Yet, Thursday the school board was back to wrestling over a new location for Anniston Middle School. In May, the board voted to close the school at its McClellan Boulevard location and place a new junior high at the location of Cobb Elementary School.
The good news, one worthy of applause, was that the board actually got around to approving the closure of the current middle school, something the previous board took a pass on.
The bad news is that it was only a half-measure. Shrinking enrollment has left the district with far more elementary schools than it needs. (By way of comparison, Jacksonville educates almost 900 students in one elementary school. For only 300 more students, Anniston has five elementary schools.) Yet, deep consolidation of elementary schools was put off for another day.
Now, just three months later, the board is having second thoughts on the middle school’s new location — not that all of this is bad. We applaud Donna Ross, the school board president, for expressing misgivings about relocation to the Cobb Elementary site, especially considering the acreage and facilities available on the Anniston High campus. Our suggestion is for the board to scrap its plans at Cobb and instead place the middle school on part of the Anniston High campus.
Kudos to board member Bill Robison for reminding his colleagues of their top priority — education. “What we have done, unequivocally,” Robison said Thursday, “is we have changed this thing from being academic- and system- and student-oriented to being money-oriented … rather than what is the best academic setting for the kids and to make the best use of the money.”
Or, as we put it at the outset: The school system’s problem has nothing to do with real estate. It’s a graduation rate that places Anniston near the very bottom of Alabama’s 500 high schools. It’s about building a school system that is attractive to newcomers — both businesses and residents, alike.
In fact, right-sizing down to an appropriate number of schools — two elementary schools, a junior high and a senior high seems about right — should be the easy part.
The bigger and more pressing challenge is improving the teaching that goes on inside those schools.