Houston officials wrestle with school overcrowding

jmink@macon.comJuly 30, 2013 

PERRY -- As Houston County students prepare for their first day of class on Thursday, overcrowding in some schools is an issue for leaders.

District officials discussed Tuesday possible solutions to that problem, along with other updates, during their retreat.

While the school zones are set for this school year, officials discussed possible solutions to overcrowding for the 2014-15 school year. Administrators simply offered ideas, and no official recommendations were made. Those ideas mainly revolved around elementary schools in Perry, as well as Lindsey, Parkwood, Westside and Russell elementary schools in Warner Robins and Bonaire Middle School.

At Lindsey, Parkwood and Westside, officials are looking to relieve crowded classrooms for both academic and safety reasons, and a possible solution involves reorganization of those schools.

The theory discussed Tuesday would make Parkwood preschool through first grade, Westside second and third grade and Lindsey fourth and fifth grade, said Cindy Flesher, assistant superintendent for school operations.

There would be several benefits to such a solution, officials say. Fewer grade levels in each school would allow educators to place more focus on programs, such as gifted and special education. Furthermore, those schools all receive Title I funding, and, if reorganized, those dollars would be split among two or three grades at each school, as opposed to several grades, officials said.

Still, some mentioned potential drawbacks to the plan. For example, some parents are accustomed to taking all their children to the same school, a routine that could change under reorganization. Would it hinder parents if their children went to separate schools, board Vice Chairman Fred Wilson asked.

That issue, along with any others, will be discussed at forums, which will be held before any changes are set in stone, officials said.

“We know the positives, but what are the negatives?” board member Jim Maddox said. “That’s what we’ve got to figure out.”

But those are not the only schools in store for potential change. With the completion of the new Langston Road Elementary School next year, the elementary schools in Perry could “drastically change,” said Stephen Thublin, assistant superintendent of finance and business operations. “We’re going to have to do a balancing act between the four schools.”

Those four schools include Tucker, Kings Chapel, Morningside and the new Langston Road elementary schools -- and Matt Arthur Elementary is often considered a Perry school, too, Thublin said. The new school could provide some crowd relief to Matt Arthur, he said. Langston Road will replace the current Perry Primary School.

For now, there are no recommendations as to how those schools will be rezoned. Officials are reviewing the numbers and will begin developing a plan in November. In January, they plan to hold forums and gather community feedback, Thublin said.

While overcrowding at some schools will be eased by the new elementary school, officials discussed rezoning ideas to relieve other schools.

Thublin mentioned a preliminary idea of rezoning a portion of the Booth Road area to ease crowding at Russell Elementary School. Those students could attend the new Pearl Stephens Elementary and C.B. Watson Primary schools, he said. Such a change would benefit Russell Elementary, where about 700 students pack the hallways. A rezoning could eliminate a need for classroom trailers at Russell Elementary, Thublin said.

The same issue plagues Bonaire Middle School, where officials predict more than 1,000 students will attend this school year. Officials had initially relied on a new Veterans Middle School to relieve Bonaire, but then the economy tanked, and that project was put on hold. Now, with Veterans Middle School scheduled to be addressed in 2018, Thublin mentioned an idea to rezone a section north of Ga. 96, which would place some Bonaire students in Mossy Creek and Feagin Mill middle schools.

It’s an idea “to buy some time” until a new middle school can be built, he said.

Registration and reaccreditation

Crowds are also flocking to another, new Houston building as the first day of school approaches. At the central registration office, at 303 South Davis Drive workers have registered about 2,170 students in July, and the total wait time as of Monday was three hours. Not all of those students are new -- some are simply transferring to another school, and many are kindergartners, said Cindy Flesher, assistant superintendent of school operations.

School officials also heard updates on the district’s reaccreditation process. Educators have been working toward accreditation since August 2012, developing school improvement plans, collecting data and completing other tasks as part of the lengthy process. A team from the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools is scheduled to visit the district Nov. 17-20, said Eric Payne, assistant superintendent of teaching and learning.

To contact writer Jenna Mink, call 256-9751.

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