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Superintendent Proposes New School, More Pre-K and End of West Broad Garden

A 15th elementary school, new attendance zones and the end of the West Broad Farmers Market and Garden were among the many proposals in Superintendent Demond Means’ facilities plan for the Clarke County School District. He revealed the plan at the school board’s two-day weekend retreat Nov. 2 and 3. Some of the highlights are:

West Broad School: The West Broad Farmers Market and Garden would be no more. All but the main wing of West Broad School would be demolished and classrooms for 136 four-year-olds—who couldn’t participate in the lottery-funded Pre-K program because there weren’t seats for them—would be constructed in a rebuilt two-story building. A school-based health clinic, a parent information center, community meeting rooms and space acknowledging historic black education with the Athens High and Industrial School-Burney Harris High School Alumni Association would all be housed there.

Early childhood education takes precedence over the community garden, Means said. “It’s good work happening at West Broad, but that [early learning] is our priority,” he said.

Means said the school district is offering the Athens Land Trust 1.97 acres at Clarke Middle School and Howard B. Stroud Elementary, far more land than the half an acre under cultivation in the West Broad garden. But any partnership with the ALT must align with CCSD’s curriculum, Means said—including a potential new partnership with ALT’s Young Builders program, which teaches teens to be construction workers. ALT Executive Director Heather Benham said she was not sure if the nonprofit would accept the offer.

The district has received a $10,000 planning grant for the clinic, which would serve only students, not the community. School nurses cannot diagnose illnesses or prescribe medication, said Dawn Myers, associate superintendent of policy and school support services. With a clinic staffed by a doctor or nurse practitioner, the district could treat more students on-site and avoid missed instruction time, as well as parents having to leave work to pick up their child, Myers said.

Old Gaines Elementary: The school has been the temporary home for numerous children while their assigned schools have been rebuilt or renovated. Hilsman Middle School is currently housed there. The building will be renovated and/or partially demolished. Regardless, the school property is slated to support more early learning classrooms, a Boys and Girls Club, a Junior Achievement BizTown and community meeting rooms.

Board member Greg Davis asked how the district can afford more early learning centers given the precarious nature of lottery funding. “The need is there,” Davis said. “I just don’t know if the resources are there to maintain it without a commitment on the part of the state.” Money spent now on early learning will save money down the road because students won’t need as many disciplinary or academic interventions in middle and high school, Means replied.

A private donor has offered $4 million to pay for the BizTown; students from other counties would also use it. Junior Achievement—which is funded in part by Charles Koch, the billionaire industrialist who has given hundreds of millions of dollars to Republican candidates and causes—has facilities in Atlanta, Forsyth County and Gwinnett County, as well as many more around the world to teach students about business.

Eastside Attendance Zones: Since the district is not building Maxine Easom Elementary at the old Gaines School sites, Eastside families zoned for Easom who can now choose from among Barnett Shoals, Gaines School and Whit Davis elementary schools will be assigned an attendance zone. To address overcrowding at Gaines, part of East Athens will be re-assigned to Howard B. Stroud Elementary. However, students who are currently attending those schools would be grandfathered in.

New Westside School: The new elementary school on Vincent Drive would draw students from overcrowded Chase Street School, Timothy Road Elementary and Whitehead Road Elementary, and absorb new students moving into the fast-growing Westside. The SPLOST V is anticipated to generate $1.8 million a month for the school district, which it would use to build the new elementary school rather than rebuild Clarke Middle School. CCSD officials will have to make tough choices to fund operating costs at the new school, but it will be worth it to reduce class sizes, Means said.

Clarke Middle School: The district had planned to rebuild Clarke Middle with SPLOST V funds, but Means decided the new elementary school is a more pressing need. Despite problems with variable classroom temperatures, the building will continue as it is until 2023, when a new school will be constructed. Before then, the school may be given a new gym.