New school assignment plan wins board approval

Jan. 17, 2013 @ 09:55 PM

Now the official lines are drawn.

On Thursday night, the Chapel Hill-Carrboro City Schools Board of Education approved a hybrid redistricting plan that moves 1,047 students.

Most of those students are in elementary school, and their shift will populate the new Northside Elementary set to open this fall while relieving crowded conditions at Seawell Elementary.

The redistricting plan also calls for reducing numbers at Carrboro High School, but most students that would be affected are grandfathered at the school without transportation.

They may also opt to transfer out in spring, while more relief will come through attrition as seniors graduate in June, said Todd LoFrese, CHCCS assistant superintendent.

For the revised elementary school plan:

-- Pine Knolls and Brewer Lane are reassigned to Northside.

-- At-risk range increases slightly, from 12 to 13 percent.

-- Glenwood is slightly underenrolled.

-- Rising 5th graders may be grandfathered without transportation.

For the middle school feeder plan:

-- A few segments were reassigned to avoid isolations from elementary and to high school.

-- All current middle school students would have option for grandfathering without transportation.

For the high school plan:

-- At-risk data was based on elementary school social worker estimates.

-- Shifts some reassignments that would have gone to East Chapel Hill High to Chapel Hill High to minimize transportation times.

A few parents reiterated their concerns about the elementary school plan, lamenting what they saw as a process that gave them few opportunities for input and didn’t use computer optimization programs.

Superintendent Tom Forcella told the board that residents had several chances to provide input, including public hearings. “In my opinion, it was a fair process,” he said.

And Linda Williford, a family specialist at Seawell, spoke on behalf of several extended families in three areas, asking that they be granted a last-minute exception to stay at Seawell rather than move to Northside.

However, although board members sympathized and some even seemed compelled to grant the request, they ultimately opted against including that exception.

“If we’re doing that, we’re being unfair to all the others that want to do that” but got turned down, said board chair Michelle Brownstein.

Jamezetta Bedford, vice chair, said that Northside is the 10th school built in the district since 1994.

“Each time, parents that have to move are very concerned, very upset, very worried,” she said. “With all nine previous schools, the transitions have been successful.”

Board member Mike Kelley agreed with critics who called the redistricting process flawed.

“I don’t see how the fruit of that process can be supported,” he said.

The board voted 5-2 on the elementary school plan, with Kelley and James Barrett opposing.

Barrett, citing the district’s call for more rigor in student learning, observed of the redistricting process: “I don’t necessarily see rigor applied. We haven’t optimized this as much as we can.”

Members of the CHCCS community had submitted four independent plans for that board to consider. During their Dec. 20 meeting, board members opted against further review. The plans didn’t help inform the changes that were made to the final plan proposed by staff, LoFrese said.

“The suggestions in the community plans didn’t help us with our overall plans,” he said. The community plans didn’t account for factors such as the new Frank Porter Graham Dual Language Magnet School or at-risk student populations, he said.

That’s not to say community input won’t be used down the road, however. Some neighborhoods, such as The Highlands and Cobble Ridge, asked to be considered for inclusion as walk zones. LoFrese said staff will bring recommendations to the board this spring about those areas.

Board member Greg McElveen urged administrators to do more to take that sort of input into account in the future.

“We need to work toward ways to listen and incorporate their input,” he said.

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