What’s new in Columbus area schools this year? Here’s what you need to know.

As the start of the 2019-20 school year approaches, here’s a roundup of what parents and guardians should know about what’s new in Columbus area school districts.


First day of classes: Aug. 8.

Police department: The Muscogee County School District’s newly established police department is in its first phase.

The command staff comprises Chief Greg Arp, a captain, and two sergeants. Eight officers had been hired as of Aug. 1, Arp said, with a total of 15 expected by December.

That will allow MCSD to have one officer at each of the nine high schools and six rotating among the 12 middle schools. Until then, Columbus Police Department officers will continue to fill in the gaps, Arp said.

The second phase, scheduled for next year, will add six school officers so each middle school will have its own. The elementary schools will be served by an officer when needed, Arp said.

Crisis alert system: By the end of the year, all MCSD school staff are expected to be able to use a crisis alert system from Atlanta-based Centegix to immediately notify emergency personnel of their location.

Expansion of visitor management system: Last year, MCSD installed the Visitor Management System from Raptor Technologies of Houston, Texas, to screen school visitors to keep out sex offenders and others not allowed on campus. This year, MCSD will add Raptor’s Emergency Management System to manage emergency drills, account for students and staff during emergencies and enable seamless communication during emergencies.

Laptop computers: MCSD will start implementing what it calls “personalized learning” with laptop computers. By October, all middle and high school students are expected to have a Chromebook in their classrooms so their teachers can provide more differentiated instruction.

Behavior Supports Program: ChanceLight Behavioral Health, Therapy and Education of Nashville, Tennessee, the for-profit company MCSD contracted with in June for $17 million over three years, has hired approximately 75 staff members to improve the district’s special-education services. This includes the opening of a therapeutic day school at the Marshall Success Center, the former middle school on Shepherd Drive, which also houses the AIM Alternative School for students with severe discipline violations and Catapult Academy, a dropout recovery program, and the MCSD police headquarters.

College & Career Academy: Early College Academy closed at the end of last school year and merged into Jordan Vocational High School, where MCSD’s College & Career Academy will debut, adding approximately 200 students to Jordan’s enrollment. The academy allows students to earn dual-enrollment college credits and trade industry certifications for free.

New leaders:

Danielle Ernst was promoted from assistant principal to principal of Gentian Elementary School. She replaced Jessica Burnett, who was transferred to North Columbus Elementary School, where Gayla Childs was transferred to Veterans Memorial Middle School. Childs replaced Melanie Knight, who retired.

Kevin Aviles was promoted from assistant principal of East Columbus Magnet Academy to principal of Forrest Road Elementary School. He replaced Stephanie Dalton, who was transferred to Blanchard Elementary School, where Dawn Grantham retired.

Michael Forte, who was principal of Early College Academy before it merged with Jordan Vocational, replaced Kevin Scott as principal of Georgetown Elementary School. Scott was promoted to MCSD director of student services. He replaced Al Parham, who retired.

Cheryl Hampel was promoted from assistant principal of Reese Road Leadership Academy to principal of Dawson Elementary School, where Renee Tharp retired.

Brenda Merritt was promoted from assistant principal of Rothschild Leadership Academy to principal of Fort Middle School. She replaced Sonja Coaxum, who was promoted to MCSD executive director of special education. Coaxum replaced JoAnn Redden, who resigned in January. Jeanella Pendleton, retired principal of Reese Road Leadership Academy, was the interim director.

Arleska Castillo is the new MCSD chief of human resources, replacing Kathy Tessin, who resigned to attend Columbia Theological Seminary. Castillo was human resources director of Rutgers University-Newark.


First day of classes: Aug. 7.

Renovations: HCSD spent about $500,000 on painting, paving, carpeting and air conditioning and $200,000 on roofs. Here’s what each school received:

  • Park Elementary School: renovated roof, repaved one parking lot, new carpeting in two classrooms
  • Harris County Carver Middle School: repainted cafeteria and new gym’s locker rooms
  • New Mountain Hill Elementary School: repainted eight classrooms; new carpeting in 10 classrooms
  • Creekside School: new carpeting in two classrooms; restriped parking lots
  • Pine Ridge Elementary School: renovated roof; repaved one parking lot; new carpeting in two classrooms
  • Harris County High School: repainted all outside doors, rails and stairwells; repainted all stadium buildings and visitor bleachers; new carpeting in 10 classrooms, the auditorium and band room; replaced tile in two classrooms; installed dehumidifier in locker room; installed HVAC in stadium locker room; graded and paved to fix drainage problem at baseball field; added paved student parking spaces; added handicapped-accessible parking area at the stadium; restriped all parking lots
  • Carver Resource Centers: replaced carpeting with tile in five classrooms
  • Food Services Building: repainted
  • Hope Center: added paved parking area

Security upgrades: HCSD has used state grants of $30,000 per school for additional security cameras, enhanced intercom and communication systems, security doors, 911 direct/emergency call buttons, security fences and additional emergency radios.

New buses: Adding 11 new buses means all of HCSD’s fleet is air-conditioned. A $310,000 state grant added four new special-education buses.

New principal: Allyson Douthit, who was assistant principal of Mulberry Creek Elementary School, is the new principal of Park Elementary School. She replaced Janice Owens, who resigned.

New central administrators: Shelia Baker, who was principal of Russell County High School, is HCSD’s assistant superintendent for support services, a newly created position. Phillip Johnson, who was superintendent of Lanett City Schools, is HCSD’s new special-education director. He replaced Jim DeSantis, who resigned.


First day of classes: Aug. 6.

Revised attendance policy: To comply with Georgia House Bill 718, students will be given an excused absence to attend an event related to the military service of their parent or guardian.

College & Career Academy: Chattahoochee Valley Academy, a 25,000-square-foot addition to the middle/high school, funded by a $3.1 million state grant, has expanded ChattCo’s College & Career Academy, which allows students to earn dual-enrollment college credits and trade industry certifications for free.

New tests: ChattCo’s middle school students will take the Measures of Academic Progress as part of a pilot program to develop a possible replacement for the Georgia Milestones Assessment System.

New superintendent: Kristie Brooks replaced the retired David McCurry as superintendent. Brooks came from Jasper County Schools, where she was executive director, equivalent to assistant superintendent.

New principal: Kenneth Lanier is the high school’s new principal. He replaced Sandi Veliz, who moved to Texas for her family’s military reassignment.

New central administrators: Stephen Shaul is the new finance director. He replaced Jan Chandler, who retired. High school assistant principal Allison Rodriguez was promoted to special-education director to replace Jill Simmons, who became the human resources and district data specialist.

New buses: With one new bus added, ChattCo plans to add two more in March.

Renovation project: ChattCo plans to modernize the elementary school. The $3 million renovation is expected to be done in 2020, with external work starting during the spring semester and the majority completed during the summer.


First day of classes: Aug. 6.

New attendance policy: When students in grades 9-12 are absent eight times in a semester, regardless of whether the absence is excused, they will be assigned to Saturday school. If the student doesn’t attend Saturday school, academic credit will be denied.

New programs: More dual-enrollment and advanced classes have been added at the high school. Digital media, engineering and advanced computer science courses will be available for students in grades 10-12.

New transportation facility: The $3.6 million project produced a six-bay bus shop, fueling station, offices, storage and meeting room.


First day of classes: Aug. 6.

Upgraded security: Improved camera systems, upgraded intercoms and partnered with the Russell County Sheriff’s Office to employ a school resource officer at each of the district’s seven schools.

New principal: Michael Kilpatrick was promoted from assistant principal to principal of the high school. He replaced Shelia Baker, who became the assistant superintendent for support services in Harris County.

New central administrators: Lorenza Pharrams replaced Eddie Obleton as the at-risk and alternative learning program director. Pharrams was principal of Robert Lee High School in Montgomery.

New baseball/softball complex: The estimated $3 million project is expected to be finished by March.

Ledger-Enquirer staff writer Mark Rice covers education and other issues related to youth. He also writes feature stories about any compelling topic. He has been reporting in Columbus and the Chattahoochee Valley for more than a quarter-century. He welcomes your local news tips and questions.