Camden Schools Learning to Live with Changes Explosive Growth Has Lead to Problems, Opportunities

By Jackson, Gordon | The Florida Times Union, November 18, 1996 | Go to article overview

Camden Schools Learning to Live with Changes Explosive Growth Has Lead to Problems, Opportunities


Jackson, Gordon, The Florida Times Union


KINGSLAND -- Students in a fourth-grade geography class at

Crooked River Elementary School in St. Marys recently learned

they shared a common bond -- none were born in Camden County.

And the only Georgia native in the class is moving to Hawaii

next month.

While the Crooked River class, within walking distance of Kings

Bay Naval Submarine Base, might be an extreme example of

changing demographics in Camden County schools, teachers and

administrators say their district has dramatically changed since

1979, when the base opened.

Seventeen years ago, the county had a population of about

9,000. Today, the county's population is more than 42,000,

according to Census Bureau estimates. County officials say the

influx of people directly relates to the opening of the base.

"This county has been the fastest-growing school district in

Georgia since 1986," said Edwin Davis, assistant superintendent

of Camden County schools. "This has created some problems,

especially dealing with planning and construction."

Camden County's public school student population growth has

exceeded 28 percent in the past five years. In comparison, most

school districts in South Georgia have experienced single-digit

growth for the same period. The only South Georgia county

rivaling Camden's growth is Lowndes, which has a rate of about

15 percent.

Like Camden, Lowndes also has a military base -- Moody Air

Force Base. Unlike Camden, where about half of all students have

a parent in the Navy, only about 5 percent of Lowndes students

are military dependents, said John Wayne Baxter, superintendent

of Lowndes County schools. The bulk of Lowndes' growth can be

attributed to new businesses to the area, he said.

"It's a lot easier to deal with the growth here than in Camden

County," Baxter said. "We don't have the turnover rate, and

we're not the fastest-growing [school district] in the state by

any means."

When Davis began teaching in Camden County in 1982, there were

3,700 students in the county's five schools, he said. Now, there

are more than 9,100 students. Five new schools have been built

in the past five years, and two others have been refurbished, he

said. The county now has 11 schools. A new elementary school is

scheduled to open for next school year, Davis said.

While growth has created challenges for school administrators,

Davis said there are many positive aspects to his district's

population explosion. The federal government has chipped in more

than $130 million to help with construction of new facilities,

giving the county one of the most state-of-the-art school

districts in the nation.

"We use the new schools as a selling point to recruit new

teachers," he said. "The new facilities allow us to focus on

other things, like test scores and dropout rates."

KIDS GET A BUDDY

Tandree Hodge, a fifth-grade teacher who taught in state schools

25 years before coming to Camden County, started at Crooked

River Elementary five years ago.

"I can't get over the worldliness of the kids coming into this

school," said Hodge. "The kids here are real quick to accept a

new child in the classroom."

One reason, she said, might be that so many of the children

have lived in other states and realize they probably will move

again when their parents are transferred to another base.

Nine or 10 children are dropped from student rolls during a

typical week at Crooked River Elementary, said JoBeth Bird,

assistant principal. …

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