MARIETTA — Campbell Middle School parents are calling on Cobb Schools Superintendent Chris Ragsdale to move forward with approval of speed cameras in front of the school, installations of which are pending his signature.
The Smyrna City Council approved installation of cameras in school zones in front of three schools within city limits last month to address chronic speeding issues and protect students and parents who walk to and from the schools.
The council’s approval gave the thumbs-up to speed cameras on Spring Road by Argyle Elementary School; Concord Road by the K-2 campus of King Springs Elementary School on Brown Road; and Atlanta Road by Campbell Middle School.
Applications for installation in each school zone would have to be approved by the state after sign-offs from the city of Smyrna and the school district. But installations in each zone have so far been held up by the school district’s lack of approval.
Campbell Middle parents Hayli McQuade and Brianna Gonzalez spoke during the Cobb school board’s work session Thursday afternoon, illustrating the need for greater school zone enforcement along Atlanta Road in front of the middle school campus located about a mile and a half southwest of Cumberland Mall.
Gonzalez, a mother of three, including two Campbell Middle students, said her family lives across the street from the school and has witnessed a dramatic increase in students who walk to school over the last five years. She said she and her husband have to walk their children to the school each day to make sure they’re safe.
“We have seen terrifying close calls of children, including two of my sons, almost being hit at this intersection (Campbell and Atlanta roads),” Gonzalez said. “My husband had to jump in front of a car and slam on this lady’s hood to keep her from running over my son because she was a distracted driver.”
McQuade, mother of two Cobb students, including a Campbell sixth grader, said she expected the speed cameras to be installed in front of the middle school campus by the end of January.
McQaude said when her son started the school year, she was surprised to see many students walking and biking to Campbell Middle School each day. She said, though Atlanta Road’s speed zone is 35 mph, drivers routinely travel 55-65 mph through it.
McQuade said when she reached out to Cobb Schools Police via email to ask for additional school police officers to be placed on patrol in the speed zone, they responded there was no available officer to do so. She said the police told her they had only 55 day-shift officers to cover the 113 schools in the county, and added it was the Smyrna Police Department’s responsibility to cover the Atlanta Road speed zone.
McQuade also told the school board that she’d reached out to the city of Smyrna, and Mayor Derek Norton told her the Council approved the speed cameras in January and the final step was before installation would be Ragsdale’s signature.
“I’m here asking you for a signature, because I’m here for the kids and their safety,” she said. “I just don’t want to see us on the news with a child that’s been hit by a car, because it’s going to happen if something doesn’t happen soon.”
School district reviewing speed camera installation
Smyrna Mayor Derek Norton said he has been working with many Campbell Middle parents regarding the pending speed camera approvals in their school zone. Norton said he admired the parents’ passion for safety that he’s seen through that interaction.
Regarding the status of the camera installations, Norton said he “had a very productive conversation with Superintendent Ragsdale,” and he understands the district has a process it has to go through before final approval.
In the meantime, Norton said the city has delivered on some temporary safety improvements in the area around Campbell Middle, including by installing digital speed signs, sidewalk improvements and school zone paint on the roads.
School board member Dr. Jaha Howard, who represents Campbell Middle School, said he is working with Ragsdale to implement short-term safety solutions near the school while the district works through “differences in philosophy” with the city of Smyrna on the speed zone camera implementation.
The board member declined to comment further on what those differences were or when the school district would approve the cameras soon, directing the MDJ instead to the superintendent, who Howard said handles operations issues.
Ragsdale said the district is still reviewing the speed camera proposal to come to a conclusion on what is best for the district.
“You have heard me say it often, nothing is more important than the safety of our students and staff. We are in active discussions with the city of Smyrna to find the very best solution,” the superintendent said.
News on incoming Smyrna middle school?
In other Campbell Middle School business, McQuade, who has spoken at multiple board meetings about the need for a new middle school in Smyrna, also continued to push the district to move forward with the construction of a new school.
“Without trying to sound like a broken record, we are in desperate need of a middle school. And I know that everybody knows this and understands how the impact of being over 300 kids (over) capacity affects the daily lives of our students, teachers and administration,” she said. “Their learning environment is suffering, and Cobb County is failing our students from this perspective. I’m here today to ask for some out-of-the-box thinking.”
She added that a school takes two years or more to build, and since there has not yet been an announcement of where the new school will be placed, there needs to be a solution in the meantime.
After years of district discussion and frustration from Smyrna families, the school board approved in November the hiring of Atlanta architecture firm Stevens & Wilkinson, which will design the new Pearson Middle School in Smyrna.
According to the board’s agenda item, the hire will cost about $2 million, 5% of the total estimated construction cost. That places an estimated price tag for construction of the school at about $40.4 million.
In response to McQuade’s comments, Ragsdale told the MDJ the district will hopefully have good news for the Smyrna community soon.