City Schools of Decatur’s (CSD) enrollment jumped 12 percent this year and school officials cited several factors for the significant increase.
We do feel like we’ve created a quality school system and people have a confidence in [it],” Superintendent Phyllis A. Edwards said.
At first, Edwards said they were concerned about the unpredicted increase in enrollment. It was because of these concerns the enrollment committee was established.
“We’ve had growth that has come from outside and the inside; we’ve had some folks coming back in from private schools to save money,” Edwards said. She also said Associate Superintendent Thomas Van Soelen did some research and found that some of the new students had come from out of state, or in some cases, out of the country.
The enrollment committee was charged with calculating the growth the school system might see over the next several years and finding ways to deal with the population increase. The committee then presented its findings at a board meeting on Jan. 10.
Currently, CSD has 3,246 students and is the smallest school system in the state of Georgia.
“One of the pieces the committee helped us with was defining the census information and looking at how things changed in Decatur,” Edwards said.
Traditionally, Edwards said, a lot of Decatur’s growth had been in the north but now the city is seeing areas farther south, such as the neighborhood of Oakhurst, increase in population.
Recently, CSD opened the 4/5 Academy, the first new school the system had built in nearly 50 years. Edwards said since Decatur is so small, there aren’t many opportunities to buy land and build new schools. The 4/5 Academy replaced Fifth Avenue Elementary School, which sat vacant at the same location for years.
“It’s always an issue for a small school system,” Edwards said. “We’ve done a lot of work with our facilities, some which were built in 1919.”
Edwards said CSD doesn’t have any “bottom-line specific” projects outlined yet but one idea proposed to deal with projected student population increases is to convert the old Westchester Elementary building, which now houses all of the system’s central office staff, into a new school.
“If we do open up Westchester we have to be [aware] of the fact that many more children may be sitting in the south side than the north side. But we believe we can structure it in a way where people can have a school choice option,” Edwards said, stating students not located in the attendance zone could attend the school.
“People think that being in a small system is easy somehow but it’s not—in a lot of different ways—because kids don’t come in nice neat bundles of 25, but we have to be able to accommodate them,” Edwards said.
Van Soelen said CSD’s enrollment has increased 31 percent since 2007. Van Soelen, a member of the enrollment committee that reports to the Decatur Board of Education, said CSD originally predicted a 6 percent increase for this year.
CSD, which became a charter system four years ago, also allows students from outside its four-mile radius to attend its schools for $6,000 a year. Van Soelen said CSD also saw a 2 percent increase in tuition students enrolling, but that was planned for. Currently the system has approximately 150 tuition students enrolled.