With growth coming to the west side of Athens, Clarke County School District officials and parents might soon have to start what is sure to be a contentious dialogue about redrawing school attendance zones.
CCSD is adding about 100 students per year, according to CCSD Director of SPLOST John Gilbreath, and Athens-Clarke County has issued more than 700 building permits for single-family homes in the Cleveland Road and Timothy Road attendance zones. While Cleveland Road Elementary can absorb about 200 new students, Timothy Road is full, Gilbreath told a joint meeting of the school board and county commission last week. How many of those houses are bought by families with young children depends on the price point, he said.
In addition, the Forest Heights neighborhood is turning over, with younger families moving in, and a 1,000-bedroom apartment complex is under construction off Tallassee Road, Commissioner Tim Denson noted. And, as CCSD Community Support Specialist Fenwick Broyard noted, the redevelopment of Bethel Midtown Village and proposed tax allocation districts in East Athens and the Newton Bridge Road corridor will spur growth.
Then there’s School C, a planned elementary school in North Athens that’s currently on hold. If and when it’s built, it will siphon off 500 students from Whitehead Road Elementary, triggering a domino effect at elementary schools across the county to rebalance enrollment. All that could lead to what Broyard called “a really difficult discussion about rezoning, restructuring our schools.”
At each elementary school, a “fair amount” of students come from outside the attendance zone, Interim Superintendent Xernona Thomas said. They could be participating in a special program only available at that school, or have a sibling who does. Others may be in foster care or bouncing around between relatives. “Our homeless numbers are really up,” Thomas said. “We’re going to Madison County, Barrow County to pick up students.”
Continuity is important, so if students move, they are allowed to stay in the same school, CCSD Director of Operations Dexter Fisher said. Maintaining continuity will also be an issue for the North Athens Project, which will at least temporarily scatter Bethel residents, who are zoned for Barrow Elementary, all over the county, Broyard added.
Speaking of the North Athens Project, developers and planners are hosting a public hearing about the redevelopment Wednesday, Feb. 19 at the Lyndon House Arts Center from 5:30–7:30 p.m., and food and child care will be provided.