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Concerns rising about crowding at Morrow High

By Curt Yeomans

cyeomans@news-daily.com

In the eyes of Morrow High School senior, Carl Daniel, students at the school were mislead by district officials about what was going to be done about overcrowding at the school.

Three years ago, district officials announced that a new Morrow Middle School facility was going to be built, to replace the existing building that sits only a few feet from Morrow High School. At the time, officials said the old middle school building would be converted into part of the high school. Freshmen would be housed in the former middle school, in an academy-type set up, it was explained at the time.

The intention, officials said, was to relieve space constraints at the overcrowded high school. Then, as is still the case now, rows of modular classrooms, otherwise known as trailers, sat next to Morrow High School, at the corner of Old Rex-Morrow Road and Rex Road.

This summer, as the new Morrow Middle School was about to open, district officials did an abrupt about face. They announced they were going to give the old middle school building to the Elite Scholars Academy Charter School, rather than the high school.

"We were promised the old Morrow Middle School, and we were looking forward to moving out of the trailers, only to find out that was not going to be the case, after all," said Daniel, during an address to the Clayton County Board of Education earlier this week.

Daniel's comments came at the start of a week in which school officials were moving the Elite Scholars Academy from the Eula Wilbon Ponds Perry Center for Learning, to the old middle school building. The reason given by School Superintendent Edmond Heatley, at a school board meeting on Monday, was that Elite Scholars had already outgrown its space at the Perry Center, and it, too, needed more space.

The charter school, which opened its doors last year, added a ninth-grade class this year. Next year, it will add a tenth-grade class, and an eleventh-grade class will come the year after that. Eventually, it will be a sixth- through twelfth-grade school.

"They outgrew the Perry Center this year when they added a ninth grade, and they continue to outgrow it every year," Heatley said. The superintendent said the long-term plan for Elite Scholars, however, is to eventually build its own facility, and convert the old middle school into part of the high school. He said that may be up to three years from now, however.

"We do plan to build a facility for them [Elite Scholars]. We needed time, and that [the old middle school] was the space we had," Heatley said.

But, according to Daniel, with more than 1,700 students, Morrow High School has outgrown its building, too. Even though the school does have modular classrooms, the senior said many classes are at "standing room only" levels.

"There is not adequate room for students," he said. "Some students have to stand along the walls in the classroom, and take notes, because there are not enough desks for everyone."

Daniel was not alone in raising concerns about the overcrowding issue at Morrow High School. Several other voices were heard on the issue, including one Morrow High School parent who threatened to go to the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools (SACS) about the issue.

Several of the voices that spoke up about the issue, however, belonged to school board members. Jessie Goree, Mary Baker, and Charlton Bivins, whose district includes the high school, expressed concerns about space at the school. "I love Elite Scholars, don't get me wrong, but they don't have 700-something freshmen," Baker said.

Bivins said that, while moving Elite Scholars to the area where Morrow High School, Thurgood Marshall Elementary School, and the old and new Morrow Middle Schools are located was not a bad idea, he would like to see a better solution. The school board member advocated giving the old middle school building to his "senior kids."

"I do think this is a good plan, but I really expect this school system to create a great plan," Bivins said. "The new Morrow Middle School is only about half full right now, and it has all the latest technology installed in it. With Elite Scholars being the type of school that would benefit most from that, I think the greatest plan would be if we put Elite Scholars in that middle school ...

"I would like to see some numbers on the hardships that would be created by moving Elite Scholars into Morrow Middle School's [new] building, and truly go on and give Morrow High School, the old Morrow Middle School."

In the end, however, Heatley did not relent in his plan to move Elite Scholars to the old middle school. In fact, the superintendent turned Bivins' recommendation on its head, and suggested some high school students should be moved to the new middle school.

"If we only have 300-something seniors at the high school, then maybe we should move them to [the new] middle school," Heatley said. This comment led several parents, students, bus drivers, teachers, and teacher association officials to display looks of disbelief, shake their heads, and let out quiet, nervous laughter.

Heatley did concede one thing to critics of his plan to move Elite Scholars, instead of the high school students, into the old middle school: He admitted that mistakes had been made in the planning process. "We did not do proper planning when we put all of this out there," the superintendent said.