On March 21, members of the Board of Trustees at Deerfield-Windsor School are expected to make one of the most significant decisions in the history of Southwest Georgia's most accomplished independent school.
The choice is whether to remain a member of the Georgia Independent Schools Association or to change course and become associated with the Georgia High School Association.
The affiliation choice will impact virtually every student, parent and faculty member at the school.
Deerfield-Windsor has long been one of the most respected members of GISA. The school's academics, sports and extra-curricular achievements are unmatched in this section of the state. Because of its record of preparing students for life and higher education, it commands an annual tuition of almost $11,000 for its high school students. Still, many parents consider that a bargain for what they receive.
Truthfully, Deerfield-Windsor's board would rather not be in this position. Flash back a decade and things could not have been much better for GISA schools.
About that time, however, several independent schools in the Atlanta area began leaving GISA to seek improved competition in all areas -- sports and academics -- and more exposure.
Several private schools in Athens followed suit a few years later, but those decisions did not significantly impact Deerfield-Windsor. That changed when the private schools in Macon eyed the GHSA.
Tattnell Square and Stratford Academy just voted to move to the GHSA, joining other Macon schools First Presbyterian Day and Mount de Sales. Those four schools represented the core of Deerfield-Windsor's competition in all sports and literary events.
Because of those departures, DWS faces a new set of challenges if it remains in GISA. Few schools in Deerfield-Windsor's class are within driving distance.
However, the challenges do not disappear if DWS goes to the GHSA, which has split its Class A schools into public and private for competition purposes. Deerfield-Windsor likely would compete at the Class A level. Initially, the public and private schools were merged and competed equally.
When the private schools, which are allowed to recruit students, began winning what some considered too many states titles, public school coaches united and threatened to leave GHSA unless the schools were segregated at tournament time.
If Deerfield goes the GHSA route, there are no GHSA private schools between here and Columbus. And many of the public Class A schools do not field teams in the so-called minor sports in which DWS competes.
GHSA also does not allow eighth-graders to compete in varsity sports, which presents another challenge. For example, DWS would have had to forfeit some softball games this year if eighth-graders were ineligible.
DWS also may run into problems with having enough paid coaches in some of the sports. The Knights now utilize community coaches to fill some spots.
Deerfield's administration has surveyed parents to get input before the decision is made. The parents have been asked if they have attended events at both GISA and GHSA sites.
They also were asked if they would withdraw their children from the school if the school remained in GISA, or if it joined GHSA.
The Board of Trustees is a 29-member board which includes parents, grandparents, alumni, past parents and community leaders. A study group has been assembled to gather facts for the board. While the study group is gathering facts, it will not make a recommendation.
If DWS wants to join GHSA for the 2014-15 decision, it must make its intentions known by April 1. The vote is good for two years, but Deerfield-Windsor is looking at this decision as a more long-term commitment. Rarely do you enter a marriage of any type expecting to stay just two years.
We've touched on just a handful of the issues facing the school. This is one of those good debate topics on which you could build a solid case, regardless of your position. It will be a tough call for the school board of trustees.
-- The Albany Herald Editorial Board