The “Helping Johnny W

Georgia Bikes! is very happy to introduce the “Helping Johnny Walk to School” grant blog! The “Helping Johnny Walk to School” grant provided $6,000 to Georgia Bikes! to research the effects of minimum acreage standards and to host a forum to discuss policy recommendations with the Georgia Safe Routes to School Network.

This blog will share our progress and efforts toward improving the walkability and bikability of Georgia’s schools. To bring you up to speed on this program, I’m posting the Executive Summary of a white paper produced by our program’s lead consultant, Mr. John Kissane:

In the fall of 2009, GeorgiaBikes! and the Georgia Safe Routes to School State Network were together selected by the National Trust for Historic Preservation to participate in the grant project known as Helping Johnny Walk to School: Sustaining Communities through Smart School Policy.

The story of public education in the United States is one of the great achievements in our nation’s history. And key to educational efforts and successes have been relationships developed between our schools and our communities. All across the country, towns and cities both large and small have seen neighborhoods develop around school buildings, familiar structures that have served as community anchors and have in many ways functioned as centers of activity. What would our neighborhoods and towns be without public schools? It is impossible to comprehend.

And yet, in 2000 the National Trust for Historic Preservation placed historic neighborhood schools on that year’s list of “America’s 11 Most Endangered Historic Places.” All across the country, plans to close or even demolish school buildings are announced regularly. The consequences of these actions go beyond the architectural losses and educational upheaval, and in many cases involve significant cultural and environmental change as well as detrimental health impacts.

During the 2007-2008 school year, no fewer than 98,916 public elementary and secondary schools were in operation across the country, attended by more than 50 million students. The U.S. Department of Education estimates that the student population will top 60 million by 2030. Less certain is how many school buildings will be open by that time, for while the number of students has risen steadily, the number of schools is dwindling. Consider that in 1930 some 262,000 schools were open in the U.S. and that today the total is not much more than one-third this number at under 95,000. Obviously the average school size has grown tremendously over the past 80 years, as have average class sizes.

Many of the disturbing national demographic, economic, and educational trends may be observed in Georgia, a state composed of towns of all sizes — some large and getting larger, some small and getting smaller. Many other communities in Georgia are barely holding their own, and all face the realities of these difficult economic times. Metropolitan Atlanta’s dramatic growth and expansion over the past several decades has overshadowed conditions elsewhere. Between 1980 and 2004, the Atlanta region virtually doubled in population, from 2.55 million to 5.03 million. While the City of Atlanta itself lost nearly one-seventh of its population during this period, the inner and outer suburbs experienced massive growth. At the same time, many parts of Georgia continue to be very rural in character and have experienced prolonged periods of economic stagnation and population decline.

Georgia is a state of contrasts when it comes to demographics and economic health. Here one finds severe inner city decline in contrast to remarkable suburban growth which is in turn contrasted by stagnating small towns and rural areas. Common to all parts of the state is the need to educate children and provide the very best school facilities possible. Decision-making about locations and uses of school facilities – known as school siting — is important not only for students but for all residents of the state.

This project aims to examine policies and practices in Georgia that are serving as barriers to community-centered schools, and to then make recommendations for change.

Stay tuned for more blog posts on this exciting project from the “Helping Johnny Walk to School” grant steering committee!