The four Athens elementary schools could eventually be merged into one large "Mega School," but nearly 400 Athens residents are petitioning the city to scrap the plan and keep the schools separated.
The petition, started by the group “Small Schools for ACSD,” had 378 signatures as of Wednesday afternoon. The petition states the consolidation of schools could have a negative impact both in and out of the classroom.
Signs being distributed throughout town refer to the proposed building as a “Mega School” and say “all kids deserve small schools.”
“It is our belief that disposing of our cherished, successful small schools will negatively impact our students and our communities with consequences that extend far beyond the classroom,” the petition reads.
The Athens City School Board formed the committee in August.
Athens City Schools Superintendent Tom Gibbs said all three options involve a single middle school and a single high school, which is what the district already has, and said the contention lies in the consolidation of the elementary schools. The current top-three options for elementary schools include a 1,300 student campus, two 650 student campuses, or two separate campuses for pre-K through second grade and third through fifth grade.
Gibbs said although the new campuses would house more students than the current elementary schools, the classroom sizes would be more consistent and, at times, smaller.
“The class size could be more balanced than what we have now, because what we have now with the four separate facilities is we have these variations in student attendance patterns,” Gibbs said. “One year, we’ll have a larger group than another, so if you only have three classes at a grade level, one year you have 60 kids and the next you have 75. Your class sizes vary pretty significantly.”
Anne Morrison, whose son is in second grade at Athens East Elementary school, said small grade sizes, not classroom sizes, were favorable in her opinion.
“I prefer the small schools because it allows kids to get to know each other better and develop a better rapport with their classmates,” Morrison said. “All the first graders get to know each other, the second graders get to know each other, when you have only one fourth as many in their (graduating) class as there would be in a larger, consolidated school.”
Athens Mayor Steve Patterson, who represents the City of Athens on the committee, said the consolidation could potentially improve equity in the city.
“There’s a sense out there that the educational experience at the different schools can be influenced by one's socioeconomic status,” Patterson said. “Combining them together mitigates that to some degree”
Morrison said she hopes the petition will catch the attention of board members when presented.
“I think it’ll get their attention,” she said. “If nothing else, you need public support to pass the required tax levy.”
Gibbs said the petition has not been presented to the board yet, but it would be taken into consideration if it is presented.
“The board is going to take their time to really investigate, and if at some point during that time the group makes an official presentation to the board in regards to a petition of that nature, I’m certain that the board will consider that information as they’re making their decision,” Gibbs said.