Many of the neighborhoods affected by the rezoning of East Hamilton and Ooltewah Middle and High schools in 2011 will again be impacted by rezoning this year, parents and families learned Tuesday night.
Hamilton County Schools officials held the first of three zoning meetings to discuss proposed changes likely to impact nearly a dozen schools at Ooltewah Middle School Tuesday night.
Students who live in five areas in the East Brainerd and Ooltewah areas of the county would be rezoned from Ooltewah Middle and Ooltewah High to the new East Hamilton Middle and East Hamilton High under the proposal. The new attendance zones would take effect this August for the 2020-21 school year, according to district officials.
Justin Robertson, chief operations officer for the district, said the last major rezoning for Hamilton County Schools was in 1998 — right after the city and the county school systems merged — but it's something that he hopes the district will begin to look at more often.
"Going forward, this is something we believe we need to look at on a yearly basis," Robertson said. "We want to make sure that our schools are not overcrowding."
The rezoning also comes as the district takes in preliminary recommendations from an ongoing facilities study that could potentially affect the majority of the schools in the district.
The new East Hamilton Middle School has been in the works since 2017, in response to increased growth in the area. The current East Hamilton Middle/High School is over capacity with more than 1,655 students enrolled, and the district wants to ensure buildings have capacity for expected growth.
The Regional Planning Agency predicts that the area south of White Oak, which encompasses part of both East Hamilton High and Ooltewah High's zones, will grow by as many as 1,354 home owners and 1,016 renters in the next 10 years, according to district officials.
UPCOMING ZONING MEETINGS
— Tuesday, Jan. 21, at 6 p.m. at The Bethlehem Center, 200 W. 38th St.
— Thursday, Jan. 23, at 6 p.m. at the Washington Hills YFD Center, 4628 Oakwood Drive
Parents weigh in
Some parents are concerned, especially where neighborhoods are being split down the middle.
David Kelman, a parent, teacher and coach at East Hamilton School, asked district officials how decisions were made about some of the neighborhoods that are closer to East Hamilton but still zoned for Ooltewah.
"When I saw the zoning maps, there were two parts that surprised me," he said. He was surprised by the zoning of a sliver of multi-family homes and apartments near Chattanooga School for the Liberal Arts where students still will attend Ooltewah and the split of zones near Banks Road.
Robertson told Kelman, and the more than 100 people in attendance, that the plans are not final. A survey has been sent to the families of all students potentially impacted by the rezoning in hopes of gathering feedback, he said.
The district took into account projected growth, building permits that have been pulled and projections from the Regional Planning Agency, building capacity and transportation when developing these plans, he said. Transportation remains one of the most challenging aspects, Robertson added.
Students who now attend Ooltewah Middle or Ooltewah High will be able to be stay in their current school through a "grandfathering" process, but transportation will not be provided. Younger siblings who do not yet attend a specific school will have to attend their zoned school.
Both high schools do offer "choice" options through their Future Ready Institutes, or career academies, but transportation is not provided to those students either.
Hamilton County Commissioner Sabrena Smedley, of District 7, was one of several elected officials in attendance Tuesday night. She briefly responded to one question about how the school district is working with the county commission about new neighborhoods and developments in the growing areas of the county.
Smedley commended the district for its work on the zoning process so far.
AREAS IMPACTED BY EAST HAMILTON/OOLTEWAH REZONING
Students who live in these areas or on these streets will be rezoned from Ooltewah Middle and Ooltewah High schools to East Hamilton High School and the new East Hamilton Middle School.
— Red Clay Road
— Wilhoit Road
— Wesleyan Road
— Howardsville Road
— Silver Lane
— Old E. Brainerd Road
— Bill Jones Road
— 1st Street
— Jackson Road
— Belleau Woods Subdivision
— Hamilton Mill Subdivision
— Brandermill Estates
— Ranch Hills
— Gray Road
— Gunbarrel Road
— Carriage Parc Apartments
— Reserve Way
— Ziegler Road
— John Henry Road
— Cannondale Loop
— Brown Acres
— Radmoor Drive
— Kenmoor Drive
— Reserve Way
— Ziegler Road
— John Henry Road
— Cannondale Loop
Source: Hamilton County Schools
"I am actually pleased with the process that they are taking," she said. "They are working closely with the Regional Planning Agency. I've been very concerned about all the growth going on in this district. We are doing all this work, and then we're going to turn right around, and we're going to need a new elementary school."
Vanessa Clemons, the mother of a graduate of East Hamilton and a current Ooltewah Middle School student, said she went through the rezoning process in 2011. She told parents that even if students were rezoned, they would be fine.
"It is stressful having our kids moved," Clemons said. "I remember 2011, and it rocked my world, but my kids are doing great. — It is the family involvement that matters most. If you're attentive and support your kids, then the location of the school is second."
Other schools involved
The proposed rezoning plan also affects students who attend Hillcrest Elementary School, which is slated to be closed at the end of this school year. Those students will be moved to the new Harrison Elementary School now under construction.
Across the district, students who are zoned for Clifton Hills and Calvin Donaldson elementary schools also could see changes, with some Clifton Hills students proposed to be moved to Calvin Donaldson to relieve overcrowding. Calvin Donaldson students who live closer to St. Elmo are slated to be bused to Lookout Mountain Elementary.
The district is holding two more zoning meetings in other areas of the county next week. The school board is expected to review the recommendations and vote on a final version in March.
For more information, visit: www.hcde.org/redistricting.
Contact Meghan Mangrum at firstname.lastname@example.org or 423-757-6592. Follow her on Twitter @memangrum.