Parents express concern over school district’s rezoning plans

Madison City Schools Superintendent Dr. Dee Fowler explains to parents at a work session on school rezoning his calculations on school enrollment. Photo by Jeffrey Abbott.

By Drew Galloway

Plenty of concerned parents packed the cafeteria at Columbia Elementary School in Madison on Thursday. They were there to hear Madison City School superintendent Dr. Dee Fowler talk about rezoning the school system.

The board used a public work-session to inform the community about the three possible plans for the future of Madison schools in addition to giving the public a chance to give feedback about the plans.

Parents and students completely filled the cafeteria of Columbia Elementary School in order to hear Dr. Fowler lay out the three plans.  Additionally, the broadcast of the work session on iHigh received 2,200 hits.

“I get to bed at night and wake up at three and four in the morning worrying about our zones and demographics. I worry about it all the time because you saw that in ten years the population of this city doubled,” said Superintendent Fowler.  “It all changes.  If you’re not there, watching it all the time, it will happen quickly.  It’s a very stressful thing to rezone because a lot of the growth of the city relies upon it. ”

In proposal A, the middle and high school zones would be set according to existing elementary zone lines.  All students residing in the Heritage, Madison, and Mill Creek elementary zones would attend Liberty Middle School and James Clemens High School.  Students residing in the Columbia, Horizon, Rainbow, and West Madison elementary zones would attend Discovery Middle School and Bob Jones High School.

Proposal A would create “School Communities”, keep all schools socioeconomically balanced and would balance the enrollment numbers between the secondary schools for the next 10 years. The disadvantages are that it doesn’t address potential overcrowding at Mill Creek and Columbia and some students who live adjacent to Liberty Middle School would go to Discovery Middle School.  There could be the potential for elementary rezoning in the next year or two if this plan is chosen.

In proposal B, pockets of elementary students would be rezoned.  Columbia students who live west of Small Creek would be zoned to Heritage Elementary.  Mill Creek students who live in Chapel Hill, Chelsea Park, Foxfield, and Walden would be zoned to Columbia.  Students would then attend secondary schools based on elementary zone lines as described in Proposal A.

This proposal has the benefits of Proposal A in addition to addressing the potential overcrowding at Mill Creek and Columbia by allowing students living adjacent to the back gate of Liberty to attend Liberty and takes advantage of empty space at Heritage.  This could also delay future elementary rezoning for several years.  A disadvantage of this plan is that it requires elementary rezoning for some students who went through a rezoning three years ago.

Proposal C has no elementary rezoning this year.  The middle and high school zones would be set as in Proposal A, with the following exceptions: Students residing in Columbia Elementary School’s zone who live west of Small Creek would attend Liberty Middle School and James Clemens High School, students residing in Madison Elementary School’s zone who live south of Madison Boulevard, Edgewater and Mountain Brook, for example, or in Oak Stone or Park Meadow would attend Discovery Middle School and Bob Jones High School.

This plan has all the benefits of Proposal A except that students from Columbia and Madison Elementary would divide after elementary school.  It also does not require any elementary rezoning at this time.  A disadvantage of Proposal C is that it does not address potential overcrowding at Mill Creek and Columbia, and there could be the potential for elementary rezoning in the next year or two.

Dalaina Horton and her two children live on Equestrian Lane. She’s concerned because that area is the dividing line for one of the ideas presented.

“We’re trying to figure out if one child will go to James Clemens High School and the other child will go to Bob Jones High School,” said Horton.

Randy Chavez is concerned about a possible school change for his two daughters and the friendships they’ve made.

“It may seem small to some folks, but when you are 14 and 15 years old, friendships are a big deal. We are trying to do what we can to help them out a little bit,” said Chavez.

It’s not just about the student’s social lives. Deena Clark lives off Zierdt Road. She doesn’t want to see a change to her property value.

“It’s probably going to be hard to sell my home and say that James Clemens is 7.2 miles away from my house. It’s going to be brutally hard if I need to do that,” said Clark.

Dr. Fowler also spoke about the possible grade configuration for the transition to the new high school, James Clemens.

“One thing that we could do, and we are still evaluation it, is to look at doing 9th and 10th for James Clemens, and everybody that is in the 11th grade would have the opportunity, if they live in a James Clemens zone, to go to James Clemens,” said Dr. Fowler.  11th grade students in a James Clemens zone would have the choice to attend James Clemens or to stay at Bob Jones.  Dr. Fowler also said this option is being explored for the upcoming 12th graders, as well.

When given the opportunity to provide input, the parents of Madison City school children raised some concerns.  Many local neighborhoods, including Walden, Mountainbrook, and resident on Joe Phillips road, were concerned about the fact that the rezoning would have their children attend a less accessible middle school.  Presently, the children of the residents in those neighborhoods are able to walk to and from school, if they so choose to.  Rezoning would cause parents to have to drive out of their way rather than attend the closer school.

The Board of Education will vote on which proposal they will accept at the December 12th meeting to be held at 4 p.m. at the central office, located at 211 Celtic Dr.