Rezoning doubts

Published 11:00pm Saturday, January 11, 2014

Families in Suffolk’s rural south who feel they’re on the wrong side of the line in a rezoning proposal hope school district officials heed their pleas.

After being told students from the already-shuttered Robertson Elementary School and Southwestern Elementary would attend Pioneer Elementary, when it opens this fall and Southwestern closes, several parents learned their children could instead be bused across town to Booker T. Washington Elementary School.

Cherry Grove Road’s Stacey Griffis told the School Board during a public input session Thursday her three children would travel 13.6 miles to Booker T. Washington while a bus to the new Pioneer Elementary passes close by.

“It doesn’t make sense because Pioneer is closer,” Griffis said. “I think you all need to think about the outcomes a little bit more.”

Nichole Madison, also on Cherry Grove Road, Stacey Hassell on Adams Swamp Road, and Ken Adams on Indian Trail Road told similar stories.

“The bus (to Pioneer) passes our road twice,” Madison said. “I don’t understand why the bus comes past our road and can’t come down our road.”

Terry Napier, the district’s facilities and planning director, told board members “the numbers are about where we would like them to be.”

After the figure of 85 was initially proposed, Napier said the current plan is for 60 students zoned for Kilby Shores Elementary to help make up numbers at Pioneer after 550 students transfer from Southwestern.

Griffis said her two children — the third will start kindergarten in September — would already be attending Booker T. Washington, but she was granted a waiver for them to go to Southwestern due to day care issues.

“Many of you have probably never lived in rural Whaleyville, but it’s a very tight community, and it’s very hard to get day care,” she told board members.

After the input session, Griffis said the waiver means her children would likely still be able to attend Pioneer Elementary, despite not being included in the school’s attendance zone, but she would prefer not to have to reapply for it every year and stress about what she’ll do if it isn’t granted.

She said she knows of at least 12 students near where she lives who’d be bussed to Booker T. Washington in downtown Suffolk, rather than attend the elementary school closest to them.

“All our families on that side of town, if anything were to happen (to their children while at school), they’re all within a couple of miles to go and get them (at Pioneer),” she said.

Griffis said the current proposal is about desegregating by bringing more white students to Booker T. Washington, which is predominantly black.

She understands that need, she said, but it’s inconvenient for her and the others.

Meanwhile, former School Board member Thelma Hinton expressed her view that the district should undertake a wider rezoning to shift students from poorer neighborhoods and lower-performing schools into schools considered stronger.

“I believe doing this shift, you will see a difference,” Hinton said.

A vote on the rezoning proposal is scheduled for March.

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