Two weeks after what Superintendent Demond Means and several school board members termed an embarrassing debate over the fate of the West Broad School, the Clarke County Board of Education tried again May 31. While avoiding the acrimony of the previous conversation, the short-handed BOE—missing Greg Davis, Vernon Payne and Ovita Thornton—also made little progress in deciding what to do with the vacant historic building.
Out of the six members present, only John Knox expressed a preference regarding three proposals for the property (two for community resource centers and one, submitted by the Clarke County School District itself, consisting primarily of early-learning classrooms). The Athens Land Trust’s proposal is by far the most detailed, the only one that includes information about funding and shares some elements with the Northeast Georgia Business Alliance’s. Knox added that he is dubious about a previous CCSD proposal to convert the school into office space, the administration’s top priority of historic preservation isn’t aligned with the board’s, and the current CCSD proposal doesn’t address the ALT’s popular West Broad Market Garden on the property, which administrators had previously suggested paving over for parking.
“We’ve had a tremendous amount of support that cannot be ignored” for the land trust, board member Sarah Ellis said. But Linda Davis—who has been critical of the community garden—said it “feels awkward” to be approached by outside groups about district property. “I hope we would not acquiesce and fold because we have a lot of people here,” she said. “A lot of people are not here as well.”
The discussion—really, just brief statements by each school board member—was originally supposed to happen in executive session. But on Knox’s motion, the board voted 4-2 to open it up the public, with Ellis, Carol Williams and president Jared Bybee in favor, and Linda Davis and Charles Worthy opposed.
The board also voted 5-1 (with Knox opposed) to approve the controversial AVID program, a teaching method intended to improve academic rigor that will be implemented at 18 schools this fall—all but Barrow and Chase Street elementaries and Clarke Central High School. The program comes with a price tag of $511,000 to send 200 teachers to out-of-town training conferences this summer.
Means also asked for $2.7 million over two years to implement a new language arts curriculum in kindergarten through eighth grade, which will be voted on June 7. Currently, the district has eight different reading programs and 13 different assessments in its 18 elementary and middle schools, he said.
Means called the reading and writing curriculum the “most critical” and said, “It is imperative to address inconsistency around the most important topic you can teach young people,” comparing the current fractured system to a house’s foundation cracking. The new curriculum will also help address issues of equity that have occupied much of Means’ and the board’s attention over the past 10 months, he said. Other district officials said students who are not on track in reading in third grade end up doing more poorly in school, earning less money, are more likely to commit crimes and have poorer health and shorter life expectancies.