In preparing for updates for the Minimum Foundation Program in the 1950s, nearly all Georgia school systems prepared a survey of school needs. These alerted the systems, citizens and state as to the deficiencies within the schools.
The surveys were a massive undertaking and it took more than a decade for all the associated building projects to be completed.
These were not the first surveys ever to be done. Nearly 40 years earlier, a series of them were done by Mell L. Duggan, Georgia’s Rural School Agent.
Starting with Rabun County in 1914, for the next 10 years, Duggan was essentially a one-man crusade visiting schools and making suggestions as to how rural counties could improve the education of their children.
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.
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 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.
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.