Fayetteville narrows list of school zoning options

FAYETTEVILLE — The school board informally decided Thursday to narrow the list of middle school rezoning plans and adjust middle and elementary school attendance limits.

The board also discussed student proximity to schools and ease of transportation for parents and priorities for the district’s bus system when redrawing school zones.

The council began creating new attendance areas in May in response to population growth and several schools nearing capacity. The board hopes to make a decision in August, but it could take longer, Superintendent John L Colbert said last month. The changes will not take effect until the 2023-2024 school year.

Zonda Education, a Texas-based school demographics company, initially presented board members with four elementary rezoning options and three middle school plans at a board workshop in June. A fourth option was created in early July based on suggestions from board members.

The school district sought community feedback and received 441 online comments on the plans Thursday, according to district spokesman Alan Wilbourn.

Zonda demographer Rocky Gardner outlined college options five, six and seven on Thursday that incorporated community feedback. Plan five shifts south of Huntsville Road from McNair Middle School to John L Colbert Middle School. Plan six shifts in the Happy Hollow Elementary area that fall west of Crossover Road and south to the district line from McNair to Colbert.

Plan Seven makes the same change as Plan Six for Happy Hollow Elementary Zone, but also moves populations along Township Road from McNair to Holt Middle School.

Board members eliminated zoning plans for Middle Schools One, Three, Five, and Seven, and revised Plans Two and Four to straighten the boundary lines. They didn’t make any changes to plan six.

The council also decided to go ahead with the three elementary school plans, but made some changes to plan three, straightening the boundary lines so that all properties on one side of the road are in the same area.

No formal vote was taken on any measure.

In May, council members discussed a list of nine priorities, based on the objectives of the strategic plan, to guide them in making rezoning decisions. They included considering the impact of changing zonal boundaries on families, using space as efficiently as possible, creating transportation routes as efficient as possible, planning for growth and integrating a primary school into a secondary school whenever possible.

The council knew that not all goals could be achieved, council chair Nika Waitsman said Thursday. Community feedback shows families appreciate the proximity to schools, shorter drive times for parents, and access to walking and biking trails to school, she said. They are also concerned about transporting students over long distances, given the national and local shortage of bus drivers, she said.

Waitsman said nurturing one school into another as students progress through the grade level is also important for parents.

The college’s seventh plan is entirely based on creating racial and socioeconomic diversity and is not acceptable to the community and creates inconvenience because it drives families away from schools than other plans, Waitsman said. Moving the needle on diversity is very difficult and may not be worth the cost of placing students away from the schools they attend, she said.

For example, currently 55% of students at Holt Middle School, 20% of students at McNair Middle School, and 62% of students who will attend Colbert Middle School in fall 2023 are socioeconomically disadvantaged, according to the Zonda report. .

Under Plan Seven, 48% of Holt students, 23% of McNair students, and 59% of Colbert students would be socioeconomically disadvantaged, the report said.

Board member Megan Tullock said the rezoning process taught her that housing choices made by planners, developers and individuals have more impact on school diversity than school board decisions. . However, she said the comments showed diversity was important to many people and encouraged the board not to give up on the goal.

Tullock also noted that students from families with low socioeconomic status may benefit the most from being close to their schools and being able to walk or cycle to school.

Waitsman said after reading the public comment emails, she believes college plans three and five pit primary schools against each other by inconveniencing one group of people while easing the burden on another. band.

Mother Ashlea Milburn said most families in her neighborhood live within a mile of McNair Middle School and can walk to school, while others face a two-mile bike ride and a half or five minutes by car. By comparison, a round-trip drive to Holt Middle School would take about 40 minutes in morning traffic, she said.

Milburn said plan six is ​​better than the other plans and asked council members to look at the bigger picture.

Olin Ericksen, the parent of a 7- and 9-year-old, also said he thinks plan six is ​​the best alternative because it follows natural traffic boundaries and keeps students in the same neighborhoods together. Children handle change better when they’re with a group of friends, he said.

Ericksen asked board members to consider the trauma suffered by students during the pandemic and mental health issues, growing up outside the city limits, traffic patterns and diversity when deciding to rezoning.

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