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WHAT WE THINK: Redistricting needs open ears and minds

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The process about to begin at Shelby County Public Schools always is painful and difficult.

When it comes to schools and families, the word “redistricting” can be as daunting for parents as “final exam” can be for students. Those few letters can signal for some a difficult task ahead, an uncertain future and, perhaps, a lot of blood, sweat and tears to come.

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That certainly must be the feeling in the homes of hundreds of elementary school families in Shelby County – primarily western Shelby County – whose comfort zones and routines likely will change significantly next summer with the opening of the new Southside Elementary in Shelbyville.

The expanded and remodeled school will accommodate about 150 more students, and that capacity will allow Shelby County Public Schools officials to balance the populations at several, crowded schools, most notably Simpsonville and Painted Stone.

Those officials – operating with recommendations from a committee that includes parents – have sketched out their plan and next week will conduct public hearings to allow parents to ask questions and comment on decisions that the school board ultimately must endorse.

We expect those to be volatile, because parents and students alike get comfortable with their scenarios, their workflows and the dynamics of schools and don’t want to change. They see schedules, logistics and just plain learning disrupted. And we feel that pain.

But we also feel the pain of overcrowding and recognize that there are no simple answers to rebalancing the student population. That this process does not include middle and high schools was simply because committee members couldn’t find a balance that allowed for target schools to be put in place.

Those who have had students in the upper schools for the past few years likely remain clear in their memories of the restructuring to accommodate Collins High School. That was a painful process, to be sure, with loyalties joining logistics as the key disruptions. And geography and demography didn’t make that process simple, either.

But there was a lesson, too. Because of input from public sessions about that rezoning, adjustments were made that accommodated some issues more simply. District officials listened, and they responded.

We trust that similar open ears will be in the hearings next week, and we encourage that parents attend these sessions and speak frankly about problems they may see.

Parents can’t expect that the district can respond to every individual request, so they should limit their suggestions to those that make sense for a group and not simply belabor personal problems. That wastes time and opportunity.

As we learned with Collins, there always is an avenue for application for waiver, and the more personal and direct issues should be addressed that way.

And please remember: There is no perfect answer, and those who are making these decisions have taken into account a plethora of factors, including even the comfort level of the schools’ principals, as much as we would suggest they hold the low cards among the stakeholders.

The really important point of all of this is better education for all our children, and we believe less-crowded class rooms are fundamental to that point. For some, new and more modern facilities are a plus, too.

Please, if you have a student in the affected areas, attend one of the sessions with open ears, open eyes and open ideas.

If you are an administrator, please be prepared for some alternative thinking that could cause you to take a new look at the plan you feel is most logical.

And all of us will wait to see how blessed our students will be in the 2013-14 school year.