By Adam Smith
This fall, high-school students in Madison-annexed portions of Limestone County will have a new school to call home.
Despite the wet winter, construction on the new $65 million James Clemens High School is on track, according to Principal Dr. John Green. The educator, who previously served as area superintendent for Gwinnett County Schools in Georgia, is anxiously awaiting the first day of school.
“I just recently retired from the state of Georgia and this was a chance to do some work I had never done before,” he said. “I’ve never opened a new school as a principal and I’m really excited to be a part of this.”
Though it will still be several months before the morning bell rings, the 6A school is also working toward extracurricular activities. Hundreds of parents attending a meeting last month to meet the school’s head coaches, including Bill Stewart, football; Tara Murphy, cheerleading; Nekeysha Jones, volleyball; Drew Bell, cross country; and Kate Wade, swimming and diving.
Late last year, after deliberation by the Madison City School Board and a recommendation by Superintendent Dr. Dee Fowler, a new zoning plan was approved. The board decided that students attending Liberty Middle School would feed into JCHS. The high school will alleviate overcrowding at Bob Jones High School and will hold about 2,000 students.
BJHS, 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.
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.
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.
The JCHS and LMS zone consists of the Mill Creek and Heritage Elementary school zones and includes a portion of the Columbia Elementary zone west of Balch Road. It also contains the portion of the Madison Elementary zone south of Browns Ferry Road, west of Hughes Road and north of Madison Boulevard with the exception of the Oak Stone, Park Meadow, Shelton Station, Stratford Square, Colonial Lake, Edgewater and Mountain Brook subdivisions.
Beginning this fall, seventh-graders will attend middle school based on the new secondary zoning plan. Eighth-graders affected by the changes will have the option to stay in their current school or attend their new middle school, but the option is good for one year only. Those students must start their freshman year at the high school designated by the new zoning.
Freshmen and sophomores will attend high school based on the new zoning. Juniors will be placed into high school based on the new zoning, though parents of JCHS juniors may submit a request to have children placed at BJHS.
Seniors will be placed at BJHS, though seniors in the JCHS area may request to attend that school. If there are enough seniors to populate a senior class at JCHS, the system will honor those requests. Green said a decision on a senior class should be made within the next week.
“The board and Dr. Fowler have done a phenomenal job with generating zone lines and really planning to meet the growth needs while preserving the stability at Bob Jones,” Green said. “It’s really a progressive approach that extends into the future, five, 10 and 15 years.”
Green said he’s encouraged by the amount of excitement in the community over the new school. Public informational meetings for students and parents have been well attended, he said, and he hopes parental involvement will continue when the school opens.
He’s also proud of the team of teachers hired to work at the school and said the quality of instructors in indicative of the Madison City Schools system.
“The people are what make the school and placing highly qualified and talented individuals in leadership roles is my number one goal,” he said. “We want to build a collaborative culture where we really develop that team approach.”