ALBANY —The first of two public hearings on a proposal that would close Albany High School and utilize the building for other purposes drew a standing-room-only crowd to the Albany-Dougherty Government Building.
The proposal did not get a warm reception.
“I have looked at this plan and it is full of holes,” parent Aciallen Watts told the Dougherty County School Board. “How can you vote on this (closure) at this time without knowing exactly who will be impacted with all of this sudden change? Why is there a since of urgency to do this now?”
Last month the School Board agreed to consider a proposal recommended by Superintendent-designate Ken Dyer and staff to close and repurpose Albany High School, dividing the students who would attend AHS among the district’s three other high schools. Southside Middle School also is to be closed and repurposed for the Commodore Conyers College and Career Academy under the plan, which would establish a direct feeder system for the three high schools.
DCSS officials say that declines in student enrollment, underutilization of system facilities and increased financial challenges prompted them to develop a school consolidation and rezoning plan that results in systemwide modifications.
With its long history, the proposal to close of Albany High was expected to generate a large amount of community interest. The public hearing was conducted at the Governmental Center to accommodate the expected large crowd.
The meeting was set up as a listening lesson for board members, who did not interact with the members of the public who were making comments.
“This is an information gathering hearing,” School Board Chair Velvet Riggins told the audience. “We are transcribing your questions and comments and this document will be distributed to all board members for consideration when it comes time to vote on the proposal.”
A mixture of AHS students, alumni and a teacher spoke at the hearing.
“I don’t want to be the last class at Albany High,” 2017 Miss Albany High Kennedy Tillery said. “I’ve got a lot invested in my school and I don’t want to be sent to Monroe High and not know anybody. I don’t want to start all over again.”
AHS student Asija Kendrick quickly agreed with her classmate.
“We are like family over there,” she said. “It kind of sucks you in and makes you comfortable.”
AHS teacher Nichole Purvis then stepped up to the mic.
“A lot of our children live in uncertain environments. Albany High provides that stable environment,” Purvis said. “This whole proposal seems more about the numbers than it does the kids.”
Numbers are a significant factor in the proposal. Albany High, which has a student capacity of 1,064, had a December 2016 enrollment of 782. By comparison, Dougherty High had a capacity of 1,288 and an enrollment of 894; Monroe High had a capacity of 1,288 and an enrollment of 953, and Westover High had a capacity of 1,400 and an enrollment of 1,208.
System officials said the target is to get school capacity at 90 percent. Westover was the only school close to that, according to the December numbers, with 86 percent occupancy. Monroe was at 74 percent, Albany High at 73 percent and Dougherty at 69 percent.
The occupancy for the four high schools combined was 76 percent of capacity. If the school system had had the students in the three high schools that would remain under the proposal — Westover, Monroe and Dougherty — the combined occupancy percentage would have been at 96.5 percent last December.
“We are hear to hear your concerns,” Superintendent Butch Mosely said. “While we have been losing students, this school year we are actually gaining more than losing. We are asking you, whatever we do, for you to please support the Dougherty County School System.”
School Board Vice Chair Robert Youngblood stressed no action had been taken on the proposal.
“This is a living document, it can be accepted with no change, change it or do nothing at all,” Youngblood said of the proposal.
The second public will be conducted at noon Tuesday, also in the Governmental Center. The earliest the School Board could vote on the proposal would at May 24 regular board meeting.