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A small group of fewer than 15 parents showed up Monday at Southside Elementary to express their mostly unhappy views of Shelby County Public Schools’ plans to redistrict its elementary schools.
Most attending the first of two nights of forums often referred to the plan as “a done deal” and had several questions about why the school district would relocate about 130 students to the new Southside Elementary School, which will be finished this summer and would move some students at other locations, alleviating some overcrowding at Simpsonville Elementary and Painted Stone Elementary.
Under the proposed plan, the building capacities will balance at the six elementary schools, spreading students across the district. The capacities for each school and their capacities under the new proposal are:
“You need to remember that you’re not just taking kids out of a school, you’re taking them out of a community,” said Becky Yonkers, the mother of students who would be moved from Simpsonville. “I have two kids there, and Simpsonville feels like a family, like a home to them. That’s where all their friends are. They’re in scouts there and at the park. And my children are successful there. You want to help students succeed, but I don’t see how moving them to a different school and make them learn new rules and new teachers will help.”
Dave Weedman, the district’s director of student services, who led the committee for the redistricting effort, said that several plans were considered, but this one affected the fewest number of students.
“When we made the decision a few years ago to rebuild Southside and add one hundred and fifty students [in capacity] to the school, we knew we’d have to redistrict,” he said. “We tried to affect the fewest number of families that we could.”
Superintendent James Neihof added that he expected a long-held understanding to be taken into account again.
“In the past, students that have been entering fifth grade have been granted waivers to continue at the school they were originally attending,” he said.
But he added that the bus routes would be following the new districts, and parents would have to provide transportation for students if they wished to continue at their old schools.
Shelley Daily said she wanted to make sure the board knew how she felt about the proposed changes.
“I’m not a happy woman,” she said. “My child’s not happy; my niece isn’t happy. My child does not want to go to some other school. Simpsonville is our school. It may not matter to you or anybody else, but it matters to those little girls. That’s who you should be asking if they want to change.”
Allison Young, whose child attends Wright Elementary but would switch to Heritage under the proposed plan, said the change would make her routine more difficult.
“I live in Meadowbrook, and it’s much closer to Wright,” she said. “This is our fourth year at Wright, and we feel like it’s a very tight community, and we’re happy to be a part of it. Our neighborhood is approximately one mile from Wright, but now you’re going to move us about seven miles to Heritage. That’s disappointing.
“I’m concerned as a parent who volunteers at the school, who’s been on the site-based council. I know for me personally it would cut down on the amount of my involvement because of the twenty-minute round trip.”
Earl Daily, however, said he knows that Shelby County is growing and that changes are going to be coming, but he still had questions.
“They [the board] can’t control the growth in the county, but what I’m worried about are the things that aren’t going to be the same at the school,” he said of the potential of his children moving from Simpsonville to Southside. “My daughter is in orchestra, and I understand they don’t have that here [at Southside]. I know we can’t have a school at one hundred and ten percent capacity [like Simpsonville Elementary], but I want my daughter to be able to continue in the activities that she enjoys. Last year they did the recorder, and she just loved it. Now I’ve got another one that’s already practicing on the recorder and getting the notes down because she’s so excited to do it.
“Do they do the recorder at Southside? My daughter is in TAG [Talented and Gifted], and I have another that I’m sure is well on her way to being in TAG, too. Are they going to have the same opportunities? That’s what I’m worried about.”
Southside Principal Susan Burkhardt and Heritage Principal J.J. Black both spoke on behalf of their schools after the questions were asked, and both assured parents that the sense of community and family are well present at both schools.
Burkhardt noted that Southside hasn’t had orchestra or band recently, but that it still could be added.
“That certainly could change,” she said. “There are things that we haven’t offered in the past because of our limited size. But TAG is a district-wide program, so it is offered here.”
Both principals also encouraged parents to come to the schools during the school hours to tour the buildings and see their teachers in action.
Neihof also responded to the comment that the redistricting was a “done deal.”
“There are some areas on the map that our board members are already asking about,” he said. “And this being my sixth year with this board, I can tell you that they will have more guidance to give after this [the two public hearings] and before our November 21 meeting, when we expect to have a board decision.”
Elementary district changes
With the proposed redistricting more than 130 students will be added to the new Southside Elementary School to help balance the school capacities. Public forums are scheduled for 7 p.m. on Oct. 28 at Southside and Oct. 29 at Painted Stone. Streets in bold are touched by the map changes, but no students are affected. The streets currently proposed to change schools are:
To Wright from Clear Creek:
Hazel Lawn Drive
To Southside from Simpsonville:
Mack Walters Road
Valley View Drive
Buck Creek Road
Chesapeake Meadows Court
Fairlight View Drive
Figgs Store Road
JM Turn Around Road
Joyce Station Road
Logan Station Road
Old Brunerstown Road
Olive Branch Road
Ollie Brown Road
Picketts Dam Road
Van Dyke Mill Road
Zaring Mill Road
To Southside from Painted Stone:
Scott Station Road
To Painted Stone from Southside:
Burks Branch Road
Don Cubert Drive
Fox Run Road
To Heritage from Wright:
Van Taylor Lane