Officials announce base school closing

  • Published
  • By Wayne Crenshaw
  • 78 ABW/PA
For 45 years Robins Elementary School has educated the children of Airmen stationed here, but that will come to an end after the current school year.

Col. Warren Berry, commander of the 78th Air Base Wing, announced the closing of the school in a press conference held at the school Dec. 3. He said the closing was due to sharply declining enrollment, which was the result of a shift away from on-base housing in recent years.

Enrollment dropped from 448 students in 2003 to 131 students this year. Those students will be zoned to attend Linwood Elementary next year. The current fifth graders will attend Northside Middle School as they enter the sixth grade next year. Robins Elementary teaches grades kindergarten through sixth grade.

Colonel Berry called the announcement "bittersweet."

"This school has been part of our on-base community for quite a number of years, and so it has educated a whole bunch of military children," he said. "It has a lot of history and a lot of character so that's hard to give up. From that perspective we are sad to see it close, but at the same time we are turning our children over to a wonderful school system in Houston County."

He said Linwood is an award-winning school, and was formerly a base-operated school before it was turned over to the county school system.

Dr. Dell McMullen, superintendent of schools of the Georgia and Alabama region of Domestic Dependent Elementary and Secondary Schools, participated in the press conference. She said following the closure of Robins Elementary, only Pope Air Force Base, N.C., and Maxwell AFB, Ala., will house Air Force DDESS schools.

"We are committed to offering a robust education to our children and when a school gets this small, that becomes a challenge," she said.

Colonel Berry noted at one time the base had 1,477 homes in its inventory, including some privatized housing off base, but currently there are only 254 homes on base, and eventually that will be down to 207 homes. That's the amount that the Department of Defense has determined are actually needed at Robins to support base needs.

He said no decision has been made on what the school building might be used for in the future.

"It's got great potential for other base uses," he said.

The school employs 24 people, 16 of whom are educators with eight as support staff. Dr. McMullen said the teachers will get the opportunity to transfer to other DDESS schools where there are vacancies, and Houston County school system has extended a welcome to the staff to seek positions in the local system.

Houston County School Superintendent David Carpenter said due to the small number of students at Robins Elementary, Linwood would be able to accommodate them without additional personnel or classroom space.

A few hours after the press conference, base and Houston County school officials held a town hall meeting with parents at the base theater. About 60 parents and students showed up, and there were comments indicating that at least some were not happy about the closing.

"You are basically taking small fish and throwing them out into an ocean, and that's scary for these kids," said Sara Dejournett, who has three children attending Robins Elementary. "In layman's terms, I think it stinks."

Colonel Berry said he could understand the parents' concerns, but he said what matters now is how we move forward to ensure a smooth transition to another award-winning school.