published Wednesday, June 1st, 2011

Dalton school plans draw criticism

DALTON, Ga. — Hundreds of unhappy parents, teachers and staff members gathered Tuesday evening to voice their objections to the possibility that Park Creek School may be turned into a sixth-grade academy and the current students rezoned for the five other elementary schools.

The move would help alleviate the overcrowding at the Dalton Middle School without building a new school.

“Why are they shifting our students here and there — rezoning has occurred so often already,” said Maria Ocequera, her 10-year-old son Aaron standing next to her. “We don’t want this for our children.”

Ocequera and Silvia Magara, both parents of students at Park Creek School, led the hourlong meeting and provided information about the proposed change in both English and Spanish.

Dozens of families, with students and babies in tow, crowded into the pews and lined the walls along Trinity United Methodist Church. Park Creek teachers and staff, wearing red T-shirts that said “Peace, Love and Cheetahs” on the back, joined in the applause as parent after parent pleaded their cause, saying their children would be affected negatively if they were shipped to another school.

The proposal came from a committee of parents, school staff, students and community members tasked with studying the issue for several months and evaluating more than 30 ideas. The middle school is already over capacity with more than 1,500 students and expected to grow over the next few years.

In a May 25 board of education work session, members of the group presented two main ideas, according to board Chairman Steve Williams.

One suggestion was keeping sixth-graders in their respective elementary classrooms, a proposal that would cost about $3.5 million to implement, Williams said.

The second was to turn Park Creek School into a sixth-grade academy at a cost of just over $5 million and rezone Park Creek students to attend the other five elementary schools. Park Creek is near the middle school and has a similar architecture, Williams said.

Board members all agreed they liked the Park Creek idea best and appointed the principals of the two schools to help with a further study. The idea was not a done deal, Williams stressed, and the board likely will not vote until late summer.

“I do feel great empathy for the parents and students, but no matter what we do will be displacing someone somewhere,” Williams said. None of the board members or the superintendent of schools attended Tuesday’s meeting.

Ocequera called the selection of Park Creek “sneaky.” None of the Park Creek staff, teachers or parents were placed on the committee, with their sole representative being a fourth-grade student. Even the principal did not find out about the proposal until after the May 25 meeting, she said.

As word spread among the community, Tuesday’s impromptu meeting coalesced into a community effort.

Many parents at the meeting Tuesday evening said they believe their school was chosen because it is about 86 percent Hispanic. Others expressed outrage that their tax dollars were being spent for something in which they had no say.

about Mariann Martin...

Mariann Martin covers healthcare in Chattanooga and the surrounding region. She joined the Times Free Press in February 2011, after covering crime and courts for the Jackson (Tenn.) Sun for two years. Mariann was born in Indiana, but grew up in Pennsylvania, Tennessee and Belize. She graduated from Union University in 2005 with degrees in English and history and has master’s degrees in international relations and history from the University of Toronto. While attending Union, ...

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