Bibb County school enrollment rebounds

The latest enrollment figures for the state’s public school systems are in, and the Academy for Classical Education has made its mark.

In its first year of operation, ACE essentially reached its goal of 760 students with 759. Laura Perkins, one of the charter school’s founders and principals, said the school was right on track for student totals in kindergarten through eighth grade.

“We still have about 500 on the waiting list, and we’ve just started gearing up for next year,” Perkins said Friday. “We seem to have increased interest for next year.”

The school still intends to expand each lower-school grade by 20 students while adding ninth-grade classes for the current eighth-graders. An open house is scheduled for interested parents Tuesday.

The new figures, based on enrollments this fall, showed that Houston County remained the area’s largest school system with 28,146 students, an increase of 268 since March.

While the Bibb County school district as a whole grew by 385 students between March and October -- a 1.6 percent increase to 24,354 students -- the elementary and middle schools closest to ACE took an enrollment hit.

The group of middle schools -- Howard, Weaver, Miller and Appling -- lost a combined 174 students, a 4.6 percent decrease. Howard saw the biggest drop, from 1,018 in the spring to 921 this fall.

The nearest seven elementary schools -- Lane, Springdale, Carter, Taylor, Brookdale, Heritage and King-Danforth -- saw a decrease of 209 students, a 5.2 percent drop. Springdale went from 693 to 622, while Brookdale actually gained eight students.

It’s encouraging that the system as a whole gained students, interim school Superintendent Steve Smith said.

“When I got here and looked at the data, we were seeing a 2, 2 1/2 percent decline in growth,” he said.

Plans at the time were to build five new schools, but officials soon decided that just three new elementary schools were needed, based in part on demographic trends.

New schools will still need to built in the future as older ones become outdated, he said, and some of these issues will be addressed in an upcoming proposal for a education sales tax initiative.

Perkins said that students who used to attend schools nearest the charter school may have the easiest commute to ACE, located on New Forsyth Road past The Shoppes at River Crossing, but the first-year school has actually drawn students from all over the county.

“It’s really been a very diverse group,” she said.

Elsewhere in Bibb, Alexander II also experienced a drop in total enrollment, from 577 students in March to 526 in October, an 8.8 percent change. The school has seen a decrease of more than 10 percent since October 2013.

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The five largest increases and decreases in school population at Bibb and Houston County schools over the past year. Langston Road Elementary replaces Perry Primary in this graphic.

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Perkins, a former principal at Westside High School, said there are benefits for schools that have lowered enrollment numbers. While administrators might want to see growth, teachers “will tell you anecdotally” that less-crowded classrooms have advantages.

“I’m a big believer that smaller class sizes are very important,” she said, pointing to the value of lower teacher-student ratios. “The reality is, education is still a business. ... You may have to have the larger numbers to keep your business open.”

As for ACE, the school’s charter is set up with a smaller class model for operation.

Monroe County also gained six students overall, but Monroe County Middle School, T.G. Scott Elementary and Hubbard Elementary lost a combined 132 students between March and October, a 5.5 percent decrease.

If that downward trend is related to ACE’s opening, Perkins has not seen the evidence.

“When we checked, I want to say we had four or five students that were from out of county, but that’s because their parents work here,” she said.

The charter, or contract that the school operates under, requires the school’s students to come from Bibb County.

Other local counties saw mixed results in the attendance report from March to October:

Peach County lost 33 students;

Jones County lost 62;

Crawford County lost 22 students;

Twiggs gained 23.

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The following table shows the student population changes in Middle Georgia school systems over the past 20 years. The first column shows the increase/decrease in population from 1994-2004, the second column from 2004-2014 and the third column shows the percentage increase or decrease in student population over the past 20 years.

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To contact writer Jeremy Timmerman, call 744-4331.