Dr. Sandra Carraway is taking the reins of the Columbia County School System during a time of rapid growth and expansion.
“I’m excited and honored to serve our community and teachers and students,” Carraway said.
As the system’s new superintendent, Carraway is overseeing the opening of two new schools – Evans Elementary and Columbia Middle schools – and the move of more pupils to new locations.
“Just the new building and the changes, those things alone make this school year exciting, not to mention all the instructional changes and things that will happen in the educational program that are good for students,”
Carraway and Associate Superintendent Dr. Jeff Carney toured the new Evans Elementary School building, which is expected to open with 684 pupils.
“It is gorgeous,” Carraway said of the oak paneling in the foyer and the staircase handcrafted by Alan Drake, owner of Coastal Cabinet Installers of Swainesboro, Ga. “It’s a wonderful environment for kids. It’s just a wonderful learning environment.”
The county’s third two-story school replaces the former school, which opened in 1955, on Gibbs Road. The older building will house the Columbia County Alternative School.
The new schools are equipped with security cameras, interactive boards and computer labs. Evans Elementary also features 51 classrooms, dedicated outdoor space that includes garden and grass areas and a balcony, and lots of large windows.
“These kids are so lucky,” Carney said. “Can you imagine kids’ faces when they walk into something like this? They’ll be in awe.”
The Evans Elementary population is projected to grow by 229 pupils, most of whom are coming from the former Belair Elementary School, which closed at the end of the last school year. Pupils in the Belair school district will be split between Evans Elementary and Martinez Elementary, which will operate out of the former Belair school building while a new Martinez Elementary school is being constructed on the Flowing Wells Road site.
Carraway said she expects school to begin on Aug. 6 with 24,750 students, about 420 more than last year.
“It’s challenging, but it’s wonderful,” Carraway said of running a school system serving nearly 25,000 students with 31 schools, 3,000 teachers and several departments in different locations.
“With the growth out at Fort Gordon, that has definitely made projections more challenging and has certainly contributed to the growth in the Greenbrier and Grovetown areas,” Carraway said.
The new Columbia Middle, on William few Parkway, is expected to open with nearly 1,000 students, making it the county’s largest middle school. The former school will be used as offices.
New middle school zones relieved overcrowding at Grovetown Middle School. If growth continues at Grovetown Middle, more classrooms will also be added to that school. To deal with the extra students at Evans Middle, 12 classrooms were added onto the school over the summer.
The new schools are paid for by one-cent sales tax funds.
School system officials are planning to continue expanding to accommodate growth and replace older schools. Harlem Middle, North Harlem Elementary, North Columbia Elementary, Grovetown Elementary and South Columbia Elementary are on the list to be replaced next, but construction of them all will likely take several years.
“We have some exciting, challenging times ahead,” Carraway said. “All the things that are happening are so good for students and our community.”
Carraway said one of the newest initiatives is the Bring Your Own Technology program. It will involving more technology in the classrooms.
“We just feel like students today are plugged into technology, it’s part of their lives,” Carraway said. “For us to not capitalize on that in the classroom environment doesn’t make sense.
“There’s just so much to be done with technology today that we’re missing out on. It plays a key part of a child’s life.”
Those programs will be gradually integrated into classrooms beginning in the high schools.