Hickory Flat Community Celebrates Ribbon-Cutting of New Dean Rusk Middle School

Hickory Flat Community Celebrates Ribbon-Cutting of New Dean Rusk Middle School


Celebrating the ribbon cutting for the new/replacement Dean Rusk MS at a ceremony on Tuesday, Sept. 27, 2016 are, from left to right, School Board Member John Harmon, Vice Chair Patsy Jordan, Chair Kyla Cromer and Superintendent of Schools Dr. Brian V. Hightower.

The Hickory Flat community gathered on Tuesday, Sept. 27, 2016, to celebrate the ribbon cutting for the Cherokee County School District’s newest school: the replacement Dean Rusk Middle School.

The evening included remarks by Superintendent of Schools Dr. Brian V. Hightower, School Board Chair Kyla Cromer, Principal Cindy Cooper and eighth-grader Bradley Gordon, a special presentation by the PTSA and performances by the school’s eighth-grade symphonic band and chorus.

“For me tonight, it’s about opportunity and a legacy of excellence,” Dr. Hightower said to the audience, which included students, parents, volunteers, partners and current and retired teachers and administrators.  “This is a world-class facility… and we hope we’ve risen to your expectations.”

The 30-year-old former building required replacement in order to meet the needs of the growing community.  Construction of the $36.8 million school was funded by the Education SPLOST (Special Purpose Local Option Sales Tax), which is on the ballot this fall for continuation by voters.

The new school accommodates the current 1,480 students with room for growth, with numerous classrooms, wide hallways, a spacious gymnasium and cafetorium and additional technology, all designed to serve the new Grades 6-8 configuration.  Dean Rusk MS is the last middle school in CCSD to add Grade 6, a transition that gives sixth-graders greater opportunity to access advanced core classes and arts and career electives.

The school is named for the late U.S. Secretary of State Dean Rusk, who was born in Cherokee County and served from 1961-69 under Presidents John F. Kennedy and Lyndon B. Johnson.

“Dean Rusk Middle School has a strong history of outstanding leadership, and I’m honored to follow in the footsteps of our past Principals,” Principal Cooper said.  “Our entire community is deeply appreciative for this new school and the opportunity to celebrate it tonight.”

Constructed by Womack, Lewis & Smith, Inc. using a CCSD prototypical middle-school design modified by KRH Architects, the 255,037-square-foot, two-story school is on 25.6 acres on East Cherokee Drive adjacent to the campuses of Hickory Flat ES and Sequoyah HS.

Its classrooms all feature touchscreen, flat-panel smart boards – the first school in CCSD with this feature.  Other technological innovations include the Global Learning Theatre video-conferencing classroom and Technology Lab classroom, with a 3D printer, green-screen video room and Lego robotics table among its special features.

In addition to CCSD’s safety standards, such as an electronic front-door “buzz-in” security system, the new design requires all visitor traffic to flow into the front office for an additional “security foyer” level of check-in and verification before entering the main hallway.  A polished concrete floor will save on maintenance and cleaning costs, paying for itself in a year’s time; and new features to become standard in CCSD facilities include tankless water heaters, electric hand dryers and T-5 light fixtures, all greatly reducing energy costs.

School Board Chair Kyla Cromer remarked that every student she met at the event told her how much they enjoy the new school, and her comments were echoed by eighth-grader Bradley Gordon.

“Students today are part of a new generation,” he said, noting that the technology now available to them improves how they learn.  That said, he added, the most important element of the school didn’t change.  “With all the changes, the school maintained what was best about it… the great staff.”

Following the tradition started with previous new/replacement middle schools, the new Dean Rusk MS campus features the colors of its Innovation Zone high school… which for the Sequoyah Zone are black and gold.  As part of the transition, Dean Rusk MS adopted the Chiefs as its mascot in keeping with Sequoyah HS.

PTSA President Monica Orrico presented the school with a dedication gift: two stained glass windows designed by JD’s Glassworks with the school’s new logo and colors.

“We’re beginning new traditions… as Chiefs!” she said.

The former Dean Rusk MS is being renovated to provide additional capacity to Sequoyah HS beginning in January… much like how the former Chapman Intermediate School now is used as “Etowah East” by Etowah HS.  The District and school are collaboratively developing a plan for which programs will be housed in this facility.

Report: No CCSD Schools Reach ‘Critically Overcrowded’ Levels

The 2016-17 Cherokee County Inventory of School Housing shows the impact of returning enrollment growth and indicates several areas where additional classroom space will soon be needed.

Additionally, 2016-17 marks the fourth consecutive year during which none of the School District’s schools are considered “critically overcrowded,” reflecting long-standing successful management practices and School Board policies governing student enrollment growth forecasts and school construction project planning.

The below chart uses this school year’s 20-day enrollment count (Aug. 25, 2016) to measure the percentage of overcrowding. School Board Policy defines “critically overcrowded” as when a school exceeds 140% of its enrollment capacity and meets other criteria, including use of all existing portable classrooms. Pursuant to the School Board’s Critical Overcrowding Policy (FDBD), the impact of actual student enrollment is evaluated annually after the 20th day of classes, which is when attendance traditionally peaks, to determine critically overcrowded schools and what, if any, action is needed.

The effort to eliminate “critical overcrowding” in the School District began in 2001, with an aggressive, multi-tiered Education Special Purpose Local Option Sales Tax (Ed SPLOST) plan proposed by a Blue Ribbon Committee of community leaders and approved by the School Board for inclusion on a local ballot referendum.  This plan to “bond” future sales tax revenue, which has been extended twice by voters over the past decade, continues today with new construction and renovations, strategic land purchases, replacement school buses and emerging technologies for students and staff.

Unfortunately, if portable classrooms were not available, 11 schools would be operating at 100% or more of their capacity.  It should be remembered that, while portable classrooms provide relief for classroom instruction, they do not alleviate overcrowding in media centers, cafeterias, restrooms and hallways. The schools are: Free Home ES, Liberty ES, Woodstock ES, Creekland MS, E.T. Booth MS, Mill Creek MS, Woodstock MS, Cherokee HS, Creekview HS, Sequoyah HS and Woodstock HS.  Of those 11 schools, five are operating at more than 120% capacity… a decrease from seven reaching that level last school year: Free Home ES – 126%, Creekland MS – 126%, Woodstock MS – 121%, Cherokee HS – 133% and Sequoyah HS – 137%.

Staff continues to analyze this new data to determine recommendations that may be needed to address overcrowding in preparation for the next school year(s).  Data is compiled and analyzed year-round to monitor not only enrollment growth, but also the local real estate market, development trends, local birth rates and other demographics … in order to best determine when and where new and/or replacement school facilities are needed.

Relief has been provided to Dean Rusk Middle School, which had one of the highest levels of overcrowding in the School District last year.  With its opening this month, the School District gained capacity at that location, and also at its four elementary feeder schools — Hickory Flat ES, Holly Springs ES STEM Academy, Indian Knoll ES and Mountain Road ES — as the sixth-grade students from those facilities now attend Dean Rusk MS in its new Grades 6 – 8 grade configuration.  Additionally, Sequoyah HS will add classroom capacity as it gains the original Dean Rusk MS facility into its footprint later this school year!

Again, it should be noted that all new and replacement school construction and renovations in the School District are funded by Education SPLOST revenue.  Voters will again have the opportunity to authorize the School District to continue its capital outlay plans, as the School Board has called for a renewal of the Ed SPLOST in November.

2016-17 CCISH Chart

The 2016-17 Cherokee County Inventory of School Housing shows the impact of returning enrollment growth and indicates several areas where additional classroom space will soon be needed.