GAINESVILLE – The first of four scheduled “Listening Sessions” held by the Gainesville City School System ended 30-minutes after its start because no one showed up to ask questions, make comments or share opinions.
School Superintendent Dr. Jeremy Williams, school board member Sammy Smith and several staff members sat in the media center at Mundy Mill Learning Academy, chatting about the approach of Hurricane Michael as they awaited the arrival of session attendees.
Dr. Williams finished setting up a display before the scheduled start time of the session, looked out the window at the steady rainfall and said, “I believe the attendance is going to be a little low, not just because of (the hurricane), but because you’re giving people four options to come and listen to the sessions.”
Six talking points of interest were released by the school system last week as a way of letting parents and other interested parties know what issues the school board was facing. Although the six topics weren’t intended to limit questions, Dr. Williams said he knew those six topics addressed the most often mentioned concerns of staff, faculty and students.
Williams said, “I think we’re kind of expecting to hear, ‘Where are we over crowded’, ‘Why are we overcrowded”, and ‘What can we do’.”
“The middle school is one that always pops up as a concern. We have 1800 students there this year in a school that was built for less than 1500,” Williams said. “And as large as the high school is we have about 14 instructional buildings…across ten acres and we’d like to get that a little more squared-away and closer.”
Among the options included in the six topics of discussion is the possibility of new construction, whether a dedicated 6th grade academy, second middle school and/or a second high school. But such a move presents an additional challenge according to Williams.
“Anytime you’re in the city you’re limited to real estate,” Williams explained. “And so one thing that we know we will have to do is work on either identifying land or re-arranging some of the land that we have now, to figure out what direction we are going and then make sure we have the land to match the need.”
Williams said the input received from the next three listening sessions should lead to a decision on the district’s future within the next nine months. “The vote (ESPLOST extension) is not really until two years away, but we want within the next year to have our plan squared away so that when we do go to the voters to ask for their support in the (E)SPLOST that there are no more question marks about what we have to do.”
“We have a lot of options on the table. The reason we have so many on the table is we want to know are there’s some people feel more strongly about than others, and that will help guide some of our direction in the future.”