A good area: Bonaire High, football and the rise of Warner Robins

Houston County is seemingly perpetually growing.

The United States census gives credence to that. Starting with the 1940 census, Houston County has grown in every count. The county had 110,765 people in 2000, a growth from 89,208 in 1990. In 2010, the number was 139,900. Currently, the figure is estimated at 152,122.

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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.

A look back at the state’s largest high schools

Reclassification is months away in the Georgia High School Association, but guesses about which schools are the biggest in the state are probably fairly easy ones.

The largest will come from Gwinnett County, some just slightly smaller from Cobb County. Lowndes may push into the state’s top 10.

Collins Hill dropped jaws and raised eyebrows when it topped 4,000 students almost 15 years ago. A high school larger than the populations of some small towns, including county seats.

It may not have been the first high school in Georgia to reach that mark.

Georgia’s average daily attendance figures for schools are difficult to find prior to the late 1970s.

I have stumbled on a partial list from 1951 and have a full list from The Atlanta Constitution from 1965. I lack access to ProQuest’s Constitution archives to see if more exist.

There are three lists that popped up – 1961-62, 1967-68 and 1969-70 – labeled Public High School Data in the Georgia Government Publications archives. The box of Georgia Interscholastic Association archives housed by the Georgia High School Association has a handful of region lists with ADA numbers.

Finally, some school systems would give attendance reports at the beginning of school years. Most of those that have surfaced are from smaller systems.

Mega-sized schools were few and far between in the olden days, at least by current standards.

The Atlanta Daily World in 1936 did claim that Atlanta’s Washington High was housing nearly 4,000 students. What grades Washington taught was not mentioned. Washington was the city’s sole public black high school.

Few others would have held as many as 1,500.

A few numbers that have surfaced from before the 1960s are eye-catching.

Augusta’s Richmond Academy had 989 students at the start of the 1940-41 school year while all-girls high school Tubman enrolled 1,118. In 1952-53, The Augusta Chronicle reported that at the start of the fall term Richmond Academy (and the associated junior college) had 1,500 students. Tubman had 1,262.

Lucy Laney had 904 students in high school in October 1952. At the time, it was Augusta’s only public black high school.

Lanier was a 2,000-man school for 1952-54 reclassification, according to numbers published in The Daily Tifton Gazette. It and A.L. Miller, boys and girls high schools, respectively, were probably similarly-sized. At that time, they were the only public white high schools in Bibb County.

Soon, more cumulative lists were published. These were the largest high schools in each, with a few historical notes:

1959-60 (GIA archives)

  1. Washington, Atlanta (1,534)
  2. Howard, Atlanta (1,188)
  3. Spencer (1,164)
  4. Ballard-Hudson (1,104)
  5. Beach (1,082)

Desegregation began in 1961 and Atlanta kept opening majority black high schools in the city, but Washington consistently grew through the decade. Howard grew slightly, but by 1969-70 was falling, with an average daily attendance recorded at 858 that year. In 1976, the Atlanta school system closed Howard High. Washington lost numbers in the 1970s, but never dropped below Class AA.

1961-62 (Public High School Data, includes white and black schools)

  1. Savannah (2,008)
  2. Washington, Atlanta (1,777)
  3. Albany (1,697)
  4. Baker (1,605)
  5. Columbus (1,581)

Albany High was not at its largest in 1961-62 – it was listed at 1,824 students in 1967-68’s Public High School Data – but the school was arguably at its most powerful. Albany was the sole white high school in the city (Monroe was the only black high school) and with no big private schools to eat at its population.

In 1963, the Dougherty school district opened Dougherty High on the east side of town. As the city’s population shifted, Westover opened in 1968 on the northwest side. With Deerfield Academy opening, then Riverview Academy opening and white flight taking hold, Albany’s significance began to dwindle. Albany’s ADA was 830 in 1969-70. While stable, it ultimately wound up on the chopping block in 2017. Dougherty’s oldest high school is no more.

1966-68 (Atlanta Constitution list for GHSA reclassification from Nov. 18, 1965)

  1. Lanier (3,126)
  2. A.L. Miller (2,994)
  3. Arnold (2,761)*
  4. Jordan (2,512)
  5. Baker (2,445)

Lanier and Miller would both lose significant numbers with the creation of Mark Smith and Lasseter high schools. All three Macon girls’ high schools were GHSA members, but oddly only Miller was listed in reclassification. A.L. Miller, Lasseter and McEvoy, the latter being the other Macon girls’ high school, were only associate members of the GHSA.

While the classifications list was released in November 1965, Baker’s and Jordan’s attendance figures might have been estimated (or simply incorrect as they vary tremendously from the state-published Public High School Data figures from 1961-62). The Constitution does list the region’s newest school, Hardaway, as having 1,448 students. Baker remained one of the state’s largest high schools as of the 1967-68 Public High School Data, but its number had dropped by 600 students. Jordan was even harder hit, losing around 800 in average daily attendance.

Long associated with Columbus’ military community, Baker’s decline was steep. The GHSA’s average daily attendance was 934 when it began publishing average daily attendance data in its handbooks for 1978-79 region listings.  In 1980, the number was 607 before falling all the way to 363 in 1986-87. It recovered to 600 in 1990-91, but by then it was too late; Baker closed in 1991.

* Arnold is almost assuredly an incorrectly labeled Savannah in the reclassification region list. Though the new Windsor Forest possibly pulled from its attendance area, Public High School Data of 1967-68 lists Arnold’s average daily attendance figure as 397, with Windsor Forest at 605.

Savannah is not listed in region list (the listing is technically “Savannah Arnold” in The Constitution) and at that time, Savannah’s numbers were huge. The GHSA region list of 1966-67 has both schools in the same conference.

1966-68 (GIA archives)

  1. Ballard-Hudson (1,862)
  2. Spencer (1,353)
  3. Monroe, Albany (1,138)
  4. Carver, Columbus (1,098)
  5. Tompkins (1,066)

Note: Likely constructed during the summer of 1966, after several teams jumped to the GHSA, the ADA list did not include schools such as Washington of Atlanta, which would have been around 2,000 students. It does, however, include several Savannah schools that jumped that year.

1967-68 (Public High School Data)

  1. Washington, Atlanta (2,039)
  2. Savannah (2,017)
  3. Albany (1,824)
  4. Baker (1,811)
  5. Price (1,716)

Albany peaks in (known) attendance. Price had 500 students fewer in the 1969-70 Public High School Data. Savannah began to slide, too, in 1969-70.

1968-70 (GIA archives)

  1. Ballard-Hudson (1,559)
  2. Monroe (1,142)
  3. Central, Newnan (763)
  4. T.J. Elder (711)
  5. Fairmont (692)

The exodus had begun, in both terms of larger schools to the GHSA and integration, and by the time district play actually commenced in 1968, Ballard-Hudson was gone to the GHSA as well. When fully integrated, Washington County – with whom Elder combined – would never be higher than a Class AAA school. Fairmont’s enrollment, however, would push Griffin to being one of the state’s largest high schools.

1969-70 (Public High School Data)

  1. Washington, Atlanta (1,919)
  2. Baker (1,918)
  3. Warner Robins (1,815)
  4. Savannah (1,797)
  5. Jordan (1,762)

Warner Robins’ ascent was rapid. After opening in 1944 – high school students were sent to Bonaire when the base first opened – its growth was enough to warrant a second high school (Northside) in 1963. In 1961-62, Warner Robins High had 1,286 students. In 1969-70, the Warner Robins and Northside accounted for nearly 3,200 students.

To be continued in part II, where we jump ahead to the end of the 1970s and see the rise of much larger metro Atlanta schools.

Sources: Atlanta Daily World – Sept. 15, 1936; The Daily Tifton Gazette – Oct. 24, 1951; The Augusta Chronicle – Sept. 8, 1940, Oct. 8, 1952; The Atlanta Constitution – Nov. 18, 1965.