That means dozens of schools that would’ve gone up or down in class will stay put through the 2023-24 academic year. About 110 of the GHSA’s 450-plus members changed classes in 2020.
A few GHSA members might get burned under the four-year cycle, among them Gainesville, Dunwoody and Tucker, schools that stood great chances of moving down under full reclassification this fall.
Others, such as Wheeler, Valdosta and Dublin, are likely pleased they don’t face a promotion despite enrollment increases that might’ve nudged them upward.
Only 31 GHSA public schools have experienced enrollment increases or decreases of 10% or more since 2019, when the GHSA last crunched the numbers for reclassification, according to GHSA data and recently released Georgia Department of Education figures. Only nine of those 31 stood any real chance of being reclassified this fall.
The nine are Beach (down 12%), Columbia (up 14%), Hapeville Charter (up 18%), Jackson County (up 12%), Jordan (down 10%), McNair (up 13%), Monroe Area (down 10%), Washington (up 14%) and Windsor Forest (down 10%). All are them are 2A, 3A or 4A schools.
For the other 22, it’s a moot issue. They are locked into Classes 7A with more than 2,200 students or in Class A with fewer than 550, or they are 2A schools such as Rabun County that haven’t lost enough students to land in Class A. Rabun’s enrollment is down 10% to 597 students, but that remains solidly above the Class A threshold.
The GHSA experimented with a four-year cycle from 2016-17 to 2019-20 and conducted a mid-cycle adjustment in 2018. Schools that had enrollment changes of 20% after two years were reclassified. Only about 12 schools met that criterion. No schools have seen 20% changes since the last reclassification except for a handful that remain small Class A schools.
However, it doesn’t take much to move a school up or down in full reclassification if that school’s enrollment is near the border between two classes.
For example, Wheeler dropped into 6A from 7A last year, checking in as the fifth-largest Class 6A school. Since then, the Marietta school has picked up 67 students, according to DOE data, moving it into Class 7A territory with 2,246 overall. But without full reclassification, Wheeler will remain in 6A. Wheeler won the 6A boys basketball state title last month after winning 7A in 2020.
The Wheeler boys celebrate winning the 2021 Class 6A championship over rival Kell on March 12, 2021.
Valdosta, now with 2,205 students — up by 94 — is another that might’ve jumped into 7A but remains safe. Also secure is Dublin, the 2019 Class 2A football champion that dropped into Class 1A Public last year. Dublin has added 32 students for a total of 543, on the Class 2A border, but the Irish will remain in 1A for three more football seasons.
Other schools on the borderline between classifications that have added students and might’ve gone up — but won’t — include Apalachee, Creekside, Northview and Veterans from Class 5A, Jackson County, North Oconee and Perry from 4A and Mary Persons, Oconee County and Sandy Creek from 3A.
The news is less favorable for Gainesville and Dunwoody, two Class 7A schools with enrollments that have declined enough to put them in 6A with full reclassification, but without it, that won’t happen. Gainesville’s enrollment is now 2,129, down 5% from the 2,240 in the last reclass. Dunwoody is down 6% to 2,112 from 2,278. The Wildcats haven’t had a winning football season since 2011, when they were a Class 4A school.
Tucker receiver Isaiah Raheem (7) hauls in the second of his two touchdown catches in the Tigers 29-12 win over the Southwest DeKalb Panthers on Friday, Oct. 2, 2021. (Mark Brock/For the AJC)
Then there’s Tucker, a DeKalb County school with declining numbers but stuck in a higher class. Tucker’s enrollment has dropped 9% to 1,595 from 1,747 in two years. Tucker’s plight has an ironic twist. The Tigers’ new football coach, James Thomson, came from Northview, a North Fulton school with an enrollment of 1,785. Despite nearly 200 more students than Tucker, Northview figures to remain in 5A while Tucker is destined to play 6A for three more seasons.
Woodstock, Kell and Southwest DeKalb are others that appeared ripe for going down in class. Buford and Carrollton of Class 6A also are borderline schools, although out-of-zone students, another GHSA consideration, might’ve forced them to stay up.
All this assumes that the GHSA’s executive committee in the fall puts the final stamp on the proposal to extend the current structure, which is expected. Keeping the regions and classes the same cuts the administrative workload for the GHSA’s staff and committees and for member schools that don’t have to come up with completely new schedules and games contracts in several sports. The four-year cycle also fosters more stable region rivalries, some say.
Even without full reclassification, all schools may contest their 2022-23 class and region assignments in the fall. The GHSA hasn’t indicated whether it will use the 20% criterion again to approve mid-cycle appeals.
Charting enrollment changes since 2019
Below are GHSA’s public schools by classification and ranked on their 2021 enrollment numbers as reported by the Georgia DOE. Those high in their classification might count themselves fortunate — they’ll likely stay in that class even if their numbers might’ve put them higher. Meanwhile, those low in the classifications will miss out on the chance to drop down.
For comparison, the chart also includes the 2019 enrollment numbers used for the GHSA’s previous reclassification. Each school’s 2019 figure represents an average of enrollment for spring and fall of that year. The 2021 figure is the spring count only.
Also, the GHSA’s current class assignments were based partly on the number of out-of-zone students for each school. That data is excluded here for simplicity but might explain why some schools appear to be classified higher than their enrollment alone. Other schools opted to play higher than their enrollment, and others won appeals to play lower.
Private schools are not included because their enrollment numbers are not maintained by the Georgia DOE. Only nine private schools play higher than Class A.
Schools with asterisks do not have football teams.