Members of the Columbia County Board of Education considered new graduation requirements and a new influx of students at their regular meeting on Tuesday, Dec. 14.
Superintendent Steven Flynt presented the school enrollment forecast for the 2022-2023 school year during his superintendent report. He also addressed the need to coordinate a budget to accommodate expected increases in the number of students in the district.
The forecast assessed by the school district administration projects a total increase of 605 students throughout the county schools, with about 80 more students expected in grades pre-K through fifth grade, 146 students in middle schools and the highest projected increase in high schools at 379 students.
Board Chairman David Dekle asked Flynt how accurate projections proved to be for the previous year. Flynt responded that the forecast for the previous year was “relatively close,” with margins of about 100 students.
Board member Kristi Baker asked about the source of the anticipated growth, noting the arrival of the new Amazon facility in Appling. Flynt said that about 80% of the new students were local, coming from Richmond County, with some coming from families of service members stationed at Fort Gordon, largely from Maryland.
Flynt also addressed the prospect of a proposal to the board to change graduation requirements including changes to high school graduation economics courses. He noted that the state Board of Education approved a revision to the economics curriculum on Dec. 9 to entail 51% of the curriculum to be personal financial literacy standards.
The Columbia County School District currently has a personal finance requirement. Changes to the curriculum and requirements, Flynt said, would result in 24 units required for graduation instead of 23. Flynt said that he plans to present a proposal to the board by Jan. 11 regarding how the curriculum would be distributed, whether via a one-semester course or a full-year course.
During the public participation portion of the meeting, Chris Paes addressed the board concerning countywide shortage of adequate high school wrestling facilities,. Pages cited a recent growth of wrestling programs in district schools and resulting safety issues. In his address, Paes requested a multipurpose facility that can accommodate up to 100 wrestlers daily.
Janet Duggan addressed concerns of the inclusion of critical race theory in school curriculums.
“We have great teachers that do not believe or support utilizing anti-racism or some concepts of CRT in the classroom,” said Duggan. “However, it appears that the school leadership has embraced these concepts with the professional development opportunities in the name of diversity, equity and inclusion.”
Board members also expressed condolences for the suicides of two students, one from Grovetown Middle School and one from Columbia County Alternative School, earlier this month.
“I don’t know what to say, I don’t know how to help the students,” said board member Lee Ann Meyer. “But we’ve got to figure out how to reach them, how to know who they are, how to help the parents understand what could be going through their children’s minds.”
The board also recognized the Harlem High School varsity softball team for being the 2021 State AAA third place winners.