The School Board on Thursday, Dec. 14, 2017, approved a plan to relieve Cherokee High School overcrowding by using the neighboring Canton Elementary campus.
The unanimous vote followed several months of public input meetings to hear from the community, which informed the recommendation presented to the School Board by Superintendent of Schools Dr. Brian V. Hightower.
“These are kids that we love. These are teachers we respect,” Dr. Hightower told the School Board as it prepared to vote. “This is really the first tough decision in regard to attendance areas that we’ve had to make in recent years.”
Dr. Hightower earlier this school year announced that while Cherokee High School doesn’t meet “critically overcrowded” standards due to mobile classrooms and other solutions already in place, more significant action was needed to relieve the campus.
The plan approved by the School Board will expand Cherokee High School for next school year to include the neighboring Canton Elementary School STEM Academy campus. The plan not only will alleviate overcrowding at Cherokee HS, but also will reduce CCSD operating costs by $1.5 Million over five years.
Canton ES STEM Academy students will be consolidated into Knox Elementary and R.M. Moore Elementary Schools, which both offer plenty of capacity to accommodate more students (520 students will move R.M. Moore ES, and 270 to Knox ES). The District will make both campuses STEM Academies; R.M. Moore ES will retain its Title I services that support schools with higher populations of students who qualify for free or reduced-price lunch (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). The entire proposal approved Thursday is online here.
While some Canton ES STEM Academy parents and teachers lobbied for a plan to keep the school intact, that plan would have increased operating costs without a funding source, which Board members said made the decision all the more challenging.
“We did not take this lightly. We have looked at every single option,” School Board member Patsy Jordan said, speaking directly to a group of Canton ES STEM Academy teachers in the audience. “Just remember that the love and grace you have for those kids, that will be the winner in the end.”
Now that the Board has selected a plan, Dr. Hightower said his staff will begin meeting with staff at the affected schools (he has committed that all staff will remain CCSD employees, noting enrollment is up and continues to rise) and map out a timeline and all actions steps needed in order to complete the project for an August opening with the new configuration.
Dr. Hightower also repeated his pledge that this plan is a “phase one” of a larger effort to solve overcrowding for Cherokee High School, which ultimately will require construction of an additional high school.
While that estimated $70 Million-plus construction project is not feasible until the next Education SPLOST referendum in 2021 due to borrowing constraints, Dr. Hightower said his staff will explore renovations that could be made to the Cherokee High School campus once the school begins using Canton ES and moves mobile classrooms offsite.
The Board heard the Superintendent’s recommendation that students not be required to make up the three days missed so far due to inclement weather, to which there was no objection. Employees are required to make up missed work time, and information now will be shared with them about that process.
The Board on Thursday also approved a new Partnership Agreement with the Atlanta Braves Baseball Club that includes many exciting opportunities, such as bringing baseball into the classroom to teach STEM concepts and bringing high school sports marketing and sports medicine students to SunTrust Park to learn about possible careers.
“We know a lot of our fans come from Cherokee County, so we’re really looking forward to working with the School District, students and staff,” Braves Director of Community Affairs Ericka Newsome Hill said.
The Board, in approving the monthly personnel recommendations on Thursday night, accepted the retirements of three longtime principals: Jan Adamson of R.M. Moore Elementary School, Elliott Berman of Sequoyah High School and Dr. Ann Gazell of Indian Knoll Elementary School.
“We have been very privileged to have them as leaders,” Dr. Hightower said.
Following approval of the personnel recommendations, Dr. Hightower also introduced his new Executive Administrative Assistant, Renée Coleman, a 19-year CCSD employee, whose previous roles have included administrative assistant to the Assistant Superintendent of School Operations and the Deputy Superintendent.
Dr. Hightower also was granted approval by the Board to serve as a Superintendent Consultant/Education Fellow for the Education Research & Development Institute, an opportunity extended to select superintendents to gain their input on research and trends in education.
The School Board also:
• Recognized Clayton ES, Woodstock MS, Sequoyah HS and Bascomb ES for CCRPI Progress and Achievement awards;
• Recognized Knox ES as a Common Sense Certified School for Digital Citizenship;
• Recognized CCSD Lead Nurse Jami Stefano as a finalist for the March of Dimes 2017 Georgia Nurse of the Year Awards;
• Recognized the 2017-18 Reinhardt University/CCSD Mathematics Tournament winners;
• Recognized State and Regional Champions from Creekview HS for Softball and Cross Country, Etowah HS for Softball and Volleyball and Sequoyah HS for One Act Play;
• Approved the renewal of a Partnership Agreement with the Cherokee Soccer Association
• Approved monthly financial reports;
• Approved out-of-state and overnight student field trips;
• Approved a resolution to certify the closeout of construction for the new Dean Rusk MS;
• Approved special lease agreements;
• Dr. Hightower announced that no bids were submitted meeting the Board’s minimum price for the sale of the Downtown Center at Historic Canton High School. As a result, CCSD will retain the building and use it for the Special Education department, which currently is housed at the former Buffington Elementary School;
• Heard a presentation on the CHOICE program, a Special Education Department program to assist at-risk high school seniors in graduating on time by providing them with additional support and resources. The program, which began in 2013-14, has been expanded annually and, last year, boasted a 98% success rate;
• Heard a presentation on plans to begin Course Extension, a new program to allow high school students who fail a unit and, as a result, fail a class and jeopardize graduating on time, to retake that unit using an individualized online course, during a 10-day period. This new opportunity allows students to pass a class without needing to retake the entire class over nine or 18 weeks. The program will begin in January, both before and after school, for select students (initially, 50 at each high school) in seven different literature, social studies and math classes. The cost will be $40 per student per unit, with hardship waivers available; and,
• Met in Executive Session to review three student discipline cases.
• School Board Member Rick Steiner was not present for the meeting.
Next meeting: 7 p.m. Thursday, January 18, 2018