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‘It was most significant’

Other than having traffic jams at the new Bainbridge High School and a few minor hiccups, Decatur County School Superintendent Ralph Jones said the first day of the 2009-2010 school year went well.

And as Bainbridge High School Principal Tommie Howell said Friday, after the first day of a major systemwide reorganization, “It was an awesome day for Decatur County schools, perhaps the most significant opening day since integration in 1970.”

Jones said the reorganization plan—which entailed the opening of the new Bainbridge High School, the closing of Lillian E. Williams Elementary and West Bainbridge Middle School—is proving to be a success.

“Our reorganization has been great,” Jones said Friday afternoon. “The pre-planning has really paid off.

Part of the reorganization’s intent was to lower the number of students at the county’s five elementary schools, and Jones said three of the five elementary school’s populations decreased, which takes into account the transfer of fifth-graders to Hutto Middle School. Hutto now has all the county’s fifth- and sixth-graders, and its population Friday was 730 students, Jones said.

The approximately 200 students that had attended LEW were then zoned for West Bainbridge Elementary, and the number of students increased by only 63 at WBE, Jones said.

The system’s smallest school, Potter Street Elementary, had 364 students, which was a decrease from last year.

“It’s made me feel really good about the numbers with the reorganization,” Jones said.

Also, where the student population has increased is where it needed to—Bainbridge Middle School, which is now home to all the county’s seventh- and eighth-graders. That school’s population was 774 students.

The new high school had 1,456 students on Friday.

After crossing the huddle of the traffic jams at the various schools, Jones said everything inside the schools had gone really well, and this was achieved despite teachers losing planning time for state-mandated furloughs.

Jones said Friday was even a big day for the school lunch program at the new high school, serving the most lunches there than its director can remember.

Traffic an issue

Cars were at a standstill for more than a mile on U.S. 84 East as the new high school opened for its first day.

Gwen Godwin, a receptionist at the new high school, said she left her house at 7 a.m. and arrived just as the 8 a.m. bell marking the start of school rang.

Terry Williams was dropping off his daughter at the new school, and made it just barely.

“I cut in front of some people,” said Williams, who said he would have been stuck out there a lot longer if he hadn’t cut his way through some traffic.

Bainbridge City Councilman Luther Conyers, who works in the attendance office at BHS, was watching the traffic from his office at the main entrance.

“It will take a few days for the traffic to get adjusted,” Conyers said. “I just hope DOT (Georgia Department of Transportation) will see a need to make some type of adjustments out there before something drastic happens.”

Not having known what to expect, school administrators are adjusting the way student drivers and parents dropping off their students will be driving into the campus on Monday, Jones and Howell said.

Perhaps part of the problem on Friday was that everyone was trying to enter at the east entrance—the one farthest from Bainbridge where the guard station is.

Beginning Monday, students who drive to the new Bainbridge High School must enter the west entrance—the one closest to Bainbridge—and drive around the campus to park in the student parking lot.

After the students are in class, that gate will be locked until school is ready to let out, so security is not compromised, Howell said.

Parents who are dropping off students at BHS must enter the main entrance by the guard shack. That entrance will also be the only place visitors may enter during school hours.

“We’re trying to find a way to get our students off the highway quicker,” Howell said.

On Friday, Bainbridge Public Safety officers and Decatur County Sheriff’s deputies had slowed traffic down on U.S. 84, and had stopped highway traffic to allow for cars to enter and exit the campus.

“I can’t say enough about our local law enforcement. They came to our rescue,” said Jones, who added that he and others met with DOT officials Friday afternoon. “I think we already have some good ideas to make some changes.”

Less crowded

The hallways of the new school were less crowded, several students said after their first day at Bainbridge High School.

“It wasn’t crowded and everyone got around like they needed to be,” said senior Chazlyn Brinson.

Cody Enfinger, another senior, said the school was a lot less crowded than the other school on College Street.

Senior Jamere Hopkins said he was excited about his first day at the new school, particularly the high-tech equipment and big screen TVs.

“It’s a big change,” Hopkins said. “It’s a bigger environment and it gives us more room to move around freely.”

Special Note

Beginning Monday, students who drive to the new Bainbridge High School must enter the west entrance—the one closest to Bainbridge—and drive around the campus to park in the student parking lot. Parents who are dropping off students at BHS must enter the main entrance by the guard shack. That entrance will also be the only place visitors may enter during school hours.