Valdosta Daily Times

Local News

February 12, 2014

Parents share concerns about Valdosta redistricting

VALDOSTA — More than 100 concerned parents and community members were able to have their opinions heard during the Valdosta City Schools redistricting meeting on Tuesday night.

The meeting began with Assistant Superintendent Dr. Alvin Hudson sharing the attendance numbers for each of the elementary schools as well as the current zoning map.

His presentation showed overpopulation or near overpopulation concerns for the northern schools, including Sallas Mahone and W.G. Nunn. Sallas Mahone's maximum capacity is 1,125, they are currently operating with 1,105 students. W.G. Nunn's maximum capacity is 1,125, they currently have 1,310.

The other schools within the system, J.L. Lomax, S.L. Mason and the new Pinevale Elementary, are operating well under their maximum capacities.

Hudson then shared the guiding principles for redistricting as decided by the redistricting committee. They are:

1. Provide the best education experience for all students by minimizing disruptions caused by overcrowding.

2. Create realistic boundaries for each elementary school, maintaining the integrity of as many neighborhoods as possible.

3. Provide the best utilization of available space for continued growth.

4. Ensure a feasible, cost effective and efficient transportation plan.

Superintendent Martin Roesch then addressed the crowd saying, "If you look at the numbers from past years, you can see how much we have grown. This is a good problem to have. It means that we are growing. We just have to make sure that we accommodate for that growth."

The floor was then opened to the audience to voice their concerns and opinions. The majority of the shared opinions included consideration for students with hardships (special approvals from the school board to attend a school they are not zoned for due to certain circumstances], special needs students and the continuing growth of northern Lowndes County.

Hilary Cribbs, a mother of two, with one child currently in the second grade, was the first to speak. She urged the board to consider traffic issues when redistricting, particularly the traffic on North Valdosta Road.

Lashayla Dyer, a mother of two, was the next to speak.

"I have two wonderful sons that attend this wonderful school [Sallas Mahone] and I just want to applaud the teachers and administrators here for doing a wonderful job with what you have. We are excited about the growth in Valdosta, but we are also nervous," said Dyer.

Both Dyer and Cribbs have applied for hardships due to the travel time and the convenience of their schools to their jobs and homes.

Cassandra Wright, a mother of  a child with special needs, voiced her concerns about changing where her child attends school and the effect that will have on her special needs.

"I have worked with the administrators here and my daughter is comfortable here. If she is moved from where she is comfortable we will see an escalation of her special needs," said Wright. She then encouraged the board to consider creating a special needs hardship for other parents in her situation.

Some families shared concerns about having moved to certain homes for the school their home was zoned for. Valerie Buckner was one such person. Buckner has a grandson in the school system and they purchased their home specifically for the school it was zoned for.

Some parents became emotional when considering that their child might be forced to change schools. Jenny Cochran explained to the board, "I think most of us have to wear two hats in this situation. One hat is the rational hat that understands the need to do this. The other hat, my mother hat, doesn't want to see my child have to change schools. My kid is used to going to school here.  I think a lot of parents feel the same way I do. Maybe you could consider grandfathering in some children."

Mark Flythe and Alonzo Glover both shared concerns about the continuing growth in the northern part of the district. Their concerns were later echoed by John Stein who hoped that the board would understand there will be an eventual need to build another school and that that would be considered in their plan.

Stein also shared with the board that his child has a medical hardship that makes it impossible for her to ride the school bus. He hoped that the board would look at the time children have been at that school and factor that in.

"It is about education, but most of all it is about safety," said Stein.

Diversity was another topic of discussion during the meeting. Terri Ball and Eliza McCall both shared their concerns about improving and maintaining the diversity in their children's schools.

"It's important for our kids to have a great school, but it is also important for our children to be exposed to children that are not exactly like them," said Ball.

McCall also reminded the board of the effect that redistricting will have on property values.

Donald Altman voiced a few opinions on things  he thinks the board should and should not factor in.

"I hope that there will not be students passing schools to get to their school. I also hope that testing data on students will not be considered in your decision and that this will truly be about the overpopulating," said Altman.

The next public input meeting will be held on Tuesday, Feb. 18, at 7 p.m. at J.L. Lomax.

The board announced that transportation will be available for parents to attend next week's meeting. If anyone is interested in getting transportation to the meeting, please call the transportation department at (229)245-5640 between 9 a.m.-1:30 p.m. by Friday, Feb. 14.

Community members can also share their concerns about the redistricting to the board via email. They are asked to send their opinions to vboe@gocats.org.

Once the board has heard the input from the community, they will create a preliminary map. They will then share that plan with the community and receive feedback during two meetings in March. Those meetings will be held on Thursday, March 13 at 7 p.m. at S.L. Mason and Tuesday, March 18 at 7 p.m. at W.G. Nunn.

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