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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An education in cotton picking

White schools had once upon a time adjusted their schedules according to farming interests – rural schools in Murray and Gordon counties were rarities in that they were scheduling education around crops into the 1950s – but it was a practice that likely did not completely end across the state for black schools until total integration.

Counties handled the farming requirements in different ways. Some added the non-traditional Saturday to the calendars while others essentially went to a year-round schedule.

While black residents were rarely vocal in print about any misgivings they had about any part of the inequalities going on in their school systems, a letter in Waynesboro proved that not everyone was happy about the sacrifices the schools had to make.

In 1952, an article announcing the black school calendar caused an unnamed black reader to write editor Roy Chalker of The True Citizen. The writer was upset that the schools operated to serve farmers, who frequently employed black citizens … and their children to harvest the crops. Printed August 21, the letter said:

“Dear Mr. Chalker:

The article in a recent issue concerning the opening of Burke County schools is written every year around this time.

After reading the article, I regretted to think those who make school laws could be so hard as to demand that Negro teachers work on Saturdays, so as to make up time because they are not allowed to open on time. It seems a denial of human rights and liberties.

The reason, of course, is it serves the larger farm interests, in that crops are gathered by school children. It is a deplorable situation, which can be helped only when the hearts of the people who make these laws become clean. Until that time, the Negro children of Burke County, as well as the teachers, will suffer.

Another factor which deserves consideration is that teachers, in all probability, will be there on Saturdays disgusted and disheartened at the thought of being robbed of their weekend’s rest, which they most certainly deserve.

These teachers will have no spirit to do good jobs, thereby crippling the school children and retarding progressive education.

Very truly yours,
A Negro Reader”

A week later, Chalker responded in an editorial of his own. His tone did not seem overly sympathetic.

“It is perhaps unfortunate that “cotton picking” time does come in conflict with the first few days of school,” he said, “but we believe that the best possible arrangement has been to accommodate all concerned by the school officials. Teachers and students make up the time by attending on Saturdays for eleven out of the 36 Saturdays of the term.”

Those involved in picking cotton should consider themselves lucky, even.

Chalker said, “The contention of the Negro teacher that the arrangement is designed to “serve the large farm interests” is without foundation. Especially is this so when the farmers are paying $2. to $3. per hundred for cotton picking, and a good picker makes from $5 to $10 a day.”

Further, he said, the teachers should not whine. It would be nice for them to have weekends, but the schools do not exist for them; they exist for the students.

The year before the letter to Chalker, Burke had had to postpone the black school openings three weeks to September 24 because of a large cotton crop. Saturday classes again made up the time.

The practice was not limited to Burke County.

The Sparta Ishmaelite, in announcing that black schools were taking a two-week break September 12, 1963, said the local board of education figured it best. It was either that or heavy absenteeism.

In Johnson County, even two weeks were too short.

The break in 1955 ended after that period, but superintendent Bessie B. Martin said that while city school Dock Kemp was only missing 80 of its regular enrollment, that as many as 800-1,000 were still out across the county.

During a visit to Spring Hill School in 1950 as part of a survey of The Bulloch Herald, the paper noted that only 12 of 32 enrolled were present. Teacher Lula Lockwood said they were probably helping with cotton. Spring Hill was a typical African-American school of its era in that it was one room, but it lacked a proper schoolhouse, being held in the church by that name. Instead of desks, children sat in church pews. No buses served the school, meaning that a few children were walking as much as eight miles per day to attend.

During the same edition of The Herald, the response of “chopping cotton” was also given in reply to a high absentee rate at St. Paul School. One of its students walked six miles each way to attend school.

Dooly County had a slightly different solution in regards to its farming black students.

The September 20, 1956 edition of The Vienna News reported that like many systems, Dooly had delayed school openings for its rural black schools; the city-based Vienna High and Industrial opened September 3, but the others began September 17. Additionally, the News said, “the schedule has been set from 8 a.m. to 1:30 p.m. so that cotton pickers can help on the farm.” This was expected to last several weeks.

Other counties pushed the start of school forwards instead of back.

Elbert County in 1951 opened its county schools – Elberton was a separate system at the time – on July 30. The term would last six weeks or two months. After the cotton was harvested, the winter term would begin. This system was said to be in place for years. Walton County also reported split terms in 1953, as did Madison County in 1954 (The Madisonian on July 15, 1954, reported the session was to start July 19 and to last two months). Oglethorpe County split sessions as well in the 1950s.

Pike County’s schools recessed September 6, 1955 for what The Pike County Journal described as “cotton picking vacation.” Their delay lasted even longer than usual as the county was finishing its building program under the Minimum Foundation Program and State School Building Authority. The buildings were finished, but equipment was not in yet, delaying the schools’ reopening to November 7. If the equipment was still not in, students would briefly have to return to their old schools.

Some of the split sessions and delays seemed to die out with the consolidation of rural schools during the Minimum Foundation Program, but a few systems were still altering their black schools’ calendar well in the 1960s.

Hancock County was still using delays into the mid-1960s. Decatur County, which was battling its rural white schools in an attempt at a county-wide high school during the decade, faced more problems in 1964.

The African-American Faceville Elementary burned March 28, 1964. Bainbridge’s Post-Searchlight on April 9 said that the students were “being transported to other schools in the vicinity which have the same calendar months. The calendar year for the colored schools in that section of the county is set up so that these students are released two weeks prior to those in other areas in the county.”

Faceville’s students were split amongst Fowlstown, Attapulgus Elementary and Attapulgus-Mount Moriah High. The school would not be rebuilt.

Sources: The True Citizen – Sept. 20, 1951, Aug. 21, 1952, Aug. 28, 1952; The Sparta Ishmaelite – Sept. 12, 1963; The Wrightsville Headlight – Oct. 13, 1955; The Bulloch Herald – May 25, 1950; The Vienna News – Sept. 20, 1956; The Elberton Star – July 27, 1951; The Madisonian – July 15, 1954; The Pike County Journal – Oct. 27, 1955; Post-Searchlight – April 9, 1964.