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Athens City Schools under construction

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A committee meeting dedicated to discussing potential grade reconfigurations was skewed by the public in defense of the Athens Middle School.

The Jan. 10 and 11 meetings were led by the Athens City School District Facilities Steering Committee. The Athens City School Board charged the committee with studying the schools’ current layouts and creating options for redesign. The committee presented three options at the meeting.

The first option includes one school for prekindergarten through fifth grade, one school for sixth through eighth grades and a third for ninth through 12th grade. This option received apathetic responses. The second option, which received mostly positive feedback, lays out the district into four different schools: one for prekindergarten through second grade, third through fifth grade, sixth through eighth and nine through 12th grade.

Although parents approved of this as a potential solution, they also proposed a grade configuration of six through nine into the mix. The third option produced by the committee lists two schools for prekindergarten through fifth grade, one for grades sixth through eighth and one for grades nine through 12th grade.

Much to the public’s confusion, these options are not fixed. The meeting was dedicated to receiving feedback from all participants, both committee and the public, in order to create more options for approval. The goal, as stated by Superintendent Thomas Gibbs, is to have the Master Plan decided by April so funding for the plan can be placed on the 2017 ballot as a levy.

“They (Board of Education) would like to have a bond issue on the ballot in the election of 2017, because we have an open election,” Gibbs said. “There is no other levy on the ballot this year, so it would be timely.”

As parents leaned against bookshelves and sat in small plastic chairs while listening to Gibbs, there was a disruption in the conversation. When discussing the configuration options in meetings, the middle school was mentioned and recorded in the committee minutes. Just what was said about the beloved middle school, which the Athens taxpayers worked so hard for 20 years ago? It would be displaced and moved closer to the high school.

This concept was not taken lightly. The discussion stopped until what was said about the middle school became transparent.

Committee members heavily emphasized that no specific building was discussed at the meetings, just concepts for how to lay out the school district. The decision on building locale, restructuring or possible demolition will be addressed in future conversations.

While the school board has the final say regarding building structures and facilities, the discussion is just beginning. In the coming months, more meetings will be held to formulate the Master Plan.

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