City DopeNews

Big Plans Are In the Works for Athens

Earlier this month, the Federation of Neighborhoods hosted a panel discussion in which representatives from ACC, the Clarke County School District, the Athens Land Trust and the Athens Housing Authority talked about how they are collaborating on a study to plan the future of the neighborhood that includes the West Broad Street School, CCSD’s H.T. Edwards building and two public housing complexes, a neighborhood that needs reinvestment but is also the next frontier for gentrification.

Encouragingly, that’s not the only area in which major institutions are starting to collaborate. At a lengthy work session June 20, school board members and ACC commissioners talked about the West Broad effort, as well as other partnerships that have the potential to shape the community in a positive way.

Lawrence Harris, director of the Athens Community Career Academy, briefed school board members on that program, which offers college-level core classes and vocational training to high school students in fields like criminal justice, sports marketing, cosmetology, interior design, business, bioscience and accounting in partnership with Athens Tech. Last year, 133 students enrolled—earning 1,473 college credits and saving $340,000 in tuition—with at least 219 set to enroll next year.

In addition, CCSD is working with the UGA School of Social Work on a massive data-gathering effort as part of CCSD’s switch to a charter district, which will involve appointing more than 200 teachers, parents and other citizens to local governance boards for every school. “There is really a lot of leadership potential in this community that is untapped,” said James Barlament, a CCSD grant writer who’s been tapped by Superintendent Philip Lanoue to lead the transition.

Building on the back of the local nonprofit Community Connection’s recent health care needs assessment, the data gathered will be used not only to drive school-level decisions, but will be made available to ACC, local hospitals, nonprofits and anyone else who might find it useful. Governance board leaders will also be trained by Carl Vinson Institute and Fanning Institute staff at UGA. The boards will be influential outside the education sphere, too, said ACC Manager Blaine Williams, who compared them to the neighborhood planning units that direct development in Atlanta.

Even more broadly, CCSD, ACC, the City of Winterville, Athens Tech, UGA, the Athens Area Chamber of Commerce, Georgia Power, Athens Regional, St. Mary’s and the United Way of Northeast Georgia are embarking on a community-wide strategic plan for economic development, a process that will take 12–16 months, according to Commissioner Mike Hamby and BOE member Linda Davis.

Of course, this city is very good at studying things, but not so good at acting on those studies. If it pans out, though, this is a big deal: Perhaps for the first time, Athens will have a shared vision with buy-in from every sector of the community.