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New high school excites parents, officials

By Curt Yeomans

cyeomans@news-daily.com

After 25 years in Clayton County, Riverdale resident Kesia Anderson said her family will move to a home they own in Henry County if her daughter, Jahnee Morris, cannot get into the county's new high school.

Anderson's family lives in an area which will be in the Riverdale High School attendance zone next year, but she is going to pursue the school choice option to get her daughter into the new "High School No. 9."

If they are turned down, then her daughter, currently an eighth-grader at Riverdale Middle School, will be a student at Eagle's Landing High School in McDonough next year, Anderson said.

Among the family's concerns about Riverdale High School are the age of its facilities, and gang activity which put the school's name in the media spotlight last year when several students died during various incidents of gang-related violence.

"I'm not happy with the school that would be her zoned school," Anderson said. "With Jahnee going to a new school, it would be a chance for her to be part of something groundbreaking. Her class would be setting the standard that subsequent classes would have to follow."

School system officials hosted two dozen parents and students at the first of three public comment meetings on the proposed attendance boundaries for the new high school Tuesday at Riverdale Elementary School.

The new high school, set to open in August, is projected to enroll 847 ninth- and 10th-graders. Once all grade levels are reached, the school will be able to house 1,850 students. Its first graduating class will be the Class of 2012. It will pull students from the northwest part of the county, and impact attendance zones for Jonesboro, Morrow, Mt. Zion, North Clayton and Riverdale high schools.

The new school's boundaries will be Interstate 75 in the north, Tara Boulevard in the east, Valley Hill Road in the southwest, and Camp Creek and the Fayette County-Clayton County line in the west.

High school No. 9 is located on a 155-acre piece of land behind Southern Regional Medical Center in Riverdale, on what will eventually be an extension of Garden Walk Boulevard. It will have a ninth-grade academy, and career education studios for culinary arts, biotechnical occupations, public safety and engineering.

Superintendent John Thompson said the school also will house a fully-functioning bank, and added, "We're really excited for this community to have a shot in the arm like this."

Thompson and school Principal Gary Townsend also said the school will set the tone for the county. Thompson said it will be a "no-nonsense school" where students will have to wear uniform dress, which may be in the school colors of navy blue and "old" gold.

Townsend said students will be expected to behave themselves, and parents will play a vital role in student discipline.

"Schools are not here to teach your children how to behave, and schools are not here to teach discipline to your children," he said. "They should come here with it already."

Townsend said he feels the school will set a standard for other high schools across the state because of its career education programs.

He said the school will have a "full athletic program" in its first year, but the teams will play at the junior varsity level during their inaugural seasons. A new 5,000-seat athletic stadium, which will be shared by all of the county's high schools, has been built next to the new high school.

Opening with only freshmen and sophomores upset some parents of upperclassmen in the attendance boundary. The concern seemed to lessen for those who had underclassmen in the attendance zone who automatically would be sent to the new school. Eleventh- and 12th-grades will be added when the initial students become juniors and seniors.

Riverdale resident Wendy Powell's oldest son, Joseph, will be a junior at Riverdale next year, and her younger son, Joshua, will be a freshman. She plans to apply for a waiver to send Joshua to Riverdale next year because it would be easier on her family.

"I want them both to go to High School No. 9 because I think it's going to be a great school, but realistically, that's not going to be possible, so I'm going to send both of them to Riverdale," Powell said.

Not everyone was enamored with the school facility.

Jackie Daniel, whose older daughter, Makayla, will be a junior at Riverdale next year, has a younger daughter, Ambrisha, who is slated to be a freshman at the new school. She will apply for a waiver to send both children to Riverdale.

"I'm satisfied with that school," Daniel said. "My daughter makes As there and I do not have a problem with the school at all."

Two more public meetings will be held Thursday, at 11 a.m., and 6:30 p.m., in the school system's central administration complex, located at 1058 Fifth Ave., in Jonesboro.