A look back at the state’s largest high schools, part II

In the first part of looking back at attendance numbers of Georgia’s biggest high schools through the 1960s, it seemed like it was big cities who led the way with large student bodies.

Fast-forward a decade later and things were starting to rapidly change.

The Georgia High School began printing average daily attendance with region lists in its handbooks, starting with classification of 1978-79. Reclassification occurred every two years, which does not seem like much time for massive shifts, but in some cases, there were.

Ten years after printing the initial ADA lists, leaders were quite different. Most of the trends in 1988 are still present now.

1978-80 (Georgia High School Association handbooks)

  1. Southwest, Macon (2,635)
  2. Forest Park (1,923)
  3. Warner Robins (1,679)
  4. Griffin (1,624)
  5. Jonesboro (1,578)

Note: The GHSA was likely only using 10th-12th grade data for ADA until 1998.

What a difference a decade makes.

The Bibb County reorganization of 1970 tossed together eight high schools: three all-female, three all-male and two coed and traditionally African-American. Before the reorganization, the largest high schools had been in the central part of Macon, Lanier and A.L. Miller. Southwest did not get these students in reorganization, but did receive the Willingham and McEvoy territory, combined with students from Ballard-Hudson.

Perhaps not shockingly, Southwest was a state powerhouse in boys basketball at this time. Under the legendary Don Richardson, the squad won six state titles over a 20-year span and in 1979, went 28-0.

Forest Park had been among the largest high schools in the state at the end of the 1960s. Atlanta’s sprawl contributed to its growth, as it did with Jonesboro, another Clayton County school. Warner Robins grew rapidly during the same decade.

Griffin began its run near the top of the heap for large high schools and would remain there until a second public high school, Spalding, was built.

1980-82 (GHSA)

  1. Southwest, Macon (2,818)
  2. Parkview (2,101)
  3. Forest Park (1,833)
  4. Griffin (1,745)
  5. Walton (1,682)

For the first time, a Gwinnett County school appears on the list.

Parkview opened in 1976. Its growth was arrested in 1981 when Brookwood opened. This will not be the last appearance of a Gwinnett school.

Walton, from Cobb County, is the first top five school to come from there.

Atlanta was spreading out of the city and it was mostly spreading north.

1982-84 (GHSA)

  1. Southwest, Macon (2,433)
  2. Griffin (1,899)
  3. Walton (1,874)
  4. Forest Park (1,662)
  5. Warner Robins (1,626)

No surprises and no one new. Brookwood opened as a fairly small school in 1981, estimated ADA of 555, but it was enough to pull at the base of Parkview students, which was now listed at 1,596. Parkview later dropped below 1,200 students on the GHSA lists in the mid-1990s. That, too, did not last.

1984-86 (GHSA)

  1. Southwest, Macon (2,312)
  2. Griffin (1,842)
  3. Newton County (1,448)
  4. Warner Robins (1,425)
  5. Northside, Warner Robins (1,394)

Numbers dip for the next two classification cycles. The only metro Atlanta school on the list was Newton County, its sole appearance in the top five. Newton was the county’s lone public high school at this time, a status it entertained for another decade, until the opening of Eastside.

Northside had actually dropped from 1,600 students in the 1982-84.

1986-88 (GHSA)

  1. Southwest, Macon (2,092)
  2. Griffin (1,777)
  3. Lassiter (1,660)
  4. Walton (1,462)
  5. Evans (1,389)

This was Southwest’s final appearance as one of the state’s top five largest high schools. Macon’s now-defunct Southeast High joined the GHSA in 1988 with an initial ADA of 1,000 and obviously pulled at least some students from Southwest. In 1988, Southwest’s ADA was 1,040.

Evans made its sole appearance here and immediately saw numbers fall because of a new high school. Lakeside (Evans) opened in 1988 and nearly 900 students immediately entered its doors.

That actually made only a slight dent in Evans’ numbers, which were listed as being 909 in 1988.

Eighteen years earlier, Evans’ ADA had been 490 and as a school with grades 6-12, the entire student population was 918.

1988-90 (GHSA)

  1. Lassiter (2,390)
  2. Griffin (1,980)
  3. Walton (1,876)
  4. Dunwoody (1,843)
  5. Sprayberry (1,791)

Three schools are from Cobb County. A fourth is from Gwinnett.

Dunwoody’s numbers spiked with the addition of students from Peachtree High, which closed in 1988. In only one other reclassification period, 1998-99 (at 1,719) has Dunwoody come as close to having the this many students. By that point, the GHSA changed how it calculated average daily attendance and all schools had a significant increase. Dunwoody may be close to surpassing that number now, though, as currently it is listed as having 1,697 students.

Sprayberry was the second oldest high school on the list. It opened in 1952.

1990-92 (GHSA)

  1. Griffin (1,907)
  2. Jonesboro (1,774)
  3. Redan (1,621)
  4. Lassiter (1,589)
  5. Sprayberry (1,588)

Lassiter’s drop in students (700 between classification cycles) has no clear explanation at the moment, other than the GHSA perhaps not measuring the impact of the opening of Pope High.

Pope opened in 1987 and then was given an estimated ADA of  1,125 in 1988-90. While Cobb did cut one high school (Campbell absorbed Wills in 1989), Pope and Harrison, which opened in 1991, were tasked with lessening the major overcrowding going on in the school system.

In 1990, Cobb had had 11 public high schools. Now, it has 16.

Similarly, the GHSA declined to estimate attendance at the new (1989) Mount Zion High in Clayton County, which possibly kept Jonesboro in the top five if MZ’s impact was not being considered. In 1992, Jonesboro had an ADA of 1,230.

1992-94 (GHSA)

  1. Griffin (1,952)
  2. Brookwood (1,676)
  3. McEachern (1,671)
  4. North Cobb (1,577)
  5. Redan (1,476)

1994-96 (GHSA)

  1. Griffin (1,859)
  2. Brookwood (1,765)
  3. Lassiter (1,528)
  4. Redan (1,521)
  5. Walton (1,500)

This was Redan’s last appearance on the list. Redan’s numbers remained stabled until 2013-14 period (and currently at 1,025), but that, of course, couldn’t compare with the exponential growth in counties around DeKalb.

1996-98 (GHSA)

  1. Brookwood (1,792)
  2. Lassiter (1,711)
  3. Chattahoochee (1,709)
  4. Griffin (1,657)
  5. Walton (1,557)

Chattahoochee’s numbers swelled as north Fulton County’s did. Centennial relieved some pressure with a 1997 opening as did Northview in 2002. A third high school, Johns Creek, also opened in the old Chattahoochee attendance zone, doing so in 2009.

1998-00 (GHSA)

  1. Chattahoochee (2,760)
  2. Griffin (2,695)
  3. Harrison (2,566)
  4. Lassiter (2,536)
  5. Brookwood (2,465)

Griffin was knocked from its perch in 2000 when Spalding High opened with an estimate of 800 students.

2000-02 (GHSA)

  1. Collins Hill (2,860)
  2. Harrison (2,806)
  3. McEachern (2,694)
  4. Lassiter (2,676)
  5. Brookwood (2,651)

And we have the first appearance of Collins Hill.

A Gwinnett school opened in 1994, it immediately had an attendance of 1,247 students. It grew. There was an ADA of 1,491 in 1996 and 2,247 in 1998.

Three schools on the list are Cobb County schools and two are from Gwinnett.

2002-04 (GHSA)

  1. Collins Hill (3,484)
  2. Brookwood (2,908)
  3. Lassiter (2,802)
  4. McEachern (2,786)
  5. Chattahoochee (2,607)

In two years, Collins Hill has grown by 600 students.

Centennial, which cut into Chattahoochee’s attendance area, has 2,114 students in 2002.

2004-06 (GHSA)

  1. Collins Hill (4,089)
  2. McEachern (3,115)
  3. Brookwood (3,000)
  4. North Gwinnett (2,748)
  5. Lowndes (2,682)

Collins Hill peaks in size on GHSA lists. Mill Creek opened that year with 2,200 students, but that did little to staunch the amount of students entering school in that section of the county. North Gwinnett, in an adjoining school district, also felt the impact of the surge.

With Cobb and Gwinnett trying to keep up with high school growth, Lowndes sneaks into the top five. The Lowndes Board of Education gave heavy consideration in 2007 to building a new high school north of Valdosta (with an estimated open year of 2010), but nothing came of it.

2006-08 (GHSA)

  1. Collins Hill (3,443.5)
  2. McEachern (3,432.5)
  3. Brookwood (3,130)
  4. Kennesaw Mountain (2,940)
  5. Camden County (2,678)

Kennesaw Mountain opened in 2000 with 2,000 students, helping to relieve some of the stress of northern Cobb schools. Hillgrove (opened 2006) and Allatoona (2008) have since opened in the area. Hillgrove took much stress off McEachern as well, which now operates at 1,000 students less.

Camden County remains the lone high school in Camden.

Moderately sized through the 1980s, its growth accelerated with Kings Bay’s naval submarine base, which estimated in 1992 that its impact would mean an additional 1,000 students in the school system over the course of a decade. There do not seem to be any reports of Camden perhaps splitting its high school, which has been located in all three of its major cities (Woodbine, St. Marys and Kingsland) over the course of its history.

2008-10 (GHSA)

  1. Mill Creek (3,771.5)
  2. Collins Hill (3,643)
  3. Brookwood (3,409.5)
  4. Grayson (3,107.5)
  5. Peachtree Ridge (3,051)

Mill Creek opened in 2004 to relieve Collins Hill. Mountain View opened in 2009 to help relieve Mill Creek.

Lanier opened in 2010, Peachtree Ridge opened in 2003, Grayson in 2000 and Archer, on the east side of the county, opened in 2009.

All five of the top five were Gwinnett schools.

2010-12 (GHSA)

  1. Brookwood (3,433.5)
  2. Mill Creek (3,361 – projected)
  3. Collins Hill (3,335)
  4. Berkmar (3,208.5)
  5. Peachtree Ridge (3,152)

All five were again Gwinnett schools and the list has stayed that way. The projected figure for Mill Creek is because of Mountain View, which was projected to have 1,917 students.

2012-14 (GHSA)

  1. Mill Creek (2,766)
  2. Norcross (2,709)
  3. Brookwood (2,560)
  4. Collins Hill (2,539)
  5. Berkmar (2,512)

Note: Looks like a momentary return to three-grade ADA.

2014-16 (GHSA)

  1. Mill Creek (3,708)
  2. Norcross (3,649)
  3. Berkmar (3,376)
  4. Brookwood (3,372)
  5. Peachtree Ridge (3,204)

2016-18 (GHSA)

  1. Mill Creek (3,998)
  2. Norcross (3,753)
  3. Brookwood (3,476)
  4. Peachtree Ridge (3,201)
  5. Collins Hill (3,175)

Discovery High opened in 2015 and is currently listed with a 2,127 ADA. Gwinnett is planning to relieve high schools on the west side of the county even more.

A Gwinnett high school attendance zone map indicates that Paul Duke STEM High School will open in 2018 with another theme high school to open in the Meadowcreek area in 2019. A name has not been announced for the latter.

Gwinnett’s growth can be traced to the spread of Atlanta and a spread of students from both Atlanta/Fulton and DeKalb areas.

In 1960, the county school system had high schools at Central Gwinnett, Dacula, Duluth, Hooper-Renwick (African-American), Lilburn, North Gwinnett, South Gwinnett, West Gwinnett (which soon reverted back to the name of Norcross).

Lilburn gave ground to Berkmar in the middle of the decade and Hooper-Renwick integrated into other schools, but things began changing in the 1970s. Exponential growth, however, has only been in the past 20-25 years.

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1950s high school consolidation plans that almost made it

The 1950s were a momentous time in Georgia. Thanks to the Minimum Foundation

Elberton

Elberton High School, year unknown. Its burning brought about a union of school systems and changed building plans.

Program and the offers of state money to build desperately needed schools in Georgia, school systems were changing.

The state, wanting to upgrade white and black education, was trying to rid the small, rural high schools scattered throughout its borders and go with something more streamlined and cost effective.

Early days of this program were wild ones. The state had its beliefs about what should happen with the schools. School systems had others. Sometimes plans didn’t quite work out.

GORDON CENTRAL … 30 YEARS EARLIER

A pair of ideas were floated around Gordon County in the early 1950s. One was a total consolidation of Calhoun and the mostly small county high schools of Gordon into one building. The county and city both gave a stamp of approval to the idea in 1950.

However, in December 1951, Calhoun rejected the idea of straight consolidation. To do so would be for the city and county to merge school systems and Calhoun did not want to give up its independence. A contract, though, to bring the smallest of the schools to Calhoun, that was something they could get behind.

Calhoun city specifically mentioned Resaca, Sugar Valley, Oostanaula, Liberty, Belwood and Plainville. Yes, all of those were high schools in 1950s Gordon County. The county also boasted white high schools at Red Bud, Fairmount and Sonoraville. Those three were large enough to stand on their own. The state was OK with that plan, though the Minimum Foundation Program really would have liked to see the school boards merge.

In April 1952, though, the county voted to build a consolidated high school for Resaca, Sugar Valley, Oostanaula, Liberty, Belwood and Plainville. Fairmount, Red Bud and Sonoraville were still left alone. That plan might have come to fruition, if disaster had not struck in December of that year.

On December 15, 1952, Sonoraville’s school burned down. Suddenly, the county needed the money that might have gone to a county high school for a total school plant at Sonoraville. After that, the central high school dream began to fall apart.

Just as the 1952-53 school year was ending, Plainville asked to consolidate its high school with Calhoun. In July, Liberty practically begged to do the same. Despite space being scarce, Calhoun agreed to take on both.

When Calhoun’s needed space came through in 1956 via a new school, the remainder of the small county schools followed: Resaca, Sugar Valley, Oostanaula, Belwood and Sonoraville.

A real Gordon Central finally opened in 1985 for the county students. Red Bud and Fairmount lost their own high schools in 1991. Sonoraville, the school whose building loss perhaps ended the county high attempt of the 1950s, returned as a high school in 2005.

(The Gordon County News – Aug. 3, 1950; Oct. 9, 1950; Dec. 13, 1951; Apr. 22, 1952; Dec. 16, 1952; June 2, 1953; July 14, 1953; Nov. 22, 1956)

NORTH GWINNETT IN BUFORD, DACULA PART OF CENTRAL GWINNETT

There were three situations that would seem impossible now that came out of Gwinnett County’s school building and high school consolidation plans. Two didn’t happen. One did, albeit briefly.

West Gwinnett, a school that existed under that name from 1957-62 initially combined Norcross and Duluth. For a single school year, the two were together, until Duluth talked its way out of the situation. Norcross hung on to the West Gwinnett name for a few years more.

The other two major consolidations officially considered were: (1) Dacula to close its high school and join up with the bustling Central Gwinnett composed of Bethesda (by then a non-high school), Lilburn and Lawrenceville. And (2), North Gwinnett to be located at Buford, composed of Buford, Sugar Hill and Suwanee.

In December 1954, Gwinnett still had not chosen a site for North Gwinnett. Seven months later, it was announced that a contract that had been agreed upon between the county and Buford’s city system was null and void. The original plans were to alter and add on to Buford High.

No explanation was given by Lawrenceville’s News-Herald, but Buford balking on giving up its independence likely figured in, if it wasn’t the main reason.

Likewise, an exact explanation on when and how Dacula and Lilburn were dropped from Central Gwinnett has not yet been found. Both cities (and Duluth) were objecting to consolidation in 1952.

Lilburn lasted until 1966, when its students became part of Berkmar. Dacula remained small before booming into a very large school of its own.

(The News-Herald – Dec. 18, 1952; Dec. 17, 1954; July 7, 1955)

BARROW COUNTY HIGH

The state thought it was best for the county of Barrow to have a single white high school but with separate city and county boards of education, an agreement had to be made between them. The state heavily requested that these agreements be for 20 years. Full high schools existed at Statham (county) and Winder (city), with several ninth grade-level schools dotting the county.

At an impasse with the city in 1952 because of the length of the agreement, Barrow County made its own plans to maintain a high school. As late as August, the Barrow board decided to consolidate its county students into two sites.

Statham would get Holsenbeck students. Auburn would receive Bethlehem, County Line, Matthews and Victron. A full high school would exist at both sites, but under the single name of Barrow County High School.

The dual-town school would only be temporary, until Barrow County received state funds to build a new high school.

Registration was set for Aug. 28 with school to start Sept. 1. One the very eve of registration, the city and county came to a 20-year agreement. All county high school students (but not elementary) were welcome to attend Winder tuition-free, even those at Statham.

Statham maintained its high school and the county schools stayed the same.

The city and county eventually received funds at different times from the State School Building Authority. Anticipating full high school consolidation, Winder became Winder-Barrow in 1955. Statham closed as a high school in 1957.

(The Winder News – Aug. 21, 1952; Aug. 28, 1952)

BROOKS COUNTY HIGH AND QUITMAN HIGH AS SEPARATE ENTITIES

Brooks County and Quitman city, like many others, existed as separate school districts in the 1950s. Quitman had its own white elementary and high school, Brooks County had three white high schools at Morven, Dixie and Barwick.

Brooks County planned for a consolidated high school, buying land in January 1954 to house the building just outside Quitman on the Morven highway (GA 76). Initial reports indicated that the city was willing to join in and perhaps find some land near the present Quitman High for a new high school building.

By March 1954, the plans stalled, apparently at least partially over school location. The city wanted the school in another location because of traffic concerns. Between this and the next major squabble in late 1956, the city had built the African-American Washington Street High to replace Brooks High.

Some hope towards board consolidation took place before the November 1956 struggle over board representation. Quitman thought that having just two reps from the city were too few. Any deals were now off.

The county went ahead with plans for a consolidated high school for Barwick, Morven and Dixie, calling for bids in January 1958. A year later, the new high school was finished, but was not to be occupied until the 1959-60 school year.

Another attempt was made to combine boards through a Quitman city referendum. It was defeated soundly, 385-144. Not so fast, though. The vote wasn’t what Quitman wanted. The referendum called for a merger of the systems.

A straw vote taken the next week, which came out 288-135 in favor, provided for a temporary merger until a constitutional amendment made it permanent. The merger was made official in March 1959. Quitman would be going to the new Brooks County High. School started in the new building Aug. 31.

The merger did not just affect the white schools. Brooks County had planned for its own black high school, coincidentally located right next to the Washington Street plant. The new building also in 1959. It and the 1955 Washington building served as an elementary and high school, though rural elementaries continued to exist in Brooks.

(Quitman Free Press – Feb. 11, 1954; March 18, 1954; Nov. 29, 1956; Jan. 16, 1958; Jan. 8, 1959; Jan. 15, 1959; Jan. 22, 1959; March 19, 1959. Thomasville Times-Enterprise – Jan. 22, 1954)

CONSOLIDATION OF CARROLLTON, TEMPLE AND MOUNT ZION

When Carroll County and Carrollton city asked for a survey of their school systems in 1951, the results would set off seven years of fireworks.

The survey recommended three high schools: Villa Rica, which would include students from Temple; Bowdon and a consolidated high school of Carrollton, Whitesburg, Roopville and Mount Zion.

The protests against such a plan started immediately. Meanwhile, Carrollton started on its Minimum Foundation Foundation plans to expand Carrollton High.

In March 1953, the county board unanimously agreed to go along with beliefs of the people, that all of its rural high schools be maintained. There was some bending and flexing at a school board meeting three months later. Board representatives from Whitesburg and Mount Zion both said they understood consolidation if it meant their schools were not accredited. Georgia had recently introduced a plan that in the future, any schools with an average daily attendance under 100 would lose accreditation. Temple, Whitesburg, Roopville and Mount Zion were all under that number.

Despite the seeming progress, the county school board presented a plan to the State Board of Education in August 1953 to allow them to keep all the rural high schools. The state rejected it.

Soon, it seemed that the county was resigned to an agreement to make the three high schools plan work. Sites were examined for a new school site. But State Representative C.C. Perkins got involved with the school situation and began pushing the county to resist consolidation.

The situation grew dramatically worse in March 1955.

At a meeting with the State Board of Education in Atlanta, Perkins got into a fistfight with Dorsey Duffey, a Carroll County resident who supported consolidation.

Perkins began focusing on saving Mount Zion and building up the school. He was even able to get funds to start a football program in late 1955.

The county continued to fight against consolidation, resolving to keep all high schools in March 1957. Then in July 1957, Temple’s school burned.

How exactly the county came around to support the dissolution of the Roopville and Whitesburg schools is unknown at this time. Temple had gotten a bit of industry in the town, helping push its attendance. The football efforts at Mount Zion possibly saved it.

Central High School was finished in the fall of 1958, but with equipment not scheduled to arrive until the end of the calendar year, the county decided to wait until the 1959-60 school year to move in.

(Carroll County Georgian – March 22, 1951; Sept. 6, 1951; May 8, 1952; March 5, 1953; June 18, 1953; Aug. 20, 1953; Nov. 5, 1953; Feb. 11, 1954; March 17, 1955; Dec. 15, 1955; March 7, 1957. Carroll Times-Free Press – July 30, 1957; Sept. 16, 1958)

ELBERT COUNTY AND ELBERTON

Separate county and city school boards were not uncommon in the early 1950s. Many that did have separate boards also had rural towns with their own high schools. When trying to modernize education in the state and cut some waste, Georgia asked many of these separate systems to combine.

Some were fine with this idea, realizing that it really was for the best. Some were stubborn, hating that they would have to give up their independence. Some were Elberton and Elbert County.

Georgia wanted Elberton and Elbert to become one with their schools, but neither side was willing to agree.

In October 1952, the county announced plans for county-wide white and black high schools. Sites had already been purchased. Unlike in the cases of most other systems, Georgia refused to listen to the Elbert County requests until Elberton submitted theirs. The problem was, the city had no immediate needs and had no plans to file anytime soon.

Elbert County started negotiating with the city for a merger. After a year of talks, it seemed like they had hammered out their differences on picking board members and a superintendent. Elberton also apparently found some needs and submitted plans to the state. More than $1 million was approved for both systems. High schools were still separate.

No work had started on either system in 1954 when there was perhaps an omen of things to come.

Elberton High, formal name Central High, was severely damaged in a fire Oct. 2. Because of airtight doors, classrooms held, but repairs were extensive: plaster on all three floors had to be replaced, a new stairwell had to be constructed, there was damage to the roof, all windows (save for one) and doorways had to be replaced and the building needed to be rewired. Work was completed in a week.

Would the fire convince the systems to combine? It was a put to a vote in the general election a month later. City voters favored consolidation, but the county did not. Approval by both was needed, though the overall tally favored consolidation.

In October 1955, construction was on the immediate horizon, with bids for projects up. Then on November 7, Elberton High burned again, this time completely.

A high school had not been planned by the Elberton city system. Now one was desperately needed as students were being taught in several churches. On January 4, 1956, city citizens voted to abolish Elberton’s city school system. Elbert County and Elberton became one in July 1956.

The county high school was now a reality, but not as originally planned. Instead of being built in the county, a new school would go up on the site of the old Elberton High. Both systems had preferred that location. Similarly, the black high school site was moved to the city in June 1956, near Blackwell Memorial.

Bids were soon taken for construction and Elbert County High opened in 1957.

(The Elberton Star – Oct. 14, 1952; Nov. 14, 1952; Oct. 30, 1953; Dec. 22, 1953; Oct. 5, 1954; Oct. 29, 1954; Nov. 5, 1954; Nov. 10, 1955; Jan. 6, 1956; June 19, 1956)

The Georgia High School Basketball Project blog is a companion to the Georgia High School Basketball Project.