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Posted: May 17, 2011 6:01 a.m.

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It's time to forget about school size

Attention Georgia High School Association executive committee, I have a solution for your reclassification problem. It's called the Briggs Plan. Just make regions based strictly on school location.

With the way transportations have skyrocketed the past few years and the annual decrease in state funding for education, school districts are saddled with more financial woes than solutions. Take Newton County's schools for instance. Here at home we are slashing teaching positions and instituting a seven-period day to make up for it. This is on top of the increased health care costs, decrease in pay by virtue of furlough days and salary freezes teachers have incurred over the past two years.

Education and athletics in Georgia are always changing. Two years ago, the three high schools were put on a four-period block schedule instead of a traditional six-period day in attempt to give failing students an opportunity to make up a class or two during the school year. Instead of six classes per year (one full year of six classes split into two semesters), the three schools went to two semesters of four classes. It made sense. A student messes around and fails tenth-grade English their first semester, they can take it again the next semester instead of taking summer school, which the county doesn't offer anymore because it wasn't free and nobody wanted to pay for it. But whether or not it's helped with the county's graduation rate is questionable. Fast forward to the 2011-12 school year and everything is going to change again.

The decision to go to a seven-period day was made to save money. It will take fewer teachers to teach fewer classes. The disadvantage of course will be the increase of class sizes, begging the question, is this move any good for students or teachers? That's an argument for another day. My point is, the county has a serious budget shortfall and it's doing what it is necessary to continue to operate. It's actually a positive by-product for the good students and teachers really because no matter how much you give, some kids aren't ever going to take advantage of the opportunity. So in a way, the budget will squeeze out some of the bad element and hopefully poor teachers too. And with so many financial problems, the NCSS is in the same boat as many other districts and spending money on transportation for athletics is just another cost it can't afford to see increase. The problem is we can't do anything about gas prices.

Supposedly the GHSA was also thinking about this when it came up with its new reclassification plan. But when I looked at the proposed regions, I still question why our schools are in regions that are spread so far apart. For instance, the proposed plan puts Alcovy and Newton in a region with Newnan and East Coweta while Eastside would have to travel as far as Gainesville, Chestatee and (gasp) Lumpkin County, in its proposed region. You read that right. Lumpkin County — 100 miles away. Chestatee is 84 miles away and both schools require a trip around I-285 and up GA 400 to avoid a maddening trek through back roads. How is that helping with our county's transportation costs?

For us, the solution is right in our backyard. The GHSA could lump Alcovy (Class AAAA), Newton (5A) and Eastside (3A) in a region with Heritage (4A), Rockdale (4A), Salem (4A), Jackson (3A), Loganville (4A). The furthest anyone would have to travel would be about 35 miles. Of course, The Briggs Plan would mean some Class AAA schools would be in a region with Class AAAAA schools (that's why I didn't throw Social Circle in there/to the wolves). But with the way athletes switch schools to play for various programs throughout the states, does it really matter?

The simple answer is no. As most of you know, Eastside, Newton and Alcovy beat each other all the time when the various sports teams get together. Depending on sport, each school has one of the others number. The same can be said about the Rockdale County schools.

Transportation costs have already put a strain on the JV programs. Many of the schools our county's teams play are in Clayton and DeKalb counties and their policy is JV teams don't travel. Newton basketball for instance didn't even play 10 JV games this year. For the most part, the three county schools played Rockdale County's teams and each other. That doesn't exactly help build a program.

So many people in Georgia get caught up in school size but what it comes down to is program quality. How else can you explain how Eastside football and softball can beat Class AAAA and AAAAA competition or Alcovy baseball can hang with Class AAAAA teams? One of the best basketball programs in the state is Columbia, a Class AAA school, and St. Pius X is a volleyball and softball powerhouse and it's also in the state's third largest classification. With a lot of the smaller school being private, they get premier athletes legally anyway. Teams like Wesleyan and Marist can compete with any classification. Not to mention, elite athletes, which are often times children of former professional athletes, go wherever they want because the parents can afford to rent an apartment in a district line to appease the GHSA's eligibility requirements.

While we're at it, let's just lump the six schools in Rockdale and Newton together. Sound crazy? It's what the GHSA does with Valdosta. Valdosta is in a weak six-team region. Why can't they be in the same region as Camden and Brunswick. Those schools are about 120 miles apart with a much easier drive. The region that encompass those schools have five teams each in it, meaning one team won't make the playoffs instead of four to seven. How is that fair?

Under the Briggs Plan, schools would be in the same regions based strictly on location. I'd get out a compass and draw a 50-mile radius around every school and start counting until we got to eight, then go from there. Schools would be forced to shed the school size mindset and everyone involved would have to work a little harder — athletes and coaches.

The argument for classifications by school size has always been based on logic. More students in theory means a larger talent pool, right? If that's the case, why has the tallest basketball player not played at Newton the past five years? And like I said, if teams recruit (or players go to out-of-district schools by means off using illegitimate, legitimate addresses), you've essentially negated logic. That's why the Briggs Plan is the most logical of all. It forces teams to get better and puts and emphasis on coaching and athlete commitment. It also saves the NCSS a ton of money.

Sounds to me like a good plan.


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