A proposal to realign 6th-12th grades in the Dawson County School System are in the works with plans for the change to begin as early as fall 2016.
"We know that we can balance our class seat availability and offer more academic opportunities for our students if we look at a 6-12th alignment like we're proposing," said Superintendent Damon Gibbs.
The current plan would move all sixth and seventh graders to the Riverview Middle School campus, eighth and ninth graders to the Dawson County Middle campus and leave 10th-12th grade at the high school.
If approved by the county's board of education, the plan would be phased in over two school calendar years.
The first year would have all sixth and seventh graders attending Riverview campus, while eighth graders would be at the Dawson Middle campus.
In the second phase, ninth graders would stay at the Dawson County Middle along with the eighth graders, leaving only 10th-12th grades at the high school.
Gibbs said the realignment plan would solve a number of issues, such as class space availability, within the school system.
"That puts about 500 students growth capability at both the 6th-7th grade school, the 8th-9th grade school and the 10th-12th school, so we would have a lot of room to grow before we ever have to start talking about building classroom space for those guys," he said.
He also said there are added benefits that could result from the changes, including more academic opportunities for eighth grade students, increased graduation rates and the ability for more high school students to be dual enrolled in area colleges.
The realignment would set the stage for the system to offer eighth grade students the ability to take high school courses.
"Right now, we can't do that, because we've got 120 eighth graders in each of our two buildings. If we bring those into the one school, with 240 kids, we can do that," Gibbs said.
While the county's graduation rate exceeds the state average, Gibbs said there is always room for improvement.
"Most people consider that an 11th and 12th grade issue. I disagree with that strongly. I think graduation rate is an 8, 9th [grade] conversation, because students don't drop out in the 11th grade," he said. "They drop out of school when they've been in the 9th grade for three years."
Another piece of the puzzle would be to engage those students to continue their educations with higher learning opportunities.
"Currently, Dawson County High School has the highest percentage of its students dual enrolled with Lanier Tech of any school that Lanier Tech serves," Gibbs said.
The school system is currently working to develop a similar relationship with the University of North Georgia to have the college bring those dual enrollment courses to the Dawson County students.
"We call it a win-win-win. The university wins because they get more kids and more space. It's a win for the school system...but the biggest win is for our community, because our kids get to take these college courses free of charge," Gibbs said. "They get an opportunity right here in their home district to take University of North Georgia classes and it cost them zero dollars."
The school system held two informational meetings about the realignment last week in which 150 to 200 people were in attendance. Administrators are now looking for feedback from the community.
"We're going to take that into consideration before we take any recommendation to the board," Gibbs said. "We've not rushed through this. We've really taken a tremendous amount of time to meet with all of our stakeholders. We're interested in how people feel about it."