South Cobb community members gave a resounding “No” to a suggestion by a school board member that the district should move magnet programs from their high schools to schools in the northern end of the county to alleviate overcrowding.
Board members at Thursday’s meeting were given an earful from parents, students and teachers who say the programs are an important part of their schools. The backlash followed a suggestion made by Vice Chair Brad Wheeler that the Cobb County School District should consider relocating magnet programs from south Cobb high schools to the north as a quicker solution to addressing overcrowding.
South Cobb-area students, parents and educators for months have peppered the district with pleas to address overcrowding, maintenance and security issues at their schools. They continued their campaign at Thursday’s meeting.
Campbell High School senior Zachary Schamis, who is enrolled in the school’s International Baccalaureate program, said taking the program away from the school would “disenfranchise residents of the southern part of the county.”
“Yes, we are overcrowded, but there are solutions to this problem that don’t involve moving IB,” he said.
After the meeting, Wheeler said besides moving the magnet programs to northern schools, he had also suggested they go to two schools that are currently under-capacity: South Cobb and Kell in east Cobb.
Wheeler said he threw his comments out there just for discussion. “I’m committed to finding a solution for those schools and these communities.”
The Cobb County school district has six magnet programs that allow students who have exceptional potential to study a specialized area of interest: Campbell’s IB program; Kennesaw Mountain High School Academy of Mathematics, Science, and Technology; North Cobb School for International Studies; Pebblebrook High School Center for Excellence in the Performing Arts; South Cobb High School Academy of Research and Medical Sciences; and Wheeler High School Center for Advanced Studies in Science, Mathematics, & Technology.
Any Cobb student can submit applications to be considered for enrollment into the district’s magnet program Selections are made using rigorous criteria. The district also provides transportation for students attending those programs.
The school district reports the magnets are a popular draw for the southern schools. Enrollment at Pebblebrook stands at 2,300, with 335 students in its magnet program, according to the district. About 28 percent of magnet students are zoned to attend Pebblebrook and the rest come from other school zones. At Campbell, which has a population of 2,700 students, its IB program has 535 students. About 45 percent of its magnet students are zoned to attend Campbell.
Enrollment at other southern Cobb schools are: Osborne with about 2,000 students, and South Cobb with 1,920.
Dawn Whipple, a teacher at Pebblebrook, said she was “dismayed” by the thought that the district would consider moving that school’s magnet program, because she doesn’t believe it will solve the problem of crowding. Pebblebrook is 660 students over its capacity.
Students and other educators have previously told board members about safety and maintenance issues at Pebblebrook. They have suggested improving security with a wrought-iron fence around the five-building open campus and employing enough janitors to keep the facilities clean. Another Campbell parent said her school suffers from bathrooms that are not maintained.
“If we are one team with one goal of student success, then all of our students deserve a well-maintained and safe environment in which to learn and grow,” Whipple said.
Another Pebblebrook teacher, Gregory George, said he is proud of the Pebblebrook’s performing arts program and believes there needs to be a “sense of urgency” in addressing overcrowding, maintenance and security concerns raised by the school community.
“I will fight tooth and nail to make sure this program does not go anywhere in the county,” he said.
Board member Randy Scamihorn said the district only has so much money for construction projects. For example, North Cobb High School, one of the largest in the district with 3,000 students, “had to wait” on financing from the Special Purpose Local Option Sales Tax before overdue improvements could be made. Cobb schools use SPLOST dollars to fund construction projects for its schools and facilities.
Scamihorn added the relocation of the magnet programs proposed by vice chairman Wheeler was made in response to other board members who wanted a “quick fix” to overcrowding in South Cobb. However, he said he does not believe the idea will move forward.
Board Chairman David Chastain said it’s hard to find a solution to overcrowding that will solve the immediate problem of schools being over capacity, but the school district is in the process of working on construction plans that would include classroom additions, theater replacements and new gyms at Campbell, Pebblebrook and South Cobb high schools.
“Right now it’s just up for discussion,” he said. “There’s been no commitment to a plan yet.”
Board member Charisse Davis said she applauded the parents, students and teachers who brought their fight to the school board. Cobb County has a lot of older buildings and doesn’t have the funding it needs to quickly build new schools and renovate existing spaces. The situation, she said, “has become a perfect storm” because the growth in the Smyrna area is propelling its residents to become vocal about their schools’ plights.
She also pushed back against the suggestion of relocating the magnet programs to other parts of the county, adding it would be punishing students and parents and those schools for their own success.
“It’s certainly not the best option, whether it saves money or not,” she said. “The idea was put out there, but I really want to believe that they are not seriously considering that.”