The Liberty County School System has continued growing — and as more houses get built, it’s anticipating more enrollment, system leaders said.
Superintendent Dr. Franklin Perry, along with school board members and members of the central office staff, told the Liberty County Chamber of Commerce’s Progress Through People luncheon there is room within the system to handle more students.
Dr. Perry said getting a handle on how many new homes are on the way has been difficult.
“We do have some space in a couple of our schools. The concern would be where,” he said.
“In our middle schools, we have some space. That is something we are concerned about.”
The system’s enrollment stood at 10,094 in 2018 and was at 10,596 to start the school year.
“We have people calling us from other counties asking if they can enroll,” Dr. Perry said. “That’s a good thing. A lot of school districts across the state are not growing. We think because of the work our teachers and students are doing.” Board chair Lily Baker, who is retiring at the end of the year, said she has seen the community grown in her more than 30 years as an educator and 16 years on the school board.
“I am looking forward to retirement at the end of the year,” she said. “I ask you to continue to support the school district. I will be on the sidelines, but I will not be uninvolved.”
School system officials also boasted about the recent accomplishments. Statistics from 2021 showed the graduation rate in Liberty County was at 92.1%, eclipsing both the state (83.7%) and national (88%) marks.
Liberty schools are operating on a $153 million. Local revenue accounts for nearly $26.5 million, and the state provides about $73.7 million.
“And that’s a lot of money,” Dr. Perry said. “We try to be frugal as we can with that.”
The system provides 5,000 breakfasts to its students each day and 6,500 lunches. Of the student population, 68% are eligible for free or reduced lunches. All students can receive a free breakfast for the 2022–23 school year.
More than 7,500 students are taken to and from school each day by bus. More than 30 buses have gotten new air conditioning systems, and thanks to the education special local option sales tax, or ESPLOST, 45 new buses have been purchased over the last four years, at a price tag of more than $3.3 million.
Dr. Perry acknowledged the school system is concerned about a bus driver shortage, an issue shared by many school systems. Housing for new teachers also is a concern, he added.
ESPLOST also has funded interior renovations at Taylors Creek and Waldo Pafford elementary schools and upgraded HVAC systems at Liberty and Joseph Martin elementary schools. Other projects backed by ESPLOST underway are installation of a solar power system at Frank Long Elementary, renovating and replacing cafeteria furniture at Bradwell Institute and Liberty County High School. In the pipeline are interior renovations at Liberty and Joseph Martin elementary schools, an upgraded HVAC system at Midway Middle, and improvements at athletic facilities for the two high schools.
ESPLOST is also funding an upgrade of security cameras in certain schools.
The school system also has partnered with Centegix, which has a badge and alert system. The schools have put in place safety plans and go through continuous drills.
“We want every child to come to school, enjoy school, learn a lot and go out and be a productive citizen,” Dr. Perry said. “In order for us to have that climate, we have to make sure we take care of all our children.”
Children’s mental well-being has become a focus, especially since many students have gone two years without any social interaction because of the COVID-19 pandemic.
“Some of our children have not been in school for two years,” Dr. Perry said. “We are dealing with that. We have hired some more counselors. The mental health situation is very, very real.”
Dr. Perry and system officials pointed to other advancements in course offerings and opportunities for students in several grade levels. New to Bradwell this year is an Advanced Placement course in African American Studies. Junior Achievement has started at the middle schools, which also are offering additional gifted classes. There are new STEM offerings across the district, as more middle schoolers are exposed to engineering, and the school system also has a burgeoning dual enrollment program with Savannah Technical College.
The Liberty College and Career Academy also offers audio, video, technology and film, and animation and digital media, plus it now has a podcasting suite.
“We do have challenges,” Dr. Perry said. “As you can see, the Liberty County School District is committed to our vision. We are trying to get better every single day. There is no reason that they cannot achieve what it is they want to achieve. If a child comes to the Liberty County School System, what they want is there.”