The News Courier in Athens, Alabama

Local News

December 7, 2011

Madison school board to decide zoning, grades for new school

— The new James Clemens High School in Madison-annexed Limestone County is on track to open next fall, but ages of students attending the school and where they live is still unknown.

At a public meeting held Thursday, Madison City Schools Superintendent Dr. Dee Fowler presented an analysis of student populations at all city schools, all of which have seen dramatic increases over the last several years.

Bob Jones High School, the most populated high school in the state, is almost literally bursting at the seams. The school, which has a student capacity of 2,000 students in grades 10-12, currently has more than 2,300. A projection analysis compiled by RKR Planning Services, LLC, found the school would have 2,285 this school year.

The addition of JCHS could help reduce the population at BJHS, but board members have yet to decide which grades would attend the school. The board has also been given three residential zoning proposals to consider that could affect other schools in the system, including an overcrowded Liberty Middle School.

The school board could decide to make the school a ninth through 10th-grade institution and give students who are juniors or seniors the choice to attend. Fowler did not want to comment on the best-case scenario ahead of the board’s decision, set to be released at its Dec. 12 board meeting.

“Clemens will allow us to get ninth grade back into the high school and get a reasonable number of children at Bob Jones,” Fowler said. “The board may go one way with just ninth through 10th or another way with ninth through 12th. Either way, Bob Jones will see some immediate relief; help is on the way.”

The building of JCHS will also be important for future planning, as school officials are expected to see the city’s population continue to grow. Madison currently has 42,938 residents, according to the 2010 Census.

In addition to BJHS and the future JCHS, Madison has seven elementary schools and two middle schools. In school year 2006-2007, Madison had 4,115 students in grades K-6. The RKR analysis projected 4,490 students this year and 5,283 by school year 2021-2022.

Grades seven through eight were projected to grow more slowly, beginning with 1,306 students in school year 2006-2007. RKR’s projection for this school year was 1,381 and 1,812 by the 2021-2022 school year.

Grades nine through 12 showed larger gains, beginning with 2,608 students in 2006-2007. RKR estimated there were 3,087 students in those grades this year and projected there would be 3,742 by 2021-2022.

Of the three schools in the system, only Discovery Middle School, Heritage Elementary and West Madison Elementary are running at less than 80 percent building capacity. Columbia Elementary and Mill Creek Elementary are at 96 percent and 92 percent capacity, respectively.

BJHS is at 114 percent capacity and Liberty Middle School is at 123 percent capacity. The addition of JCHS would give the school system two facilities with a 2,000-student capacity and bring the building capacity to 77 percent at both schools. Moving ninth-grade students to JCHS from the overcrowded Liberty Middle School would also bring middle-school capacity down to 62 percent.

Should JCHS be a ninth through 10th-grade school, RKR estimated its student population to be 684 students. The population of BJHS, however, would remain virtually unchanged at 2,411 students. A ninth through 11th-grade school would give JCHS a student population of 857 students and decrease BJHS’s population slightly to 2,238 students.

If the board decides to make JCHS a 9-12 school, RKR estimated it would have a population of 1,022 and leave BJHS with a population of 2,073. Liberty Middle School’s population could drop significantly from more than 1,200 down to 667 students. Discovery Middle would experience a lesser drop from 946 to 852 students.

Even with a reduced population of a little more than 2,000 students, BJHS would remain the largest 6A school in the state. The second-largest 6A school — Sparkman High School in Huntsville — has a little more than 1,900 students, according to the Alabama High School Athletic Association.

No matter what the school board decides in regard to student population or zoning, Fowler said the addition of JCHS is generating excitement among school officials, parents and students.

“I think the folks in Limestone County are excited because Madison City Schools and Clemens is bringing (a new option),” Fowler said. “We’re under budget (on school construction), on time and everything is looking good. We plan on having class there this coming school year.”

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