School system examines options to address growing student population
By Karen Sells
Representatives from Beeson, Lusk and Street Architects presented preliminary findings and concepts to Board of Education members during a called meeting Nov. 15.
“We spent a lot of time visiting schools, talking with principals and looking at the numbers,” Tony Street told board members.
Demographic research indicates the school system’s enrollment has been stable since 2006, with a slight decline in 2010. The system has experienced 1.4 percent growth annually during the last decade.
Washington County has grown at a slightly higher 1.5 percent yearly rate during the same period.
Drivers of future growth considered for the master plan are student retention; in migration and out migration; birthrate and capture; and changing political boundaries as the result of annexation.
Washington County’s projected enrollment by 2020 is 9,500-9,600 students. Growth is expected in the K-8 grades during the next 10 years, with student numbers at the high school level remaining stable.
Currently, Washington County has a higher number of students on the northern end of the county, which offers less facilities capacity. The opposite exists on the southern end, a mismatch that has to be considered in the planning process.
Another indicator that must be taken into account relates to student achievement. Research shows the longer students remain at one facility, the more successful they are. Thus, larger grade spans that reduce the number of transitions to a different school are beneficial for the students.
The most common grade level separations are K-4, 5-8 and 9-12.
Four big-picture options for Washington County were presented to school board members for consideration and feedback.
The Hybrid Option contains 10 schools and includes a mix of K-8 and 5-8 campuses. This option requires construction of two new schools and two athletic sites. Preliminary cost is $110 million.
The Small K-8 Option contains 12 schools made up of K-8 campuses. This option requires construction of three new schools and athletic enhancements. Preliminary cost is $110 million.
The Large K-8 Option contains nine schools made up of K-8 campuses. This option requires construction of five new schools. Preliminary cost is $130 million.
The Feeder Option contains eight elementary schools and four middle schools. This option divides the county into four sub-districts, each with two K-4 campuses and one 5-8 campus, and requires construction of two new schools and two school additions. Preliminary cost is $85 million.
Each option includes some renovations to older school buildings. In the case of new construction, the corresponding number of current schools must be abandoned. BLS sees no reason for another high school at this time.
None of the preliminary costs include the additional 44 percent the county would be required to pay the City of Johnson City.
Director of Schools Ron Dykes said BLS will take the questions and recommendations from the Board of Education and make a second presentation for additional input.
The final version will be provided in a joint presentation to the school board and the county commission.
“We think this is a prudent, professional way to plan,” Dykes said. “The unknown is the annexation from Johnson City.”
Dykes said continued dialogue between the city and county commissions and boards of education is important in making the best decisions.