MARIETTA — A crowd of parents, teachers and students from south Cobb schools packed the Cobb school board chambers this week to express their opposition to one board member’s suggestion to move magnet schools as a fix for overcrowding.
Groups from Campbell and Pebblebrook high schools, wearing school T-shirts, showed up to protest the suggestion, which Brad Wheeler, the board’s vice chair, brought up as a discussion item at the board’s retreat earlier this month. The groups also called for the board to address their repeated safety, maintenance and overcrowding concerns.
John Nwosu, a counselor at Garrett Middle School, said the district has displayed a “pattern of operation” that shifts resources away from areas that “need the most” to areas that “have the most.” Nwosu said the suggestion to remove magnets from some of the county’s most densely populated schools continues that pattern.
“The mere suggestion that we move thriving educational programs from the south to wealthier parts of the county is in direct opposition (to) the things that Cobb claims to stand for,” he said.
Nwosu, adding a list of maintenance issues and safety concerns from his own school in south Cobb to the public record, said the first step to solving inequity issues is for the district to accept they exist.
“If we truly believe in one team, one goal: student success, please join us as we work to make things better, or move out of the way and allow someone to serve who will,” he said, his statements punctuated with roaring applause from the audience.
Wheeler stood by his suggestion after the meeting, saying his proposal is simply a discussion item right now, but has the potential to make a real difference for some overcrowded schools. He also said he is not necessarily suggesting a move of magnets from south to north Cobb, but rather from overcrowded to under capacity schools, naming South Cobb High School as an option.
“One of my colleagues seems to think this is a hair-brain idea ... It’s not an easy fix. I threw it out there as a discussion thing,” he said. “South Cobb is right next to Pebblebrook. Everybody’s saying I want to move them to North Cobb (High School). ... I’m not picking a school. I did mention South Cobb, and I’m not against South Cobb. I’m not against Smyrna. I’m looking at what’s best for these programs (and) what’s best for these communities.”
According to 2018-19 school district enrollment estimates, Campbell is 266 students over capacity, and Pebblebrook is nearly 700 over capacity. South Cobb High School has room for 650 more students, according to the estimates.
Wheeler said he is still planning to discuss the finer details of overcrowding solutions with the south Cobb communities but doubled down on his opposition to “mega-schools.” While he understands the speakers’ passion for their programs, Wheeler added, those communities whose schools are overcrowded should make sure they realize once a magnet school begins attracting large numbers of students, it becomes difficult to stop the influx.
“These programs have been there for years, but the reality is that those programs were brought to those schools because they were underpopulated,” he said. “Now, 30 years later, we’ve got other schools that are underpopulated and (schools like Campbell and Pebblebrook) are overpopulated... I worked at a school when we had 3,750 kids. I know what that’s like.”
If the moving of magnet schools would mean schools like Campbell and Pebblebrook could see expansion money being put to better work on maintenance, safety or other issues mentioned by speakers, Wheeler said, it might be worth considering. Safety and security should be the No. 1 factor in the consideration of solutions, he said.
At the close of the meeting, board member Charisse Davis also contributed her opinion, repeating her sentiments from the original discussion:
“I said this at our board retreat, and so I will say it again, that — in regards to moving the magnet programs — we would be punishing the south part of the county, because we didn’t adequately prepare for the growth in enrollment,” Davis said.
According to Superintendent Chris Ragsdale, Campbell High School has an International Baccalaureate program, which includes 535 students, 244 of whom attend Campbell as their home school. Pebblebrook High School has a performing arts magnet school, which includes 355 students, 96 of whom attend Pebblebrook as their home school.