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Let me first disclose that I live in the Normal Park zone, and I have a son in second grade there and a daughter who will start kindergarten in the fall. I will also add that I strongly believe that all children should have equal access to a high quality public education, and that as a society we owe a special obligation to insure that access to children living in poverty. I have advocated for high quality educational opportunities for children in poverty and children of color, and like every current “Normal Park parent” that I have ever spoken to about it, I would like nothing more than for every child to have access to NPMM. Yes, we “want” children from Hill City at NPMM. I have nothing but love and warm regard for the children of Hill City. It has been so terribly unfortunate that this zoning issue has been so clouded with misinformation and misunderstandings. The reality of the situation is that the North Chattanooga area has shown rapid growth in the past few years, and this has been especially true for families with school-age children. The success of NPMM has attracted many families to this neighborhood. A comparison of the 2000 and the 2010 census reveals that the population of children in this zone grew about 10%, and this was before the opening of the Fairmont Housing Development. More parents continue to move to the zone for the school, and as this raises property values more homes are constructed.
However, the space at NPMM has not grown. It can not grow. The lower school is around 100 years old. There is no gym, no parking lot, no space to add a portable classroom. Every single classroom is in use. It is surrounded by neighborhood. Of the 37 elementary schools in Hamilton County, there are only four that have larger kindergarten populations than the 106 projected for NPMM. Three of these are new buildings; the fourth, East Brainard, is so “busting at the seams” that a private school is being shared with a church while a new school is being built. But there are no plans for a new building for NPMM, and there is no clear place to put one. Unlike other elementary schools in Hamilton County, NPMM enrolls PK-8; that means 10 years worth of students. If kindergarten classes continue to be over 100, that would mean 1,000 students at NPMM! It is simply not possible to maintain those types of numbers.
The projected 106 students for next year's kindergarten class at NPMM includes the five spots for Hill City, a projected five from Fairmont, 67 other in-zone children, and 29 siblings of already attending magnet students. This means there is no space allocated for new magnet students. Zero. According to these figures, there will be no magnet lottery for NPMM this year (unless there are more than five Hill City children, then there will be a lottery only for Hill City). The current magnet families were “promised” that their younger siblings would also be able to attend NPMM. That was a part of the agreement that was given to them and that they signed. But if more in-zone students arrive at the first day next Fall than anticipated, the five Hill City spots will take precedence over the magnet-sibling spots. In essence, those five spots for Hill City are “guaranteed.” For those who wanted NPMM to be a “community school” rather than a “magnet school” - mission accomplished.
Now I am going to say some tough words to the good people of Hill City. When the new building for Red Bank elementary opened, Hill City parents wanted to go to Red Bank. At the time, Normal Park was a struggling school, in a crumbling old building. In 2007, when the school was re-zoned, Hill City families were told that they could come back in the future if they chose. Residents of Bell and Spears avenue have enjoyed the unique privilege of being able to choose to attend between Red Bank and NPMM – no other Hamilton County citizen has had this option. Last year some Hill City families chose to stay with Red Bank, some families chose to go to NPMM. The “promise” of 2007 was delivered. Next fall is 2012. There was never a “promise” given to children who are in next fall's kindergarten class, because those children were not born when “the promise” was made. School zone lines can and do change based upon population growth and distribution. Things change. No family in Hamilton County has ever been guaranteed that their home will always be included in a given school zone in to perpetuity. This is the reality, but it is clouded by the fact that Hill City has historically been the home of minority families, and today is approximately 50% white and 50% black. Throw in unfounded allegations of preferential treatment in the lottery process, and the potential for land values to grow rapidly if zoned for NPMM, and it is a perfect storm for controversy. A quick look at the actual demographic data, though, downplays many of the claims of “disenfranchisement” (NPMM enrolled more African-American students than CSAS, for example, and the two enrolled an equivalent percentage of economically disadvantaged students (29% vs. 31%).
The fact remains that there is simply not enough space for the number of families who want to attend the school.
Thanks Meece for posting facts and keeping it real. I too live in the zone and am pregnant with my first child. I am so upset that the school could be overcrowded for my son when he needs it. I would like to commend the administration for coming up with this plan and keeping the children who are already in the school and zone in mind. The additional streets should've never been added due to the natural progression that is taking place in the zone. The school is not big enough to keep adding kids. People need to wake up and deal with facts.
Seriously, the Hill City folks think the plan is unfair? Let me tell you what is unfair. To have a child enrolled at NPMM as a magnet student only to find out that their siblings can not attend NPMM because there are no longer any magnet slots available for siblings. What happened to "the promise" made to us? We were there and involved with NPMM long before any "promise" was made to Hill City. The Hill City group isn't concerned with what is fair. If it were, we would have seen them willing to negotiate a compromise when several options were offered to them. But no, they want it all, even if it means that other families are kicked out after years of working to improve the school to what it is now.
BTW, Meece, I appreciate your thoughtful comments on this matter. You have provided the facts of this situation but unfortunately, there are far too many people that only want to look for the negatives and any information that they can use to their advantage. We have seen this first hand with some of the Hill City group and it seems that the media, as well as some of school board members, have been far to quick to accept the "Hill City Story" rather than seek the real facts of this situation.
It still baffles me why we still don't see, after years of excellent results from NPMM, that our school board isn't more interested in trying to duplicate the success of NPMM in other schools around Hamilton County. If they did, maybe then, I would be willing to send my children to my local school rather than spending two hours each day to transport them to NPMM.
This is a poorly worded question. The question should be asked in the positive form: "Do you think the plan is fair?"
Creating survey questions that are worded in a negative voice almost always leads to bias in the results.
Chattanooga School for the Arts and Sciences
Thanks to Meece for a very articulate and accurate assessment of the situation at Normal Park and the issues related to zoning. Too much time has been wasted on fighting over this issue when the overall quality of education in our school system needs tending to. Wouldn't it be better if, instead of trying to find a way to fit all of the children in Hamilton County into NPMM, we concentrated all of our energy and resources into bringing the rest of the school system up to the very high standards established by Ms. Levine and her staff? Regardless of what Rhonda Thurman may say, NPMM's success is not the result of some mysterious conspiracy - it's due to the hard work and innovation of the teaching staff, the dedication of the parents, and the inspired leadership of Ms. Levine.