published Tuesday, March 9th, 2010

Call for compromise in Normal Park zoning battle


by Kelli Gauthier
Audio clip

Normal Park zoning meeting

A public meeting rife with criticisms, insults and outbursts ended with parents and school officials on both sides of a Normal Park zoning battle calling for a compromise.

Normal Park Museum Magnet School parent Jim Crooks called the meeting Monday night at the North Chattanooga Recreation Center to bring light to a different set of zoning and enrollment numbers: ones he came up with on his own. He said data provided by the school system didn't seem accurate to him, and he wanted to crunch the numbers himself.

He wanted those in attendance -- mostly current Normal Park parents -- to "think for themselves" and draw their own conclusions, he said.

"Look at both sets of numbers and make up your minds," he said.

  • photo
    Staff Photo by Jake Daniels/Chattanooga Times Free Press Jim Crooks, whose children go to school at Normal Park, speaks at a community meeting at the North Chattanooga Recreation Center on Monday night about zoning issues for North Chattanooga students who want to attend Normal Park schools.

The issue is whether to expand Normal Park's zone to include students who live on Bell and Spears avenues in North Chattanooga. When Chattanooga Middle School closed in 2007, residents of the two streets were told their children could attend the popular magnet school beginning in 2010.

School officials now are saying that because of growth in Normal Park's zone, adding Bell and Spears avenues would overcrowd the school.

"When we talk about overcrowding a school, if we got rid of an art studio, science lab, our exhibits, music rooms, we could add more kids to our school," principal Jill Levine said. "But that wouldn't be the same school."

Mr. Crooks, who lives on Forest Avenue, said he wanted Normal Park to be a more diverse school for his children, who are in prekindergarten and first grade. He doesn't believe the school would be overcrowded as officials say.

"I want my kids to be able to intermingle with other kids that are not like them," he said. "If we're not overcrowded, then why not (add Bell and Spears)? If there's room at Normal Park, we need to honor the commitment we made two years ago."

But some in Monday night's crowd suggested Mr. Crooks had other motives.

He admitted he owns eight properties in the North Chattanooga area in question, but suggested that they be removed from rezoning consideration.

The proposal was met with load groans.

"The overcrowding will occur when Jim Crooks sells off his eight pieces of property," someone shouted from the crowd.

Parents also questioned Mr. Crook's use of the school directory to come up with his numbers. By his admission, not every family chooses to be in the directory.

"I counted for that in my numbers," he said. "I'm not saying my numbers are right."

Nelson Barrios lives on Hamilton Avenue and is not sure whether his house would be considered in any rezoning. Still, he came out Monday night to support the idea of expanding the zone.

"There was a promise made, and we need to abide by that promise," he said.

Briston Smith's children are Normal Park magnet students, which means he does not actually live in the school's zone.

"All of these schools built for this community, this community has been closed off from," he said. "If Signal Mountain cut off half the zone and (school officials) said they couldn't go there any more, Signal Mountain would not have that."

But along with several other parents, Mr. Smith suggested that people who live on Bell and Spears avenues, as well as current Normal Park families, should sit down and work out a compromise.

One compromise that was suggested was to still not include Bell and Spears avenues in Normal Park's zone, but give any families from those streets first priority in the magnet student lottery.

"It would be a way to do something without us having to go to portables," Ms. Levine 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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kdawg said...

Jim Crooks brought up many valid points at the meeting particularly that we "look at the numbers" put forth by Jill Levine and Normal Park as they pertain to the growth patterns of Normal Park. Fair enough Jim. I was there to look at both numbers and yours in the end were comical. By his own admission, and what the article says, Jim stated "I'm not saying my numbers are right". So what is it you are saying Jim? That we should listen to someone who can't validate his numbers over a lifelong educator who has been lauded on both the national and state level? You offered up no credentials of your own Jim only to say you were a concerned parent. As a parent of a Normal Park student I find your grandstanding offensive. It should be abundantly clear to anyone in attendance that you have a singular agenda which is to have the Bell Spears neighborhood included at all costs to the Normal Park zone so that you can raise the values of the 8, count em people, 8 properties you own there. Using the people and children of Bell Spears to further your financial gains reminds me of a huckster doctor that sold tonic as a cure all. In the process of furthering your narrow and selfish agenda you not only jeopardize the future of every child at Normal Park including your own you also do a disservice to the children of Bell Spears. The people of Bell Spears are being led down the primrose path by a man who is not even their neighbor and who has no formal professional educational background.They should be asking themselves "What does Jim Crooks want? Is he using us?". What exactly does Jim Crooks find so offensive about Red Bank Elementary where Bell Spears is currently zoned? Has he told us about sitting in on classes at Red Bank Elementary and what his findings there were? Your words and actions Jim disparage that school while not offering them any concrete ways to improve. I implore all Normal Park and Red Bank Elementary parents to stand up to this bully of a man. Jim, if Normal Park loses one class, one program, one student currently enrolled there because of your actions be prepared for the consequences that will surely follow.

March 9, 2010 at 7:32 p.m.
Salsa said...

Just get rid of magnet schools and make every school the same instead of treating some as special.

March 9, 2010 at 8:23 p.m.
kdawg said...

Brilliant. Instead of asking schools to rise up to the level of a nationally honored one like Normal Park and meet their standards Salsa's suggestion is to tear down the succesful one to everyone else's level. Is it any wonder Tennessee ranks near the bottom nationally for academic standards when there's people like Salsa asking us to strive for the lowest common denominator possible?

March 10, 2010 at 11:01 a.m.
I_HEART_NPMM said...

I'd watch your tone, KDawg. Your treading very close to threat status in your first post. I attended the meeting on Monday and your reference to Jim as a "bully of a man" is comical. Jim was ineffective. He meekly mined through a stack of bar/pie charts that were nearly indecipherable and failed to make a clear point as to WHY the bell/spears community should be included in the NP zone. He failed to discuss the capacity by which a public school should be obliged to SERVE its surrounding community. He failed to discuss the VW deal as a factor in overcrowding. He failed to discuss a fee-based preschool that is a guaranteed "in" and how IT contributes heavily to the overcrowding of NP. NP Admin have presented their talking points and have drawn a line from bell/spears to sorrowful images of 3rd graders in portables with no art room, exhibit hall, science lab. Those with a modest intellect should recognize this as spin to incite panic. If there is truly an overcrowding problem at NP (which appears to be inevitably so) there will be a community groundswell that will demand that NP service the community that built it and in no small part, made it what it is...warts and all. It will demand a restructured growth plan that will not omit the members of this community that so desperately need NP. It is no coincidence that the majority of parents that attended were magnet parents, protecting their "turf". They came across as the bullies, aggressively seeking assurance/affirmation from their leaders that the gravy train was not about to leave the station.

March 10, 2010 at 9:20 p.m.
Momof3 said...

Wow...people sure have short memories. They seem to forget that many of these "Magnet" parents are the ones who came to that school when it was NOTHING. When Ms. Levine was asking people to give the school a chance. Five or six years ago you could sail right into that school..I know, because I did. Now everybody is up in arms about it because it's successful-everybody wants what's successful, but they didn't sign on when they could have, when it was questionable. The school board needs to find a way to expand on it's success, take it to all schools so that this debate about space and school quality will be over.

I think in the light of where we are in 2009, the decision was appropriate. I agreee with changing the pre-k program to make it fit with the magnet system, but I will also still pay for the program because it's a great program. I disagree about it being inequitable because I currently pay $8000+ for daycare, so I just see it as a different option with similar pricing, which is what you'd expect for any paid pre-k program in this area. Maybe TN should provide free pre-k for all instead of just select schools...isn't that inequitable too??

March 19, 2010 at 9:20 a.m.
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