Barrow County opened its 10th elementary school this year. Austin Road Elementary had its first day of classes on Aug. 1, and the Rockets are hoping to be another elementary school in Barrow that exceeds Georgia statewide standards.
“We had mobile [classrooms] beginning to pile up at Yargo Elementary School, Kennedy, Bethlehem; we saw the growth, and realized we needed to get another school out of the ground,” said Joe Perno, assistant superintendent of Barrow County School.
Why It’s Newsworthy: Barrow County was forced to build the school without state funding in order to accommodate children in the area due to an increase in population.
With over 15,000 students grades PK-12 according to Barrow County School System, Barrow County has the most students in the Northeast Georgia area, which includes Clarke, Jackson, Oconee, Madison and Oglethorpe counties.
Seven thousand of the 15,000 students in the county are between pre-kindergarten and fifth grade, making up almost half of the total.
“I think we will continue to see that upward trend in enrollment continue for our area,” Perno said. “We will have to add new mobiles or additions to schools.”
The increase in population within Barrow has been of much concern to teachers and administrators, especially for children in the elementary schools right now.
Interview with Grace Stone, assistant principal at Austin Road Elementary
Austin Road is made up of kids from Bethlehem, Kennedy and Yargo elementary schools.
“If you do something, you want to do it well,” Austin Road Principal Julia Hodges said. “We want to provide the Chick-Fil-A experience in every interaction no matter what at our schools.”
Stefanie Miller, a mom of three children who attend Austin Road Elementary, said she feels things are flowing smoothly right now and the transition has been as easy as she thought could be possible.
“I think change is a little scary for anyone. We had established connections and school-day routines at their previous school that we had grown accustomed to,” Miller said. “So, thinking about what our new day would be like and whether we would like it as much was definitely a thought. From a friend’s standpoint, we were lucky to have a lot of the students from our previous school coming to the new school. I think that helped ease some of our fears of such a big change.”
The increase has led to an overpopulation of kids in other elementary schools across the county.
Barrow County did not want to wait for the state funding, which would have been available in two to three years.
“I didn’t necessarily feel like my kids’ classrooms were too overcrowded at the time, but it’s no secret that houses and neighborhoods are popping up in this area daily,” Miller said. “So, in order to keep the teacher-to-student ratio low, opening a new elementary school was a must.”
Austin Road is built and paid for by the community and the money Barrow County Board of Education had saved.
The school cost approximately $33.4 million, according to Jennifer Houston, assistant superintendent of business services for Barrow County. This money is raised through a 1% sales tax on everything in Barrow County that goes toward funding education in the county.
Along with existing funds that were available, loans were taken out by the local government that will be paid back over the next 30 years using the 1% sales tax.
Austin Road is built on the innovation campus in Winder, Georgia, which is home to other schools and facilities, including Barrow’s Arts & Sciences Academy. The innovation campus is home to a few different types of learning opportunities for students, including a STEAM program built into Austin Road, which is an education philosophy that integrates instructional approaches where any core content is experienced by the students in ways that recognize, emphasize or utilize sciences, technology, engineering, arts and mathematics.
Hodges and Stone have both been a part of new school openings in the past, both as teachers. Hodges at Haymon Morris in Barrow, and Stone at Martin Road in Hall County.
“We want to make school so exciting that kids don’t want to miss it; they want to come here,” Hodges said.
Clay Witt is a senior majoring in journalism, with a certificate in sports media and minor in sports management.
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