Oconee County Schools has received and approved a whopping 379 applications for School Choice, meaning that the student requested and was granted transfer to a different school in the system than the one assigned as a result of redistricting.
Last year, by comparison, Oconee County Schools received 84 applications and seven of those were denied because the applications were made to schools, North Oconee High School and Malcom Bridge Middle School, where no space was available.
Associate Superintendent Dallas LeDuff said, as the School Choice applications began, that all of Oconee County Schools were under capacity after redistricting in preparation for the opening of Dove Creek Middle School in August.
In January of 2018, following the most recent redistricting–for Dove Creek Elementary School–Oconee County Schools received only 73 requests for a school transfer.
Parents must provide their own transportation for students granted School Choice.
LeDuff announced the total number of applications this year and the outcome at the work session of the Board of Education on Monday.
Also at that meeting, Fred Ricketson, Director of Facilities for the school system, told the Board that the Requests for Proposals had been posted for the new Instructional Support Center and for the 12-classroom addition to Malcom Bridge Elementary School.
Malcom Bridge Elementary School, with 401 students enrolled this past fall, will see its capacity increase from 600 students at present to 750 students with the addition of the new classrooms.
In November, Oconee County Board of Education voted to approve a redistricting plan to populate the new Dove Creek Middle School and make other adjustments at the elementary school level.
|Screen Shot Board And Superintendent|
Assembled For Presentations 2/6/2023
The primary feature of that plan was division of the district that currently defines the population of Malcom Bridge Middle School into two parts, with students in the western part going to the new Dove Creek Middle School.
The district line for Oconee County Middle School was not changed.
Some changes were made in the boundary lines for the system’s elementary schools.
Most notable was the shift of students in the far northwest of the county now attending the new Dove Creek Elementary School to Malcom Bridge Elementary School.
LeDuff did not give any indication of how many of the 379 applications for School Choice were from parents of students currently in the Dove Creek Elementary School who would have been shifted to Malcom Bridge Elementary School.
LeDuff told the Board on Monday that “we issued notification to the public regarding our redistricting final lines on November 14th.”
“The following Friday, on November 18th, we issued the information about school choice and let everyone know that, if they wanted to attend the school outside of their attendance zone, that they could file that application process and submit those to us before January 20th,” LeDuff said.
“Letters of notification that everyone who had applied was accepted were sent on January 27th,” LeDuff continued. “That information was then handed over to our school leaders as well as our Teaching and Learning and Human Resources staff so they can begin preparations for next year.”
The 379 students granted School Choice represents 4.2 percent of the 9,015 projected to enroll in Oconee County Schools next school year.
According to the minutes from the Feb. 7, 2022, Board Meeting, LeDuff said Oconee County Schools had received 84 applications for School Choice that year. Seven were denied.
LeDuff said that some of the approved applications were for students whose families had purchased homes in a different school zone but preferred to remain in their current school.
On Feb. 1 of 2021, LeDuff reported that 100 transfer requests were made and all requests were granted.
The Oconee County Board of Education voted unanimously in November of 2017 to approve a redistricting plan put forward to accommodate the new Dove Creek Elementary school set to open the next academic year.
On Jan. 8 of 2018, then Chief Academic Officer Claire Buck reported receiving 73 requests for school choice.
She said that 32 of those requests were from rising 5th graders from Malcom Bridge Elementary and Rocky Branch Elementary who did not want to leave those schools for their final elementary school year.
Buck does not seem to have reported back to the Board on how many of those 73 applications were granted, based on the minutes on file at the Board of Education web site.
Draft Enrollment Projections
Through an open records request, I was able to obtain the projections Oconee County Schools used for the redistricting plan for the population of Dove Creek Middle School.
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Oconee County Elementary School is distinct, as it has only Grades 3 through 5. Nearby Oconee County Primary School has Grades 1 and 2 plus Pre K and K.
Both schools were under capacity (575 at Elementary; 550 at Primary) in October and are expected to be under capacity when school starts next year.
All of the other Elementary Schools except Malcom Bridge currently have capacities of 750, the system goal, and all had enrollments under that level in October and are projected to have enrollments under 750 when school starts in August.
Dove Creek Elementary School Enrollment is projected to decline because of the shift of students to Malcom Bridge Elementary School.
Malcom Bridge Elementary School enrollment last October was only 401, much below its 600-student capacity.
With redistricting, that number is expected to increase to 687, or 87 students over current capacity.
LeDuff did not give any indication how School Choice will affect the projected enrollments for next year.
Director of Facilities Ricketson told the Board on Monday that the Dove Creek Middle School roof is finished, the building is dried in, the football field grandstands are completed, and the septic tank is finished.
Supplies are being purchased so that planned modification at Oconee County Primary School, Oconee County Elementary School, and Oconee County High School can begin as soon as the schools release in May, he said.
Ricketson also said that the Requests for Proposal for the new Instructional Support Center on North Main Street in downtown Watkinsville and the Malcom Bridge Elementary School additions had been posted with pre-proposal meetings scheduled.
The bids will be presented to the Board in March for a decision, he said.
At the retreat held by the Board of Education on Jan. 18 at the Georgia Club, just across the county line in Barrow County, Ricketson had said that the Board had not yet decided to go forward with the Malcom Bridge Middle School additions.
“If the Board is interested in pursuing that, we would put in our application to the state this summer, in July,” he said, “for funding in FY25.”
No one responded to Ricketson’s comments about lack of a decision on the project.
The Board has not met publicly since that Jan. 18 meeting, so it is unclear when and how the Board authorized moving forward with the project.
In other action, Susan Stancil, Chief Academic Officer, told the Board that the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) requires the Georgia Department of Education to review the performance of school systems in the state in response to the federal act.
The state examined the data from Oconee County Schools “to make determinations” whether Oconee County Schools “meets requirements, needs assistance, or needs intervention,” Stancil said.
“I am pleased to report that the Division has completed a review of our data and has made the determination that OCS meets requirements,” she said.
LeDuff reported that Girls Flag Football teams at Oconee County High School and North Oconee High School completed their first seasons in December.
A total of 68 students participated, he reported, and North Oconee High Schools girls qualified for the post season.
LeDuff had cited the demands of this program at the retreat in January as one reason for Oconee County schools needing to increase the fees it charges the Oconee County Department of Parks and Recreation Department for use of school sports fields.
After meeting in a closed executive session, the Board on Monday accepted the “separation” of Duane Peterson as Director of Transportation, with the effective date to be determined.
The Board also approved the transfer of 26 teachers and others, including a bookkeeper, a secretary, and a custodian, from Malcom Bridge Middle School to Dove Creek Middle School.
The video below is from the YouTube Channel of the Board of Education.
If the video does not appear below because Oconee County Schools blocked its use here, follow the link provided to the video on the school system YouTube channel.
As is usual, much of the Board meeting was devoted to recognitions.
Stancil made her comments on the Individual with Disabilities Education Act at 18:36 in the video.
LeDuff made his comments to the Board starting at 20:43 in the video.