School Board Hears from Parents on Cherokee HS Overcrowding

School Board Hears from Parents on Cherokee HS Overcrowding

The School Board on Thursday, November 16, 2017, heard from five parents during a public hearing on potential solutions to overcrowding at Cherokee High School.

The hearing, which was attended by a small crowd of parents and teachers, followed two rounds of community meetings to gather input in response to Superintendent of Schools Dr. Brian V. Hightower’s decision to trigger an Attendance Area Review process.

“This is really a phase-one piece of a multi-year plan,” Dr. Hightower said of addressing overcrowding at Cherokee HS.  “While we have only seen an increase of 50 students this fall over last year’s enrollment, infrastructure continues to be severely taxed… and enrollment is expected to continue to grow north of 3,000 – sooner than later.”

While Cherokee HS doesn’t meet the “critically overcrowded” standards due to mobile classrooms and other fixes already in place, Dr. Hightower announced earlier this year he would ask the School Board at its Dec. 14 meeting to approve a mitigation plan to take effect next school year.

The process began with a dozen possible solutions, including those as far-reaching as countywide redistricting, which have been narrowed through public input and staff review.  Parents at Thursday’s hearing spoke only to two of those solutions:

Option 1. Cherokee HS expands to include the neighboring Canton ES STEM Academy campus; Canton ES STEM Academy students are consolidated into Knox ES and R.M. Moore ES, with STEM programs added to both of those campuses and R.M. Moore ES retaining Title I services (while Knox ES will not see enough of a demographic shift to qualify as Title I, students in need will continue to receive extra services).  This option will reduce CCSD operating costs by $1.5 Million over five years.

Option 2. Cherokee HS expands to include Canton ES STEM Academy campus; Canton ES STEM Academy students relocate to the ACE Academy campus (the 30-year-old Teasley MS building on Knox Bridge Highway); ACE Academy students move to the former Tippens ES (50-year-old building on Glenwood Street in Canton, which will need significant renovations before that move can occur).  This option will increase CCSD operating costs by $3.49 Million next year, and $5.1 Million over five years.

Five parents spoke at Thursday’s Public Input Session, with two favoring Option 1; a husband and wife favoring Option 2; and one focusing on the need to build a new Cherokee High School as soon as possible.

“To think of any other scenario is not feasible,” parent Andy Slanina said of Option 1, adding that he would like to see the savings generated by the plan used to make further improvements to Cherokee HS until a new campus is constructed.

Donnamarie Alcott also said she sees Option 1 as the “only logical and fiscally responsible option.”

Two parents, Kurt and Alexandra Stark, spoke to their desire to see Canton ES STEM Academy stay intact under Option 2, to preserve its strong sense of community.

Parent Jonathan Kessler spoke to the need for the School Board to build a new high school instead of continuing with temporary “Band-aids.”

Dr. Hightower said he is committed to doing just that — as soon as funding is available.  Due to aggressive school construction over the last 15 years in response to Cherokee’s population explosion, CCSD does not have the borrowing capacity to build a new high school, which would cost at least $70 Million, until after the 2021 Education SPLOST renewal at the earliest.

The Cherokee Innovation Zone during those 15 years received $140 Million in new construction including the replacement Canton ES, Hasty ES, Knox ES, Liberty ES and the replacement Teasley MS, a classroom addition at R.M. Moore ES and two rounds of improvements to Cherokee HS since 2002 that alone total nearly $15 Million.

Melissa Whatley

The Board also approved monthly personnel recommendations on Thursday that included recognizing the retirement of longtime employees Joy Mabrey, who began teaching in 1953 and later managed the teacher resource center, and Debbie Childress, who is retiring as Supervisor of Instructional Technology after 42 years as an educator.  The appointment of Melissa Whatley, longtime Executive Administrative Assistant to the Superintendent, to Coordinator of Human Resources Services, was approved as well.

The School Board also:

  • Recognized Woodstock High School for earning State STEM Certification;
  • Recognized Cherokee High school Senior Emily Costello for achieving a perfect ACT score;
  • Recognized CCSD School Nutrition for winning the Georgia Golden Radish Award – Platinum Level for practices in support of Farm to School initiatives;
  • Recognized CCSD Teacher of the Year Stephanie Vidrine of Woodstock Middle School;
  • Recognized Clark Creek Elementary School STEM Academy Teacher Karen Garland for being named the Georgia Conservation Teacher of the Year;
  • Recognized River Ridge High School Career Pathways teacher Judi Haggerty for being selected for a State leadership program;
  • Recognized the Creekview High School Army JROTC program as State Champions at the Georgia State Raider Championship;
  • Recognized CCSD staff for Georgia School Public Relations Association (GSPRA) Publication Awards;
  • Recognized State and Regional Champions from Cherokee High School’s Varsity Softball team and Etowah High School’s One Act Play cast and crew;
  • Approved the renewal of a Partnership Agreement with the Cherokee County Board of Elections & Registration;
  • Approved monthly financial reports;
  • Approved surplus of Police Department property;
  • Approved out-of-state and overnight student field trips;
  • Approved 2017-18 School Improvement Plans;
  • Approved special lease agreements;
  • Approved 2018 Legislative Partnership Priorities; and,
  • Approved annual update of Five-Year Strategic Plan.

Next meeting: 7 p.m. Thursday, December 14, 2017.