Cobb parents react to planned conversion of their school to junior high facility
by Paige Rentz
prentz@annistonstar.com
May 17, 2013 | 5561 views |  0 comments | 21 21 recommendations | email to a friend | print
The plan in the next couple of years or so is for Cobb Elementary School to assume a new role and take in junior high aged children from the middle school, which will close. (Anniston Star photo by Stephen Gross)
The plan in the next couple of years or so is for Cobb Elementary School to assume a new role and take in junior high aged children from the middle school, which will close. (Anniston Star photo by Stephen Gross)
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As they waited in line this week to pick up their students from Cobb Elementary School, local families had mixed feelings about the future of the building before them.

Last week, the Anniston Board of Education voted to close Anniston Middle School and convert Cobb into a junior high for the city’s seventh- and eighth-grade students.

Rod Elston, father of a first- and a fifth-grader at Cobb, said the merits of the change will all depend on how the situation for students develops once the district tries the new arrangement.

“Kids have to go to school,” he said, adding that children can't be deprived of an education just because society changes. "It's not their fault; it's not our fault."

The Model City has changed since the Anniston City Schools built the middle school in 1987. The city’s population in 1980 was almost 30,000. By 1990, it had dropped to about 26,600, It’s less than 23,000 today.

With declining population and school enrollment, school officials have been considering the most recent attempt at consolidation for about two years. Last week’s vote will repurpose the elementary with the smallest enrollment — 155 students — to accommodate the larger group of seventh- and eighth-graders.

Latress Woodard, the mother of a first-grader at Cobb, said junior high school students shouldn’t be on the same campus as the younger elementary students.

“As long as the big kids aren’t with the little kids, I’ll be alright,” she said of the coming changes.

Under the plan, district lines will be redrawn to distribute children in kindergarten through sixth grade — including those currently attending Cobb — among the four remaining elementary schools.

Kevin Welch, whose daughter Kanmiyah attends Cobb, said the move could be a positive step. But at the same time, he added, it could negatively affect students who are dispersed among other elementary schools. “They might be split up with their friends,” he said.

Ralph Floyd, a Cobb parent who has lived in Anniston for two months, noted that many cities across the country, including Birmingham, are dealing with similar issues.

“When it comes to the school system, it seems like we’re constantly repeating ourselves,” said Floyd, who has lived in Anniston for about two months.

Turning Cobb into a junior high will be a return to the building’s past. The school is on the site of Cobb High, the city’s high school for black students in the era of segregation. After integration, the Cobb site held a junior high school before the current Anniston Middle School was built on the north end of town.

“You cut the heart out of those people when you cut Cobb down,” board member William Hutchings, whose ward contains Cobb, said of the changes there. But Hutchings expects a shiny, technology-driven building there will help revive the neighborhood, especially if the city makes changes to the housing in the area, he said.

The school board has not made any definite plans for the consolidation or Cobb’s conversion, but members will be working on more specific plans at two meetings later this month — a joint meeting with the City Council on May 28 and a board work session May 30.

Superintendent Joan Frazier said she hopes the board will be able to zero in on project timelines at those meetings. The consolidation, she said, will occur in phases, with the closing of Cobb and disbursement of the district’s kindergarten through sixth-grade students happening first. The project to repurpose and in some places reconstruct the Cobb facility is expected to take 12-18 months before the middle school is finally vacated. Frazier said no changes are likely for the next school year.

Hutchings said the conversion will be a positive step for the west Anniston neighborhoods surrounding the school. By the time the board is finished on with the new Cobb Junior High School, he said, “it’s going to be second to none.”

Frazier said the board is considering a number of possibilities for Cobb, many of them centered on technology. The proposals include science labs, increasing computer lab capacity and access to digital devices in the classrooms. Technology would become a hub for instruction, she said.

“When we start sitting down with the architect and saying this is what we want and this is what we don’t want,” she said, “technology will be a major part of that.”

Staff writer Paige Rentz: 256-235-3564. On Twitter @PRentz_Star.
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