published Wednesday, February 17th, 2010

Normal Park zoning debated


by Kelli Gauthier

Zoning for Normal Park Museum Magnet school again sparked plenty of discussion during the second recent Hamilton County school board work session to discuss a proposed alteration.

Because more families have moved into the North Chattanooga zone for the school, schools Superintendent Jim Scales is proposing not to expand the zone to include all of Bell and Spears avenues as the board voted to do in 2007.

"If we bring all those kids in, we'll have more students than the two buildings can hold," said Dr. Scales, referring to the magnet school's two-campus elementary and middle schools. "We have no space at the elementary school (for portable buildings), and it would be very tight at the middle."

In 2007, when the board voted to close Chattanooga Middle School, they also agreed to include Bell and Spears avenues into the Normal Park zone beginning next school year. The new proposal would include only part of Spears Avenue from the ridge south to Cherokee Boulevard and east to Dallas Road, which includes about 30 students.

Board of education member Everett Fairchild said it was unfair to continue Normal Park's tuition-based pre-kindergarten program -- which now costs $5,000 and guarantees its students a spot in the school's kindergarten class -- if the board was going to vote no longer to allow students from Bell and Spears to go to the school.

"I have a real problem telling people who live in a school zone that we're going to bus them out to another school to make room for somebody who has $5,000 and can pay to get into the program," he said. "I have a problem going back on our commitment."

As part of the new proposal, Dr. Scales said paid pre-k students would not receive automatic entry into Normal Park after next year. Instead, they would be admitted in the following order: children of staff members, students whose siblings already attend the school, students who live in the school's zone and then, if there is room, students who are chosen through a lottery process.

Parents would continue paying the yearly tuition.

Rather than discontinue the magnet program at the school to make room for the Spears/Bell students -- as board member Rhonda Thurman has suggested -- Dr. Scales proposed keeping it as a way to maintain diversity.

The population that continues to move into Normal Park's zone increasingly is white, Dr. Scales said, so keeping some seats available at the school for students from around the district is the best way to maintain diversity.

Twenty-three percent of Normal Park's student body consists of minorities this year, according to the school district.

Mr. Fairchild said he would like for the board to allow students living on Bell and Spears avenues to choose whether they'd like to continue attending Red Bank Elementary where they are zoned now, or switch to Normal Park. The board gave a similar option to students who attended Chattanooga Middle when it closed.

Board member George Ricks said he'd like the board to send a letter to all parents who would be affected by the rezoning.

The board likely will not vote on the proposal at Thursday's meeting. It should be on the agenda next month, board member Linda Mosley said.

Follow Kelli Gauthier on Twitter at twitter.com/gauthierkelli

about Kelli Gauthier...

Kelli Gauthier covers K-12 education in Hamilton County for the Times Free Press. She started at the paper as an intern in 2006, crisscrossing the region writing feature stories from Pikeville, Tenn., to Lafayette, Ga. She also covered crime and courts before taking over the education beat in 2007. A native of Frederick, Md., Kelli came south to attend Southern Adventist University in Collegedale, where she earned a bachelor’s degree in print journalism. Before newspapers, ...

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MountainJoe said...

Of course Normal Park's administration - backed up by sock puppet Scales - wants to keep on cherry-picking its students rather than taking in kids from a poor neighborhood. Gosh, if they actually had to enroll zoned kids from North Chattanooga neighborhoods instead of the children of the politically connected elite, it might be harder to keep up those bright shiny test scores, and Ms. Levine wouldn't be quite the poster girl she is now. (If she's such a hot shot, put her in Orchard Knob and let her turn that school around.)

February 17, 2010 at 9:23 a.m.
Momof3 said...

I tend to differ...about the student population at Normal Park. I for one am not a "politically connected elite"--and there are many more like me. I actually chose the school prior to it's popularity and I got in through the magnet selection process. Movement to the zone is hindering acceptance of magnets kids.

I personally wish the school had been organized like CSAS or CCA and be fully magnet...because people don't complain that those schools are not taking their "allotted zoned kids" as this article implies about Normal Park. But it wasn't. It was set up as a neighborhood school with magnet features.

In reality people need to open their eyes..take a look at the demographics of zip code 37405..the school zip...it's 85% white and 10% black...so the demographics of the school should not be surprising...they are actually skewwed towards minority when compared to the neighborhood. (zipskinny.com)

This is a discussion about "enlarging" the zone and whether the school can handle that...I see the conflict with the existence of the pre-k and guaranteed entrance. However, some portion of the students in the pre-k are siblings and teacher's kids who would get preference anyway. So the question is how many of the pre-k students are actually getting a paid entrance...

As for Chattanooga Middle School...it was closing and the students were being rezoned, period. If Normal Park hadn't expanded, the school would be sitting there rotting...the school board made promises meant to appease those affected. The school growth could not have been predicted, but it's not working out the way they thought. I don't see more zoning changes fixing that.

People tend to forget that Ms. Levine took that school when no one wanted it...and now that it's a success, everyone wants to throw rocks...

February 18, 2010 at 4:09 p.m.
kgauthier said...

I appreciate both of your comments. I'm always looking for sources for stories, so please feel free to e-mail me (kgauthier@timesfreepress.com) and we can talk further.

February 22, 2010 at 1:40 p.m.
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