Hill City parents say Normal Park Museum Magnet School plan unfair

Hill City parents say Normal Park Museum Magnet School plan unfair

February 7th, 2012 by Kevin Hardy in News

Karla Riddle, left, who oversees Magnet Schools, answers questions during a meeting Monday night at Bethlehem Baptist Church. Looking on are Briston Smith, leader of the Parent Coalition in Hill City, and Ash-Lee Henderson, right, moderator of the meeting.

Photo by Ashlee Culverhouse/Times Free Press.

POLL: Do you think the plan is unfair?

Hill City residents felt left out of the process that called for phasing the neighborhood into the zone for Normal Park Museum Magnet School, neighbors said at a community meeting.

Members of the Hill City Neighborhood Association met with a school system administrator Monday evening to discuss the recent decision to add five kindergarten students each year from the Hill City area into Normal Park.

Hill City residents, who were zoned for Red Bank schools, have been asking for several years to be included in Normal Park's boundaries. In November, the Hamilton County Board of Education voted to zone in the neighborhood, though parents there still can elect to attend schools in Red Bank.

The board tasked central office staffers to come up with a phase-in plan, so that the neighborhood's estimated 100 school-age students didn't overwhelm Normal Park. Last month, the board voted on a plan that called for phasing in students by allowing in five kindergarteners a year starting in the fall.

Hill City parents and residents on Monday said that plan isn't fair, as it doesn't ever call for Hill City to be wholly included in the zone. They also objected to being left out of the decision-making process.

Karla Riddle, who oversees magnet schools for the school system, said that the current plan is only a first step and will be reviewed in the summer months.

"Just because we started with five this year doesn't mean it's going to be five forever more," she said. "It's going to take a several-year process."

Residents asked for specific timelines on when the neighborhood would be fully included in Normal Park's zone. But Riddle said that's a question that must ultimately be asked of schools Superintendent Rick Smith and the school board.

Some residents were upset that other school officials weren't in attendance. Longtime Hill City resident Carolyn Gilliam said school officials could have acted faster in zoning in the neighborhood if they had the will.

Tamra Woodard ask a question of Magnet School director Karla Riddle during a meeting Monday night at Bethlehem Baptist Church.

Photo by Ashlee Culverhouse/Times Free Press.

"This is ridiculous," she said. "This community has been begging since 2007. It's passing the buck. It's really putting us off."

Riddle noted that school zoning is always subject to change; the school board plans to move soon on rezoning some schools in the county that are overcrowded.

"Zoning is always an ever-changing process," she said.

Riddle said school officials would work to be more inclusive and open when they review the Hill City plan later this year -- a request made by several of those in attendance.

"I just want to be involved in the process," said parent Nelson Barrios.

Normal Park Principal Jill Levine said the school is adding more students each year, which makes it harder to add students. And as more students move into the school's physical zone, it leaves fewer seats for magnet students that are brought in from across the county. She said that magnet component adds to the school's racial and socioeconomic diversity.

The school will have about 100 total kindergarten spots available in the fall. Levine said 59 in-zone students already are expected for kindergarten. Traditionally, first pick goes to students of faculty members and siblings of current students, though it's not clear if there will be enough room for siblings next year, Levine said.

"What nobody wants is a kindergarten class with 25 or 26 kids," she said. "That's not good for anybody's kids."

Follow the latest Chattanooga news on Facebook.