Little public interest apparent in school rezoning

Published 11:14pm Friday, November 15, 2013

District administrators laid out to the School Board Thursday their plans for determining who will attend a new elementary school in the city’s south.

Also Thursday, a public input session on the rezoning process for Pioneer Elementary School didn’t see much input from the public. Only one speaker addressed the board.

Administrators plan to open the school on the corner of Route 58 and Pioneer Road in September 2014 with about 575 students.

The figure is based on the experience with North Suffolk’s Creekside Elementary School, Terry Napier, the district’s facilities and planning director, told board members.

“We don’t want to open at 650,” Napier said. “We need some room for growth in that zone.”

The 490 students at Southwestern Elementary, which, along with the already-shuttered Robertson Elementary, the new school is replacing, will be augmented with about 85 children by expanding the attendance zone, Napier explained.

Potential for contention exists in which streets and neighborhoods are added with that expansion.

Napier said the new zone would be contiguous, using established roadways, geographical features and neighborhood boundaries — while respecting the established ones — as much as possible.

“We don’t want to have pockets of students anywhere,” he said. “We want this to be a straight line where you could put your pencil down, go around it, and never pick your pencil up.”

Thursday’s was the first of two public input sessions. The second session, on Jan. 9, will occur after a committee drafts rezoning proposals during two November meetings, and those proposals are posted for review on the district’s website.

After naming the school previously sparked a volley of opinions during public forums, including from former School Board member Thelma Hinton, she was the sole speaker from the community during the first input session on rezoning.

Her message was that rezoning should be viewed as an opportunity to send children from poorer neighborhoods to schools where they can learn alongside students from more privileged parts of the city.

Doing so, she indicated, would help improve tests scores and reverse issues with school accreditation.

“When you look at the academic performance, I’m a firm believer (that) when you cluster everyone together … you are going to consistently get the same results,” Hinton said. “I think you would kind of see different results if you mix it up.”

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