Rezoning plans proposed

Published 9:13 pm Friday, February 9, 2018

Suffolk’s School Board was presented with an official proposal for rezoning options on Thursday night.

The School Board was provided rezoning options from the rezoning committee to remedy problems with overcrowding, underutilized space and racial diversity. Rezoning at least at the middle school level will be necessary to fill the new Col. Fred Cherry Middle School, but the School Board requested citywide proposals for all levels as well as plans that affect only certain schools for the elementary and middle levels.

Terry Napier, Director of Facilities and Planning, presented the options to the board.

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The Florence Bowser proposal will only affect the new school, Driver and Creekside Elementary. The Col. Fred Cherry proposal would affect only the new school and John Yeates Middle School. There is also a proposal for the high school level.

All of the proposals eliminate or reduce overcrowding in most of the schools. The severely overcrowded John Yeates Middle, in both the Col. Fred Cherry and city-wide proposals, would see less than half of its current enrollment.

“It works, but it is a big change,” Napier said. “It is designed to get enough students at each school with no overcrowding and keep bus rides under 60 minutes.”

The School Board was subject to a consent order from the Department of Justice in March 2017 to “resolve the Board’s remaining school desegregation obligations.” The order is the remaining legacy of a lawsuit filed in 1970 against the school district’s segregation.

Part of the citywide rezoning proposal focuses on creating diversity in each school that closely matches the school division overall.

“Most of the numbers get better but some do get worse,” Napier said. “It’s impossible to get 50-50 without busing more than 60 minutes.”

Currently, Booker T. Washington Elementary School is the least diverse school in the division. Almost 94 percent of the students are black, and with the citywide proposal it would drop to 59 percent black.

At least one proposal must be accepted, because the new middle school has to be filled with students.

Parents came to the school board meeting last month to voice their concern for rezoning, and most of the parents were concerned about Pioneer and Booker T. Washington elementary schools. A few parents attended Thursday’s meeting to voice concern again.

“I get that our school zone needs help. I get that our schools are overcrowded. The northern end of our city is booming,” said Heather Wiggins. “My kids go to Pioneer and John F. Kennedy, and they are successful. Uprooting them and moving them to some of the worst schools in our city is not the right answer.”

The School Board will vote on a rezoning plan at its next scheduled meeting at 7 p.m. March 8. The meeting will be held at Lakeland High School, 214 Kenyon Road.