Growth - and planning for more - tops school beat in 2007

Editor's note: The Post's reporters were asked to review the stories that happened on their beat in 2007 and pick the 10 biggest. Today, Heather Darenberg ranks her choices for the top-10 education stories of 2007.

This February marks my third anniversary as a full-time reporter, and I've spent about half of that time covering education here in Gwinnett County. Before moving to Lawrenceville, I was the cops and courts reporter at The Albany Herald, the Post's sister paper.

It's been an interesting year in education. Here are my picks for the top 10 stories.

10. Gwinnett Technical College was named this year as the co-recipient of a $1.9 million grant to establish the Georgia Bioscience Technology Institute, which will have a presence here and at Athens Technical College.

The Technology Institute will train teachers and students in current bioscience and biotechnology concepts and techniques. The lack of training in the area has prevented some biotech giants from developing land along Ga. Highway 316, Gwinnett Tech President Sharon Rigsby Bartels has said.

Gwinnett Tech will continue to look for ways to increase its bioscience programs, and Bartels said the school needs funding to build a Life Sciences Building to increase the campus' laboratory space.

9. The State Board of Education this year approved changes to the high school graduation requirements, which will affect students who will become high school freshmen in August.

The students will have to take more science and math than their predecessors, and the state will eliminate the tiered diploma system, doing away with technical-level core classes.

Gwinnett County Public Schools made a similar decision recently, offering only college-preparatory social studies classes this year. The county will continue to phase out technical-level classes in the other core subjects: math, science and English/language arts.

8. The county's largest private schools celebrated milestones this year.

Greater Atlanta Christian School entered its 40th year, and founder Jesse Long published a memoir of his early days at the school. The school will continue to celebrate its anniversary next year, and homecoming will take place in January.

Meanwhile, the Wesleyan School finished construction on all buildings in its master plan. The school has been at its Norcross location since 1996. Now that construction is complete, the focus will turn toward building the school's endowment.

7. The Gwinnett School of Mathematics, Science and Technology and the New Life Academy of Excellence, Gwinnett's first charter schools, each opened this year with about 200 students.

Meanwhile, the Gwinnett Board of Education denied a request to open an all-girls' charter school, Ivy Preparatory Academy. The lead proponent of the school, Nina Gilbert, has requested permission from the state to open the school.

6. Laura Mallory continued her fight to keep the popular Harry Potter series out of classrooms, but the Loganville mother of four lost a judicial hearing in May.

Mallory argued that the books promoted witchcraft, which the Bible says is an abomination to God. Furthermore, she said, the books contained violence and other material that is unsuitable for children. School officials contended that the books encouraged young students to read.

Mallory, a devout Christian, has said the ordeal helped her find her purpose in life: to minister to children. She now works in youth ministry.

5. South Gwinnett junior Arquevious Crane suffered a debilitating injury to his spinal cord during a junior varsity game and spent several weeks in hospitals. Crane was released this month, but he is paralyzed from the chest down.

Several fundraisers have taken place to help his family with the medical bills. The Taste of South Gwinnett donated some funds to the teen and his family, and James Robert "Radio" Kennedy hosted a movie screening at South Gwinnett Park, the proceeds of which also benefited the Crane family.

4. Brookwood High School quarterback Daniel Peek died from injuries sustained in a one-vehicle accident. More than 1,500 people came to his funeral, including several high school football players.

The teen was speeding and was not wearing his seat belt at the time of the crash. A police investigation revealed that Peek, 17, had alcohol and cocaine in his system.

No charges were filed in the case, a community mourned the death of a young man with a promising athletic future.

3. Georgia Gwinnett College welcomed its first freshmen this summer. The college also moved forward in its quest to receive accreditation, as the school has been approved for a candidacy visit.

The school also moved forward in its master plan, opening a Student Services Center and completing construction on a parking garage.

College President Daniel Kaufman has said the construction will continue in the coming years, as a library and learning center and an allied health building are planned.

2. Gwinnett County Public Schools moved forward with its aggressive building plan and created the attendance boundaries for 15 new schools opening in the next couple of years. The changes affected about 23,000 students at 36 existing schools.

The Gwinnett Board of Education approved the attendance lines earlier this month, after hosting two public hearings for citizens to comment on the boundary lines. The public also submitted thousands of boundary input forms.

In the coming months, the county will announce the principals of the new schools.

1. The state's largest public school system continued its growth this year, adding more than 3,600 students and bringing its enrollment up to more than 155,700 pupils. But the growth wasn't as great as it has been in years past, and the district fell about 3,500 students short of its projection.

Dozens of teachers were displaced, and the district instituted a hiring freeze until the educators could be placed in permanent classrooms. Most of the teachers have been put in permanent positions, and the school system will begin its search for new teachers next year.

District officials have said student enrollment will continue to grow. An updated five-year forecast should be released at the beginning of the year.