Enrollment up in Houston, Bibb schools

Bibb County school leaders thought they would lose students again this school year, since that’s been a trend lately.

They were wrong.

The school system’s most recent student enrollment count shows that the county gained 150 children this fall. Total enrollment is now at 25,109 students, including prekindergarten.

“Certainly having a stable enrollment is a positive trend for the community,” Bibb County schools Superintendent Sharon Patterson said. “It speaks to the community wanting their kids in public schools and that it’s a good value to them.”

The growth could stem from new facilities that have opened, parental confidence in their neighborhood schools or the inability of some parents to afford private school tuition these days, said board member Tommy Barnes.

“We are encouraged and we hope the trend continues,” he said.

The Georgia Department of Education requires school systems to count their K-12 students each fall and spring for state funding purposes. The state released fall data this week.

Although the Houston County school system showed annual student growth once again, for its nearly 27,000 student population, it wasn’t as much growth as in recent years, said Beth McLaughlin, a system spokeswoman.

“We were growing 600 or 650 students per year, and last year only increased by 364, which was an anomaly,” she said. “This year we are up by 500 students. We can only guess it’s because of the economy ... and we are starting to rebound.”

Newest Bibb County schools already full

Several of Bibb County’s newest schools are already over capacity, the enrollment numbers show.

New schools are built for a certain size based on past enrollments as well as projections, but sometimes by the time the facilities open, the numbers change, Barnes said.

New schools such as Central High, Howard High and Ingram-Pye Elementary had more students enrolled this fall than the schools were built to hold.

For example, Ingram-Pye, on Anthony Road, was built for 591 children, with system officials expecting 553. The school actually has 632 enrolled.

“We did not anticipate that,” Barnes said. “It’s very difficult to project what the population will be because it is transient.”

Both Central and Howard high schools are also about 100 students over their building capacity of 1,000.

And Southwest High, also new, gained 78 students this fall, with 933 students attending.

“I think people are attracted to new buildings. The lightness, the brightness and the newness provide a good working environment for students and staff,” Patterson added.

Meanwhile, some schools such as Westside High, Hutchings Career Center and Bloomfield Middle were among the schools that reported enrollment decreases.

Houston’s growth

Student enrollment in Houston County schools has been increasing at a fairly consistent rate, adding about 3,000 students every five years, based on data going back to 1994.

There were 26,918 students enrolled in Houston County schools as of Aug. 31, said Stephen Thublin, assistant superintendent for finance and business operations.

That number had dropped to 26,787 students by October, reflecting more than 130 students who left the system because they had been attending school out of county, according to data provided to Robin Hines, an assistant superintendent for school operations.

Almost 500 students were found to be attending schools either out of county or out of zone in November as a result of an investigation, Hines said.

Factors such as the presence of Robins Air Force Base and the county’s economic development have contributed to the increase, said Hines.

“We provide a quality of life in Houston County that adds to the appeal of living here,” he said.

Houston County has opened several new schools in recent years to accommodate student population growth in the area. Hilltop Elementary, Lake Joy Elementary and Mossy Creek Middle schools have opened their doors within the last four years, and Veterans High School will open next year.

While the growth is an indicator of a thriving community, Hines said, it also has become a challenge to serve more students at the same time the state has cut funding to the schools.

Peach, Jones show declines

Other school systems, though, including Peach, Baldwin, Jones and Twiggs County schools, reported decreases in student enrollment for various reasons.

According to the data, Peach County had 3,981 students enrolled in the system this year, down from last fall’s 4,077 students.

Despite the year-to-year decrease, the system gained about 150 students between August and October, said Sara Mason, community/parent liaison of Peach County schools. Enrollment in Peach County schools was 3,832 as of Aug. 5, she said.

Most of those students re-entered the system after officials in Houston County began indicting parents in September, she said.

Mason said the four-day school week has not affected student enrollment.

“We’re pretty much on the same mark,” Mason said.

Other midstate trends

The Twiggs County system’s fall enrollment of 994 students is the lowest enrollment the system has had in at least 15 years.

A decade ago, the school system had more than 2,000 students. Population losses, chalk mine cutbacks and the closure of Dry Branch Elementary School contributed to the decline.

“We’re trying to up our offerings for students by adding four Advanced Placement classes at the high school and are working in partnership with Central Georgia Technical College for a dual enrollment program,” said Carol Brown, Twiggs County’s interim superintendent.

“The smaller you get, the harder it is to offer additional opportunities for students.”

Baldwin County schools also reported an enrollment decline of 359 students, with its 5,447 fall enrollment.

But Superintendent Geneva Braziel said the system hadn’t included pre-K students in the fall count since that grade is funded by the state lottery. The system actually was down about 44 students, some because of industries closing, she said.

Monroe County schools were up slightly, and Crawford County schools held steady at 1,879 students.

To contact writer Julie Hubbard, call 744-4331.

To contact writer Andrea Castillo, call 256-9751.