J. E. Richards Middle School
3555 Sugarloaf Parkway; Lawrenceville, GA 30044
Years Principal 1987–1990 John Ford 1990–1997 Georgia Barnwell 1997–1998 Michael Grzeskiewicz 1998–2003 Gary Bahn 2003–2008 Judy Stephens 2008–2010 Reginald Kirkland 2010–Present Mark McCain
School Colors: Blue, Green and Gray
School Mascot: Titans
J.E. Richards Middle opened its doors to 1,470 students on August 24, 1987. Built to relieve overcrowding at Five Forks, Lawrenceville, and Sweetwater middle schools, construction at Richards began in April 1986, and Gwinnett County’s 13th middle school was completed just before opening at a cost of $3.6 million dollars.
Richards was named in honor of James Everett Richards, an outstanding Gwinnett educator for 17 years. Mr. Richards became principal of Norcross High School in 1957 after several years of teaching and leadership. During his years as a high school principal, Richards realized the need to mold work habits and character in students during their transitional middle school years. In 1969, Mr. Richards became the first principal of Lawrenceville Middle School, which opened in 1971.
Sadly, Mr. Richards’ tenure as principal was cut short by a tragic automobile accident on February 2, 1972, and he died on September 21, 1972. His wife, Mrs. Vinnie Richards, had been an active supporter of the school since 1987 until her passing in the fall of 2005. During the 1987 dedication ceremony for RMS in 1987, Principal John Ford said of Mr. Richards, “Knowing the goals of J. E. Richards genuinely gives our school positive direction and an inspiration by which we can aspire to achieve.”
Richards Middle has experienced enormous change in its 30-plus year history. Originally set among forests and farmland at 600 Houston Road, Richards has seen its surroundings change as the area grew up around it. In 1995, the school’s mailing address became 3555 Sugarloaf Parkway when Houston Road was consolidated with Johnson Road, Davis Mill Road, and Atkinson Road to become four-lane Sugarloaf Parkway. The only remnant of Houston Road is the unnamed access road connecting the entrances of Richards and Cedar Hill Elementary to Sugarloaf Parkway.
Richards has grown as well; the building has more than tripled in size with new additions built in 1989, 2001, 2005, and 2018. Originally 40 classrooms, the school has expanded to over 100 classrooms to accommodate well over 2,000 students. In 2018, the school underwent a major renovation of the two exterior parking lots, front entryway, interior upgrades, and a three-story addition. The addition houses 33 classrooms, among which are innovative learning spaces for Technology and Engineering, Visual Arts, STEM, as well as a Music MIDI Lab and Chemistry Lab.
Richards also has experienced changes in identity. Once a feeder school for multiple schools (Central Gwinnett, Berkmar, and Brookwood high schools), Richards eventually became the sole feeder school for Central Gwinnett High School. The blue and white Rams of 1987 became Black Knights in 1997. Richards had up to five elementary feeder schools through the 2010–2011 school year: Cedar Hill, Jenkins, Lawrenceville, Margaret Winn Holt, and Simonton elementary schools. In 2011, Moore Middle School opened in the Central Gwinnett Cluster, helping to relieve Richards’ growing student population, and enrollment decreased to 1450 students.
With the start of the 2015–2016 school year, Richards became the sole middle school feeder for the newly built Discovery High School. Richards has four feeder schools in the Discovery Cluster. They are Alford, Baggett, Benefield, and Cedar Hill elementary schools. The mascot once again changed and the school adopted the “Titans” to align with the high school and the Discovery Cluster colors of Blue, Green, and Grey. With these changes Richards’ student population once again blossomed to more than 2,000 students. The school currently is the largest Title I middle school in Georgia.
While Richards has encountered many changes, some things about the school have remained the same. One of those is the generosity of the faculty and students who have for many years made strong contributions in fundraising for United Way and Relay for Life. The passion and compassion of the Richards staff is limitless and the school is often heralded as a “special place to teach and work”. Several former students have returned to join the teaching faculty. They now work alongside those who originally inspired them to teach, and to ensure a positive and upward trajectory of their students’ lives.
Through many changes and challenges, Richards continues to successfully blend a diverse and large group of students from across the country and around the world into a positive community of learners.