GUYTON — The Effingham County Board of Education listened with sympathetic ears Thursday night as parents voiced their concerns about a proposal to redraw the district’s elementary school zones.
In return, the board asked for understanding as it deals with larger-than-expected enrollment growth. The district added approximately 600 students between the end of 2020-21 and the start of 2021-22.
“We feel very strongly about having small class sizes,” Superintendent Dr. Yancy Ford said during a public forum at SEES that lasted more than an hour. “The reason for that is that the kid gets more attention. They get more individualized attention and the teacher can study that kid, and that kid’s needs a lot better when you are dealing with a classroom that has 18-20 students.”
In kindergarten, the county’s student-teacher ratio has ballooned to 25-1.
“That’s not good,” Ford said.
The ratio in grades 4 and 5 is more than 25-1.
“Our fifth-grade classes have 28 students in them,” Ford said. “We don’t have some of our high school classes that are that high. So, in our elementary school where the basic foundations occur, we really need those class sizes to be a lot lower.”
Last year, the board hired more teachers in an effort to maintain the desired ratio. The problem now is that there are no open classrooms at the most crowded school, SEES.
The board approved new districts for elementary schools just two years ago. Growth in the SEES zone greatly exceeded expectations, however, forcing a return to the drawing board sooner than expected. The school currently has 1,083 students, nearly 100 above its recommended capacity.
The map draft revealed during the Dec. 8, 2021, board meeting features changes to all but the Guyton Elementary School zone. That could change as the process moves forward.
“Every family loves their school and they don’t want their child to move,” Ford said. “We know that and that’s a good thing. ... But, unfortunately, with the growth that is occurring in the county, we have no choice but to make some decisions about redistricting ...”
The population surge appears unlikely to change much in the near future. Residential building permits in the county have been trending upward since 2013.
In addition, according to Governor’s Office of Planning and Budget, Effingham County’s current population is 65,000 (estimate). It was 52,250 in 2010 and is projected to be 76,320 in 2030.
“If we continue to grow 600 students a year, there is no doubt that within five years we will need a new elementary and middle school in this district,” Ford said.
The redistricting proposal calls for 524 students currently enrolled at SEES to be distributed among Blandford, Marlow and Sand Hill elementary schools starting next fall. In addition, 68 students from Buckingham and Shellie Helmly Road who are currently designated for Marlow would be shifted to South Effingham.
These moves would allow for additional growth in Park West (208 homes), Creekside (155 homes) and Buckingham (68 homes).
Most of the affected SEES students live at Belmont Glen, which currently sends 308 students to SEES.
“We needed to move some students out of the South Effingham area and we couldn’t just find the small pockets of subdivisions that might have 10 houses or 25 houses or 30 houses,” Ford said. “We had to look at the larger subdivisions that are on the outer scale of the current district.”
The projected enrollment of each school — if all affected students moved to their new zone — would be as follows:
— South Effingham (627, a reduction from 1,084)
— Blandford (899, an increase from 809)
— Rincon (1,084, an increase from 1,001)
— Sand Hill (962, an increase from 719)
— Marlow (710, a decrease from 816)
— Ebenezer (906, an increase from 818)
— Springfield (722, an increase from 654)
— Guyton (734, unchanged)
The entire proposal and its impact on other schools can be viewed at https://www.effinghamschools.com/ecsd-redistricting?fbclid=IwAR0OgvrCea-cxYHhJ2Hr7A.
Ford received several questions and suggestions after completing his presentation. One parent asked if public input on redistricting is desired by the board.
“I think the key is that if there is a better plan that will be able to handle the growth that is coming into this school particularly — that’s what we welcome,” the superintendent said. “... We are open to looking at a different plan but the only plan that we’ve been given is, ‘We just don’t want to move our child.’ ”
With a completed 2022-23 School Choice Form, current students may opt to stay at their current school despite redistricting. For example: a second grader may choose to stay at his/her current school through the end of the fifth grade.
Families affected by redistricting who choose to keep their students at their current school must provide their own transportation.
In addition, siblings who are not yet attending school (K-5) may complete a School Choice Hardship Form for consideration based on available space.
Rising pre-K students must enroll in their zoned school after new lines are established. Pre-K is managed by Bright from the Start through the Georgia Department of Early Care and Learning.
Current pre-K students can file a hardship form to remain at their school.
“That’s something that we’ve never done with rising kindegartenders,” Ford said, “but I do feel like if they are already at the school as a pre-K student we should at least look at it before we just say, ‘No.’ ”
A recommendation for approval of a redistricting proposal is slated during the Feb. 17 board meeting. The school choice process is slated to start the next day.
Ford expressed confidence that students who who are required move to another school as a result of r