ATLANTA — Declining enrollment and increasing vacancies in elementary and middle school classrooms is prompting Fulton County Schools officials to get creative about how education will look in the future.
Enrollment projections for North Fulton schools show more than 9,000 available seats in kindergarten through 8th grade next year, with few signs of growth through the decade.
School officials say they hope innovative options for education may draw new families into the region and lure private school students back to public schools.
One idea with strong support from administrators are kindergarten through 8th grade academies focused on STEAM (science, technology, engineering, arts and math). These academies could be located within existing school buildings with infrastructure already in place.
In the North Fulton region, one potential opportunity for a K-8 academy is at Holcomb Bridge Middle School in Roswell.
“The addition of K-8 academies to our portfolio of schools will add a high quality choice for our parents,” said Cliff Jones, chief academic officer for Fulton County Schools. “We know [this model] is an approach that improves student achievement and also fits within our overall commitment to the middle school redesign.”
The idea is not new for the district. Two years ago, district officials recommended closing a low-enrollment elementary school and re-opening it as a K-8 academy in the South Fulton region.
The community and ultimately the Fulton School Board rejected the model, citing the promise that a new elementary school would be built in the community.
Today, armed with more data and increasing community interest, especially in the North Fulton region, district officials are now committed to the concept.
“This effort aims to create schools with intentionally focused academics, stronger relationships both in the school and outside the building and with a greater sense of belonging for our students, for our families and for our staff,” Jones said during a recent meeting of the Fulton County Board of Education.
A tested education approach
The K-8 academy format has long been the preferred model for private schools and charter schools. In North Fulton, both Amana Academy and FAST (Fulton Academy of Science and Technology) district charter schools offer kindergarten through eighth grade in the same facility.
The opening last year of Innovation Academy in downtown Alpharetta by the Fulton County School System provides the natural “feeder” high school for students at FAST to have the STEAM curriculum from kindergarten through graduation.
Jones said the goal is to provide that educational option for all students in the district. He noted superintendent Mike Looney has also been a strong advocate for K-8 academies since coming to the district in 2019.
The Fulton Schools’ capital program for the next five years is looking at converting Holcomb Bridge middle school into a K-8 academy and leaving underpopulated Haynes Bridge Middle as is for the time being. The other option is to replace both schools with one new middle school and redraw attendance zones.
Jones noted the wait list to enroll in area charter schools shows parents support the concept K-8 academy concept.
“Fulton Schools has an opportunity to solve one of the biggest hindrances for districts that need a [conversation] about our capital and facility plan,” Jones said. “We have wait lists at our K-8 charters…and parents who are asking for this model.”
Fulton County Schools officials are hosting a series of community forums in the coming months on the district’s capital plans through 2027. The issue of K-8 academies, as well as redistricting, will be the focus of these discussions.