Reporter's Notebook: Thurman questions timing of zoning debate

Reporter's Notebook: Thurman questions timing of zoning debate

November 6th, 2011 by Cliff Hightower , Kevin Hardy , Ansley Haman in News

The divide was apparent during Thursday's school board meeting on the rezoning of Normal Park Museum Magnet School.

Discussion among board members and audience members grew tense over whether children living in nearby Hill City should be included in the Normal Park attendance zone -- a move approved by the board in 2007, but overturned in 2010 by then-Superintendent Jim Scales.

Hill City parents petitioned to include their neighborhood into the nearby Normal Park school, rather than continuing in Red Bank schools. Some Normal Park families didn't want their zone increased. Board member Rhonda Thurman voted in favor of bringing in the neighborhood -- a move that passed with a 5-4 vote.

Thurman wondered if a behind-the-scenes deal had been cut.

She said she was there when the board promised -- amid the controversy of closing Chattanooga Middle School -- to admit Hill City students to Normal Park. But since then, she said, something must have changed, given that the fight to keep the neighborhood in the zone hasn't been talked about for a while.

"Something's going on," she said.

Board member Chip Baker, who voted against the zoning change, disagreed.

"This is not a conspiracy," he said.

Baker said Normal Park had grown in popularity since a parent-driven process revamped the school several years ago. That popularity means many students who would like to attend are kept out.

"It's not a conspiracy," Thurman said. "I just know the people involved."

Normal Park Principal Jill Levine stood up a few minutes later.

"Ms. Thurman, you said you know these people. I beg to differ," Levine said of the Normal Park crowd. "I know these people."

When Baker suggested the board spend time trying to make other schools more like Normal Park -- a statement that elicited cheers from Normal Park parents -- Thurman shot back.

"That would be very easy if every school could hand-pick their students," she said.

Such controversies are among the reasons she dislikes the magnet school process, which draws students from across the county, Thurman said.

"I think the magnet concept destroys neighborhoods," she said. "I like neighborhood schools."

COSTUMED FOR A CAUSE

Hamilton County employees gathered in the rotunda Monday for a first-time Halloween costume contest and talent show by county employees.

Commissioners Greg Beck, Larry Henry and Chester Bankston judged the contest, which was part of the county's United Way month effort.

The contest winners won two free nights at Chester Frost Park and a key to a 2012 Volkswagen Passat.

"No car, just the key," quipped emcee Don Allen, Human Services administrator.

ADMIRAL ADDRESSES PACHYDERMS

Rear Adm. Vance Fry will address the Pachyderm Club at noon Monday.

Frye is a native Chattanoogan and a graduate of Central High School.

During his time in the Navy, Fry specialized in financial management and logistics. He mobilized eight cargo battalions during Operation Desert Storm and later commanded the newly formed Expeditionary Logistics Support Force.

MCCALLIE STUDENTS HONORED

McCallie School's senior leadership organization Keo-Kio welcomed its final members from the class of 2012, inviting 10 seniors to join the group in a chapel ceremony this week.

The group honors students for leadership, service and school loyalty.

The new inductees are: Will Anderson, of Chattanooga; Josh Bandy, of McDonald, Tenn.; Tim Brown, of San Antonio; Jose Cruz, of Dalton, Ga.; Marshall Kirksey, of Morganton, N.C.; Russ Robinson, of Lookout Mountain, Ga.; Fletcher Sims, of Signal Mountain; Blake Singer, of Ooltewah; Min Seok Song, of El Centro, Calif.; and Tim Westbrooks, of Chattanooga.

HEADMASTER ON NATIONAL BOARD

R. Kirk Walker, McCallie School headmaster since 1999, has been elected chairman of the board for the Southern Association of Independent Schools.

SAIS is a voluntary organization of independent elementary and secondary schools throughout the Southeastern United States and the Caribbean.

Walker's term begins in January.

What size, sir?

The Tyner Academy girls volleyball team came to the City Council on Tuesday night to give a special thanks.

One by one, the athletes thanked Councilwoman Carol Berz for donating money this year to buy the team uniforms. Councilman Russell Gilbert chipped in money to help buy food.

At the end of the meeting, Steve West, a city employee representing the girls, held up some jerseys to give to the council members.

West apologized for not having a jersey for Gilbert and jokingly jabbed at the councilman's size.

"Councilman Russell, I'm sorry, I just didn't know your size," West said.

Gilbert sat for a second glaring as the crowd laughed.

"Small," Gilbert replied, a smile erupting across his face.