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School Board Update

 

By Monroe Roark
Times Correspondent 

  After considering two controversial proposed new district maps over the past two months, the Henry County Board of Education approved one with several changes and scheduled a pair of public hearings to continue reviewing the other.

  A plan that would have moved more than 200 middle and high school students in several subdivisions along Hwy. 42 and Brannan Road from Union Grove to Eagle’s Landing received the largest amount of resistance at the October and November board meetings, and two alternate proposals were presented at last week’s work session.

  One new proposal was for any affected student to have the option of staying at Union Grove until completing the highest grade level at his or her prospective school. Students currently in grades 9-12 could choose to stay, those in eighth grade would have to move to Eagle’s Landing next fall, and those in grades 6-7 could finish middle school at Union Grove before transferring. That proposal was not approved.

  The third option, presented by board member Mike Griffin at last week’s work session, kept residents in the Brannan Walk and St. Andrews subdivisions in the Union Grove districts. Those are the only neighborhoods in the original proposal that do not open directly onto Hwy. 42.

  Also under this plan, students currently in the orchestra and/or German programs at Union Grove could stay there as long as they remain in those programs, were responsible for their own transportation, and the courses were not offered at Eagle’s Landing. Rising juniors and seniors would have the option to stay at Union Grove regardless of their course of study.

  Griffin made the motion to approve that plan and it passed 3-2, with Ryan Davis also voting in favor. With Erik Charles and Josh Hinton voting in opposition, board chairman Dr. Pam Nutt broke the tie with a yes vote.

  Griffin spoke at length about his reasons for the plan as well as the budgetary issues the board continues to face. He said he considers several factors when looking at any such issue, including fiscal responsibility, accreditation, academic performance, and other areas of community impact.

  A considerable amount of public comment was heard on the issue earlier in the meeting, and there were several outbursts from the audience during Griffin’s remarks, prompting him at one point to remind them that “I didn’t interrupt when you were speaking.”

  The only other public comment from the board came from Charles, who reiterated his position from last month that he would not be in favor of any change to the district map in that area.

  The other proposal that has generated controversy was the suggested closing of Smith-Barnes Elementary School to make room for Patrick Henry Academy on its Tye Street campus, since Patrick Henry’s current site (the old Stockbridge High School campus) is the oldest facility in the school system currently housing students. Students from Smith-Barnes would be dispersed to Stockbridge Elementary and Cotton Indian Elementary under that plan.

  Many residents since October have expressed their opposition to closing Smith-Barnes, and the board elected to study that matter further next month. Two public meetings were set for January, the first of which will be Jan. 8 in the board’s auditorium to coincide with the regular work session.

  When considering the second date, Griffin suggested that the hearing be at Smith-Barnes or somewhere in the community so more affected residents can attend. Charles took it one step further, saying that the Jan. 13 regular board meeting could take place there. That recommendation was approved.

  The third map approved Monday night was to set district lines for Hampton High School, which is set to open next fall. It will mirror the district map for Hampton Middle School. There was no public comment at any of the board meetings this fall regarding this map, and it was approved unanimously.

  The final item of business at the meeting was the appointment of Rodney Bowler, currently the assistant superintendent for administrative services, to succeed Dr. Ethan Hildreth as the school system’s next superintendent. Hildreth announced in October that he plans to retire at the end of March.

  A separate story about Bowler will appear in next week’s edition of the Times.

 

 

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