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.


School Board to Hold Public Input Session on Attendance Areas on Nov. 16

The Cherokee County School Board will hold a Public Input Session on 2018-19 Attendance Areas at 6 p.m. on Thursday, Nov. 16, 2017 in its auditorium at 1205 Bluffs Parkway, Canton 30114.  The purpose is to hear from the community about possible solutions to Cherokee High School overcrowding.

The School Board will hear from as many as 15 speakers, who each will be allotted a maximum of 3 minutes.  Auditorium doors will open at 5:30 p.m., with a sign-up sheet for the speaker slots in the lobby.

We suggest that any groups working together to advocate for a specific solution designate a spokesperson to speak on the group’s behalf; the entire group is welcome to stand behind the spokesperson at the podium.  We also suggest speakers bring a copy of their remarks to give to CCSD staff, so the remarks can be copied and shared with the Board for further review.

The Board’s Policy for public participation in meetings is posted here; we would ask anyone planning to attend and participate in this input session to review these guidelines, as they also apply to any signage citizens bring… additionally, signs that block others from viewing the meeting will not be permitted.

The input session is a public hearing; Board Members will be listening and taking notes, but not responding to comments.  Citizens who are unable to attend can share their input with Board Members by using the contact information posted here.  The Board welcomes direct public input until its vote to approve a solution at the 7 p.m. Dec. 14 regular meeting in the school board auditorium.

Next week’s Public Input Session follows two rounds of public input meetings held by CCSD staff with parents, employees and others from the community (the initial presentation is online here).  Following the first round of four meetings, four possible solutions discussed by the community were closely reviewed by CCSD staff.  More detailed information including each plan’s financial impact was presented by CCSD staff during the second round of two meetings; that presentation is available online here.


Board Briefs: School Board Hears Update on Cherokee HS Overcrowding

The School Board on Thursday, October 19, 2017, heard an update on meetings gathering community feedback on potential overcrowding mitigation plans for Cherokee High School.

While the campus doesn’t meet CCSD’s definition of “critically overcrowded” due to solutions already implemented, Superintendent of Schools Dr. Brian V. Hightower said he’s committed to asking for the School Board’s approval in December of a plan for alleviating overcrowding beginning next school year.

The School District held a first round of Attendance Area Focus Group meetings in the Cherokee Innovation Zone earlier this month, with two follow-up meetings scheduled for next week (7 p.m. Oct. 25 and 26 at Cherokee HS) to provide detailed information in response to parent questions.

Three plans were reviewed with parents at those meetings, the details of which are posted online here; a fourth possibility floated by Canton ES STEM Academy parents also will be examined at next week’s meetings.

“We don’t necessarily like any of these plans because they affect students and staff who haven’t done anything other than keep waking up to go to school each day,” Dr. Hightower said.  “No matter what plan we choose, it will be a change for some of our students and staff.  What we’re tasked with is finding the plan that has the least negative impact on our programs, operations and budget.”

The three plans presented by staff so far are:

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).

2. Cherokee HS expands to include Canton ES STEM Academy; 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 (30-plus-year-old building on Glenwood Street in Canton, which will need significant renovations before that move can occur).

3. Cherokee HS splits, with ninth-graders relocated to the ACE Academy campus; ACE Academy students move to the former Tippens ES.
Under all three plans, no CCSD staff would be reduced despite some potential consolidation, as due to retirements and enrollment growth districtwide, new hiring is needed every year.

The fourth possibility suggested by some Canton ES STEM Academy parents also calls for Cherokee HS to expand to include Canton ES STEM Academy, with Canton ES STEM Academy students relocating to the ACE Academy campus.  But under this plan, ACE Academy — which serves students expelled from CCSD’s traditional high schools, as well as some who choose the program for its “work-at-your-own-pace” schedule -– would share the Canton ES STEM Academy building with the Cherokee HS freshmen.

Dr. Hightower emphasized Thursday night that the Cherokee Innovation Zone has received a lion’s share of CCSD construction funding over the last 15 years, totaling $140 Million, including construction of 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.

“We have not ignored the Cherokee Zone in the past nor are we going to in the future,” Dr. Hightower said.  “What we’re talking about now is a necessary stop-gap – we remain committed to building a new high school to serve north Cherokee.  We now have the property to do it in Ball Ground or in Sutallee, and we also would love to find some land between Cherokee High and Woodstock.  What we need is the $70-plus Million to build the school, which due to aggressive school construction for the last 20 years to keep up with explosive growth, we won’t be able to borrow for another six years when our community renews the Education SPLOST.”

Dr. Hightower noted that, depending on the plan approved by the School Board, there may be opportunities to renovate and expand portions of the Cherokee High School campus while it’s still occupied… which can’t occur now due to the lack of available open space unused by portables or as parking for staff and students.

The School Board also:

• Recognized Woodstock HS senior Katherine Relick for achieving a perfect ACT Score;
• Recognized CCSD high school seniors named 2018 National Merit Semi-Finalists;
• Recognized Woodstock HS junior Anna Fournaris and Creekland MS seventh-grader Brayden Fuentes for being named to the State School Superintendent’s 2017-18 Student Advisory Council;
• Recognized Clayton ES PE teacher Anne Cross as State “Fire Up Your Feet” award and grant winner;
• Approved a proclamation in honor of Retired Educators Day;
• Approved the renewal of Partnership Agreements with Brenau University, Cherokee Chorale, Girl Scouts of Greater Atlanta, Inc., North Central Georgia Learning Resources System, Waste Management and WellStar Health System;
• Approved out-of-state and overnight student field trips;
• Approved monthly financial reports;
• Approved special lease agreements; and,
• Approved monthly personnel recommendations.

Next meeting: 7 p.m. Thursday, November 16, 2017.  There will be a 6 p.m. public input session on the Cherokee HS Attendance Area Plans.

student stands and leads the Pledge

Sequoyah HS Student Delegate Teddy Campbell leads the Pledge of Allegiance at the start of the School Board meeting.

student shakes hands with school board members during recognition

Creekland MS student Brayden Fuentes is congratulated for her selection to the State Superintendent’s 2017-18 Student Advisory Council.

student shakes hands with school board members during recognition

Woodstock HS student Anna Fournaris is congratulated for her selection to the State Superintendent’s 2017-18 Student Advisory Council.

The Superintendent and School Board congratulate students named as National Merit Semi Finalists.

Karen Hawley at podium speaking to school board.

Karen Hawley speaks on behalf of the Retired Educators group after the School Board approved a proclamation.

Clayton ES PE teacher Anne Cross is recognized as a state winner and grant winner of the “Fire Up Your Feet” award for encouraging student fitness.

student shakes hands with superintendent.

Woodstock HS student Katherine Relick is congratulated by Superintendent Dr. Brian Hightower for her achievement of scoring a perfect 36 on the ACT.


CCSD Schedules 2nd Round of Attendance Area Focus Group Meetings

A second round of Attendance Area Focus Group meetings to review possible solutions to Cherokee High School overcrowding has been scheduled to provide information responsive to audience questions.

The public meetings will be held at 7 p.m. on Wednesday, Oct. 25, and Thursday, Oct. 26, at Cherokee HS.

Miss the first round of meetings? Here’s the staff presentation: CCSD 2017 Attendance Area Focus Group Meetings Presentation.