a school library....

corgimom
31086
Points
corgimom 03/26/14 - 02:56 pm
3
3
This is just ridiculous,

This is just ridiculous, there is nothing about Collins that a student couldn't find at another school.

I went to 4 elementary schools, if they want to tear them down, who cares?

corgimom
31086
Points
corgimom 03/26/14 - 02:57 pm
1
3
And then there are the

And then there are the helicopter parents that get all bent out of shape because their precious little angel babies "won't get to be with their friends."

I always want to ask them if there is something wrong with their kid that makes them unable to make new friends.

internationallyunknown
4052
Points
internationallyunknown 03/26/14 - 05:27 pm
1
1
You guys sure are

You guys sure are upset...where were you when parents fought to keep National Hills open a few year back?

skegee
2
Points
skegee 03/26/14 - 09:56 pm
0
3
Why Collins

Since the history of a people is not important to the readers of the Augusta Chronicle I would like to make a proposal to the Richmond County Board of Education, where they could save millions of dollars. My proposal is to tear down the Academy of Richmond County High School and sale the land to GRU. This relic from the Civil War has been white elephant in our society for over 100 years. It has the smallest stadium, and a non-regulation track. It is not accessable friendly and certain parts of the building is a fire trap. If you truly want to save money close this school and bring up the numbers of Laney, Josey, and Westside. But who are we kidding, closing Collins is black history, closing the Academy of Richmond County would be white history, and we all know which history is more important.

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