The start of the 2019-20 school year at Madison City Schools can be summed up in one word: growth.
The school system is projected to kick off the year with 225 to 250 new students, compared to an increase of about 100 at the start of the 2018-19 year. That growth grew to approximately 600 new enrollees over the course of last school year, a number Superintendent Robby Parker expects to see again this year. If the trend holds true, the school system, currently at 95 percent capacity, will be close to 100 percent at every school.
“Our city is growing, but our city has always grown,” said Parker, who noted that when he arrived in 1988, 400 high school students attended Bob Jones, then the city’s only high school. Today, 4,000 students are split between the system’s two high schools. “This is my 31st year here in Madison City Schools. I’ve been here 31 years, and we’ve grown from day one, and we do have a plan.”
Citizens will head to the polls Sept. 10 to vote on a property tax increase that would allow for the addition of an elementary school and middle school, as well as expansions at both Bob Jones and James Clemens high schools. If passed, the elementary school, which could open at the earliest in the 2021-22 school year, Parker said, is projected to cost $34 million and would be constructed on Board of Education-owned land off Wall Triana Highway near the Kroger shopping center. The middle school, which wouldn’t be ready until the 2022-23 school year, is projected at $49 million, and would be located on Board of Education-owned land on Celtic Drive.
Nine new buses have been added this year, with a push to hire more drivers. Two new school resource officers have been added, bringing the total to 11 for the district. The system has also added additional mental health counselors in schools.
While growth has been a constant challenge for the system, Parker notes the tremendous opportunities for students that have accompanied the city’s population boom. Today’s students in Madison City Schools receive an education that includes world language offerings for every student in grades K-12 and the addition of two new STEAM (science, technology, engineering, arts and math) teachers who will work with fourth-grade students on subjects such as pre-med, pre-engineering and coding. This year, Bob Jones students will have the opportunity to work in a student-run branch of Redstone Federal Credit Union at the school, and both high schools are adding advanced manufacturing to course offerings.
Without the city’s growth, they are opportunities that might not have otherwise been possible.
“We’ve had growth and that allows our children to compete with anybody because of it,” Parker said. “Growth brings in a lot of things. Growth has been such a positive for Madison City Schools. I want to make that clear – growth is not a negative thing. But what I also want to make clear is that we want to continue to have a world-class education.”