published Sunday, March 18th, 2012

Parents welcome role in rezoning process for East Hamilton County schools

  • photo
    Lee McDade, assistant superintendent of Hamilton County Schools
    Photo by Tim Barber /Chattanooga Times Free Press.

THE STORY SO FAR


Hamilton County Schools administrators have created a rezoning plan for schools on the east side of the county. Plans call for moving several hundred students from East Hamilton Middle/High School to Hunter Middle, Ooltewah Middle and Ooltewah High. About 10 elementary schools also are proposed to be rezoned to alleviate overcrowding and in preparation for construction of two new elementary schools. At a work session Tuesday, board members agreed to create a community committee to work with administrators on the proposal. The rezoning issue, removed from Thursday’s school board agenda, could be up for a vote at the board’s April meeting.

Parents say they’re encouraged that they’ve been invited into the rezoning process for schools in East Hamilton County, though some wonder whether such a gesture could be too little, too late.

After a rezoning plan for the area was met with hostility from many parents, the Hamilton County Board of Education decided last week to start a community advisory committee.

Parents criticized the zoning plan for being shortsighted and said the process administrators used wasn’t transparent enough. Some now say they’re encouraged that parents will have a venue to review the rezoning plans and pitch alternate ideas to school leaders.

“I’m cautiously optimistic. I hope they’re doing it in good faith. I think it’s great they’re willing to listen,” said parent Billy Stewart, who will serve on the committee.

But Stewart said he’s not yet convinced about administrators’ motives.

“Are they just trying to pacify people and get the illusion they’re willing to work with people? Or are they really genuine? That’s my fear.”

Assistant School Superintendent Lee McDade said the parent committee’s first meeting Tuesday will be closed to the public. The administration will explain its plans and the committee will decide how best to handle future meetings, he said.

“We’re going to show them what and why we came up with what we did,” McDade said. “After that, we’ll decide which direction we go from there.”

Stewart has one young child who’s still at home, two at Westview Elementary School and one at East Hamilton Middle/High School. Because some children would be allowed to stay in their current schools under the proposed rezoning, he eventually could see his four children at four different buildings.

He’s concerned that his younger children could be transferred to Wolftever Creek Elementary School, which performs lower on standardized tests than Westview.

“As a parent, I would rather my kid be given a good education in a crowded environment than a subpar education in a less-crowded environment,” Stewart said.

Ryan Ledford, one of the most vocal opponents of the rezoning plan, helped assemble the parent committee. He said he, too, is encouraged by the board’s move to involve parents, though he said that “should have happened six months ago.”

“The door has been opened. We’re absolutely encouraged,” he said.

But he won’t be convinced until the first meeting.

“It all depends on how well they work with us,” Ledford said. “We want to work with them.”

Committee member Dustin Crane said he’s excited to hear what administrators have to say at Tuesday’s meeting, and he hopes school leaders are willing to listen to the parents.

“I don’t know what’s going to come of it ultimately,” he said. “But I’m happy to be involved in some way so this isn’t just shoved down our throat.”

about Kevin Hardy...

Kevin rejoined the Times Free Press in August 2011 as the Southeast Tennessee K-12 education reporter. He worked as an intern in 2009, covering the communities of Signal Mountain, Red Bank, Collegedale and Lookout Mountain, Tenn. A native Kansan, Kevin graduated with bachelor's degrees in journalism and sociology from the University of Kansas. After graduating, he worked as an education reporter in Hutchinson, Kan., for a year before coming back to Chattanooga. Honors include a ...

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