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Schools shift zones to make room for growth

Liberty County School System officials are reworking elementary school lines to counter projected crowding at two elementary schools.

Board members agreed 6-1, with Dr. Marcus Scott casting the dissenting vote, to move 148 students from Joseph Martin Elementary to Button Gwinnett Elementary and 110 students from Waldo Pafford Elementary to Taylors Creek Elementary.

School system operations director Arnold Jackson said the district is projecting a significant enrollment increase based on new residential development. Power School is expecting an overall student enrollment increase of 5% in 2024 and another 2% in 2025.

The vast majority of the growth, Jackson said, is projected to take place in the elementary schools’ enrollment.

“When we look at Power School analysis, they did not show significant growth for the middle schools or the high schools,” he said.

Though Waldo Pafford’s enrollment dipped this year from the 2022-23 school year, Dr. Scott pointed out, the Power School projections have more students coming to that school than were there n 2021-22, Jackson said.

Waldo Pafford’s enrollment is projected to grow 11.9% next year and by 7% the following year, Jackson said, prior to the attendance zone changes. Growth at Joseph Martin is pegged at 15% for the next two years.

“We have to do something with the overcrowding. We just have to,” Superintendent Dr. Franklin Perry said. “I hope parents understand we’re doing this to make sure our children get a good education. We know based on what we have right now we have to do something. We are asking parents to trust us in that we are doing the right thing.”

Board member Carol Guyett urged staff not to split roads during the redrawing of district lines, meaning one side of a street goes to one school and one side goes to a different school. School system officials said they used bus routes as part of their new lines, and drivers will get updated immediately on their new routes for next school year.

Scott also asked for a systemwide review of attendance zones. He recalled his days as a student, attending four different schools in four years, starting out at Button Gwinnett for his fourthgrade year and ending up at the old Hinesville Middle School for his seventh-grade year. “I was switching schools every year,” he said.

Dr. Perry said to rezone the entire system is going to take time and outside assistance.

“We couldn’t do this in two weeks,” he said. “So that’s going to take some time. But Waldo is going to be overcrowded if we don’t do something immediately.

“Rezoning and redistricting is always a tough issue,” Dr. Perry continued. “But we can’t wait to give these schools relief. We just need relief right now with these particular schools.”

The system looked at mobile classrooms, but those are expensive, as much as $500,000 per unit, Dr. Perry said. Some teachers also may have to move schools, he added.

School system officials also said not just balancing the school populations but also the number of children in each grade level was part of the plan.

Parents will be getting an email notification of the revised attendance zones, and each affected family will be getting welcome letters from their new principals. There also will be information sessions to discuss the changes and to offer assistance to affected families. There also will be “meet and greets” scheduled with the new principals and administrators.

“We know that growth is coming,” BoE chair Verdell Jones said. We have to do something to make sure we are balancing that growth. We will take a real hard look at what’s going on this year, so as we move forward, we don’t want to be caught off guard.”

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