The new schools Terrell County did not welcome

When the Minimum Foundation Program was ratified in 1951, most Georgia school systems were thrilled.

State-provided money to bring local schools to modern condition. Many systems immediately pursued the funds, eagerly conducting surveys to determine the needs and problems of their schools.

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How the Minimum Foundation Program transformed the state, Part IV

“A few years ago we had a dream that one day Brooks County would have the best school system in the state of Georgia. You boys and girls are witnessing an epoch-making event this morning.”

– Brooks County Schools Superintendent, Burney Humphreys, opening the new Brooks County High at an assembly in 1959.

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How the Minimum Foundation Program transformed the state, Part III

The Minimum Foundation Program is here for you.

Now how do you improve your schools?

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How the Minimum Foundation Program transformed the state, Part II

Georgia schools were in rough shape in the 1940s.

Schools were overcrowded, conditions were mostly bad and systems were broke.

The state’s educational performance was among the bottom in the United States and a movement was on the rise to create adequate education for citizens.

Starting in 1948, this push was referred to as the Minimum Foundation Program. It was seen as a new beginning.

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How the Minimum Foundation Program transformed the state, Part I

Note: This is the start of a series about the biggest change to ever hit Georgia public school education, the Minimum Foundation Program.

With most of the action happening in the 1950s, the Minimum Foundation Program completely reshaped school systems throughout the states, building new or adding to thousands of schools. It caused widespread consolidation of white high schools and eliminated more than 75 percent of black schools over a 10-year span, from 1949-50 to 1959-60.

How did it happen and why was it so huge?

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Hard times in Toombs

The immediate years before the Minimum Foundation Program’s introduction were pretty dire in Georgia, for both white and especially for black schools.

Few school systems had funds to keep up with growing school enrollments, which were combined with the rapidly deteriorating conditions of the buildings the students occupied. Statewide, the problem was so bad that The Atlanta Journal had a series of articles from around the state highlighting the conditions of some of the worst school buildings in the state.

Individual system reports show up now and again in their local newspapers and though most focus on white schools alone, what they reveal are interesting.

Toombs County described its woes in February 1950 in The Lyons Progress.

Ernest Taylor, one of the trustees for the Lyons district, described Lyons as a “fire hazard.”

“Parts are now rotting away,” he said. The student-teacher ratio was not terrible at 1/33, but the restroom ratio was considerably worse: Three restrooms and 16 commodes for 815 students.

Taylor also served Johnson Corner.

“We need everything in the book, including a lunch room, deep well and the building repaired,” he said.

Wells had gone dry at Center and Normantown.

It is not known if any relief came immediately for the more easily fixable issues, but Lyons was not expecting anything to be quickly accomplished for its overcrowding issues in 1951.

Sources: The Lyons Progress – Feb. 25, 1950, March 15, 1951.

School stories: Cornelia Regional

Cooperative county education has always existed in Georgia.

Children in a border community might go across county lines for convenience of travel.

When Bridgeboro closed its high school in 1953, Worth County permitted a certain district to go to Doerun in Colquitt County, instead of making the long trek to Sylvester. A large controversy ensued a decade later when Lumber City High students refused to go to Telfair County when its doors closed, preferring to simply cross the river to go to Jeff Davis.

When entire county high school populations grew small, Georgia began the first of five multi-county high schools with Tri-County in 1975.

Tri-County, however, was not the first time a county was too small to support a high school population. Twenty years earlier, several school systems collaborated with others to educate older black students.

Cornelia Regional was the most involved of these, at one time being the high school for four counties: Habersham, White, Banks and Rabun.

Currently, it is unknown when Cornelia first became that base in northeast Georgia.

White County looks to have begun sending their older students there for 1953-54, right after its new black elementary school was completed.

Banks County announced its high school students would be attending Cornelia for the 1954-55 school year. Banks had previously sent high schoolers to Johntown, located in Commerce (and not a full high school), but when Johntown combined with Bryan in Jefferson, there wasn’t enough room.

Rabun County may have been using Cornelia even earlier.

A 1950 article in The Clayton Tribune describing each of the county’s schools had words about the single black school in the county, Ivy Hill.

“No opportunity is offered for a colored child to go above the seventh grade. It is our responsibility to send these children to high school. Last fall the County Board of Education offered to pay the expenses of two students who are away at high school, but since they were enrolled in a Church School in Athens, the State Dept. of Education ruled that payment could not be legally made. Next fall plans should be made to send these children to a school outside the County to the nearest place where facilities are offered.”

Banks moved in at a time Cornelia likely did not have much room.

Habersham County was in the midst of its school building project through the Minimum Foundation Program.

Bids were called for in March 1954 for a new complete school for what was then referred to as Cornelia Colored. The school would sit on 12 acres in the northern part of the city.

Work was completed for a September 5, 1955 opening.

Cornelia Regional

Cornelia Regional, 2012

Even with so many systems together, the total black high school attendance was said to be 91. Seventy-two Habersham children were in elementary grades and eight teachers made up the entire faculty.

In 1961-62, the average daily attendance was 74.

Cornelia Regional continued as a school until 1966 when students were integrated into their respective county high schools. The building was quite possibly never used again as a regular school. In recent years, it has hosted museum exhibits about its history.

Cornelia Regional

Side view of Cornelia Regional

Cornelia was too small to attempt football, but did have basketball. It mostly played area schools, including Cleveland before it consolidated with them. Cornelia made at least three appearances in the Georgia Interscholastic Association boys state tournament and at least one in the girls tourney.

Cornelia Regional

Long view of Cornelia Regional. The sections possibly were the elementary and high school divisions.

Sources: Banks County Journal, Sept. 2, 1954; Northeast Georgian, Jan. 28, 1954, March 4, 1954, Sept. 15, 1955; The Cleveland Courier, July 17, 1953; The Clayton Tribune, June 1, 1950; Georgia Education Statistics: Public High School Data (1961-62).

School Stories is a series of current-to fairly current photos of school buildings. Some are long abandoned, some are still in use. Most will be rural or small town schools. Information is provided by newspaper archives and editions of the Georgia Educational Directory.