Friday, October 14, 2022

Public Forum On Redistricting By Oconee County Schools Has Few Speakers

***Plan Moves Back To Board For Action***

Only six people spoke Tuesday evening at the sole public forum Oconee County Schools has planned before the Board of Education is scheduled to adopt its new redistricting plan on Nov. 14.

The meeting was not live streamed, and Oconee County Schools has released no video of the forum, but the minutes published after the forum report the names of the six speakers and that the meeting lasted only 31 minutes.

Brook Whitmire, Chief Human Resources Officer for Oconee County Schools, began the meeting with an overview of the redistricting plan, necessitated by the opening of the new Dove Creek Middle School next school year.

Four of the six speakers have addresses that fall in the district for Dove Creek Middle School, while the other two have addresses in areas to be served by Oconee County Middle School.

Fred Ricketson, Director of Facilities, told the Board at its meeting on Oct. 3 that work is progressing on schedule on construction of the Dove Creek Middle School off Hog Mountain Road in the far northwest of the county near the Barrow County line.

Following an executive session at the end of the meeting on Oct. 3, the Board approved the transfer of Michael Eddy as principal at Malcom Bridge Middle School to the new principal at Dove Creek Middle School.

Eddy, who has been principal at Malcom Bridge Middle School since 2019, will remain in that position until June 1. A search for his replacement will begin in the coming months, according to the Oconee County Schools announcement.

Redistricting Forum

The minutes from the public forum on Oct. 11 in the North Oconee High School Fine Arts Auditorium indicate that Whitmire told those present that feeder schools and the attendance zones for Oconee County High School and North Oconee High School will remain unchanged.

Dove Creek Middle Construction Picture
Shown At Board Of Education Meeting 10/3/2022

Also unchanged are the district lines for Oconee County Middle School.

The current district for Malcom Bridge Middle School will be split, with about half of the students remaining at that school and the other half moving to the new Dove Creek Middle School.

Some changes will be made in the elementary school district maps. Most notable is the shift of students in the far northwest of the county now attending the new Dove Creek Elementary School to Malcom Bridge Elementary School.

Whitmire has announced that school choice will be available next year for all students. Parents must provide their own transportation.

The official announcement of the application procedure for school choice will be published on Nov. 18, Dallas LeDuff, Assistant Superintendent, told the Board at the Oct. 3 meeting.

Citizen Response

The minutes of the Oct. 11 Public Forum give only cryptic summaries of the comments of the six persons who spoke.

The minutes also list the addresses of the speakers, and I looked up the middle school district of each on the Street Lookup Dashboard on the Oconee County Schools redistricting page on its web site.

Latasha Barnes, who is in the Dove Creek Middle School District, made a comment on “student impact,” according to the minutes.

E.J. Krisor, who also is in the Dove Creek Middle School District, spoke about the “redistricting plan,” according to those notes.

Jenn Blair, in the Dove Creek Middle School District, spoke on “bus time to travel to new school.”

Kendra Houghton, whose address is in the Oconee County Middle School District, made some comments about “redistricting plan-zoning of Coldwater Creek subdivision.”

Lakshmish Ramaswamy, in the Dove Creek Middle School District, spoke about “personnel at schools,” according to the minutes.

Erica Stennis, in the Oconee County Middle School District, commented on “personal school choice,” according to the minutes.

Construction Update

Director of Facilities Ricketson told the Board at its Oct. 3 work session the construction team had “finished pouring all the slabs on grade” at Dove Creek Middle School.

“They do have one elevated slab left, which is the second floor the southern end of the building,” he added. “You can see in the picture there.”

“That's going to be poured--on schedule--for the 18th,” he said.

All of the curb and gutter work for the parking lot is complete, Ricketson said, “and they're scheduled to come in and start doing parking lot work before the month is out."

“The football field construction is well underway,” he said, “and we hope to have it grassed by the end of the month.”

Ricketson said the roofing was to begin last week.

Ricketson also told the Board that the plans for the new Instructional Support Center will be before the Watkinsville City Council at its meeting on Oct. 19.

Bus Purchases

Ricketson told the Board that Superintendent Jason Branch will ask the Board at its meeting on Monday (Oct. 17) to approve the purchase of six 84-passenger buses from Peach State Freightliner in Jefferson for a total cost of $971,666.

Peach State will deliver four of the buses in March of 2023 at a cost of $158,989 each and two in August of 2023 at a cost of $167,855 each, Ricketson said.

In response to a question from Board Member Tim Burgess, Superintendent Branch said that the purchase is “part of our normal bus replacement cycle that we try to do each year--six buses to both surplus some old and then add new as we need.”

“But this doesn't get us where we need to be for (when) we're going to more routes?” Burgess followed, referring to the opening of Dove Creek Middle School.

“I think the fleet is large enough to achieve that right now with the additional buses that we have,” Branch said. “But we may be bringing some more further recommendations to continue to ensure that we have the surplus buses needed in case one breaks down--things of that nature,” he added.

Board Member Michael Ransom noted that the prices are “a little bit higher than typical.”

Ricketson said the buses are for 84-passenger rather than the usual 78-passenger buses ordered.

The larger bus “gives us the ability to handle larger routes and larger neighborhoods as they continue to develop and gives us some flexibility in the more development of our routes as well,” Ricketson responded.

Other Reports

Susan Stancil, Chief Academics Officer for Oconee County Schools, reported to the Board at the Oct. 3 meeting that the SAT scores for students at the system's two high schools had been released.

The 488 students in the system who took the tests produced scores higher than the state average, she reported, and the scores are behind only those of students in Decatur City Schools and Forsyth County Schools, she reported.

The mean score was higher than in 2021 and 2020, but lower than in 2019, according to the data Stancil released.

North Oconee High School students earned slightly higher scores than Oconee County High School students in 2022, as had been the case in 2021 and 2020, but not in 2019.

Branch, in his Superintendent Report, also said that “North Oconee and Oconee County high schools are also named two of the top County high schools in Northeast Georgia for college preparedness and success by”

North Oconee High School has a score of 9 out of 10, according to those rankings, and Oconee County High School has a score of 8 out of 10.

“And finally, since we last met, we were named the number one county school system in Georgia by Niche, another rating Agency,” Branch said.

Oconee County Schools is rated behind Buford City Schools by Niche, but it is the top rated county school system, as Branch reported, behind Buford City Schools but ahead of Forsyth County Schools, City Schools of Decatur, and Fayette County Public Schools, in that order.


The video below is on the Oconee County Schools YouTube channel.

Branch makes his report at 4:35.

Stancil makes her report at 7:05 in the video.

Ricketson makes his report at 16:19.

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