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Plans don’t please parents: Residents disagree with proposed changes to school districts

POSTED: December 22, 2007 5:02 a.m.
FLOWERY BRANCH — They came with different perspectives, but none advocated keeping South Hall school district boundary lines as has been proposed by Hall County school officials.

Riverstone Park was one of the most vocal groups at a public hearing on the proposal Monday night.

Residents asked the Hall County Board of Education to keep their neighborhood in the Spout Springs Elementary School district rather than move it to the new Chestnut Mountain Elementary School district, which opens in the fall of 2008.

Sterling on the Lake residents wanted boundary lines to keep their children in the Friendship Elementary School district rather than move them as proposed to Spout Springs.

"We love our Friendship family," said Kristi Arnett. "We know all the teachers; we know all the kids."

The school system is redrawing lines to accommodate the new 900-student Chestnut Mountain school, which is being built to relieve overcrowding at Friendship and Spout Springs elementary schools.

Superintendent Will Schofield said he expects that the school board will approve redrawing lines in January but no later than February.

The school system also plans to convert the current Chestnut Mountain school into the World Languages Academy, which possibly could hold state charter status when it opens in the fall of 2008.

All the students currently in Chestnut Mountain’s district would remain there, but, under the proposal, the district has swelled to include a big chunk of what used to be in the Spout Springs district.

Chestnut Mountain’s lines used to stop at Winder Highway but now would spread south to include neighborhoods off Union Church Road and Old Winder Highway, including Riverstone

"In the short time that we’ve lived here, we’ve already made substantial investments in Spout Springs, including emotional investments ... our kids have friends inside and outside the classroom," said Melanie Schmidt, a resident of the development off Ga. 211.

"Financially, we have invested in the academic future of our children," she added.

Spout Springs’ district would include all of the neighborhoods off Spout Springs Road to Williams Road and then east of Spout Springs Road south to the border with Gwinnett County.

Friendship remains mostly the same except for the Sterling move and losing students east of Spout Springs Road in the Thompson Mill area.

Many speakers said they "did research" on lining up where they lived with where they wanted their children to be schooled.

One of those was Vickie Downs, who said her family moved into Highland Park subdivision for that reason and then when their family got bigger to Sterling on the Lake, a 1,700-home subdivision that sits between Blackjack Road and Spout Springs Road.

"It’s a little disconcerting knowing now that two (of my) third-graders and a fourth-grader are next year going to a (new) school," she said.

Some parents asked that the school board at least consider giving families the option of allowing students to stay at the same school they’ve attended.

"I had to change schools when I was in the fifth grade and it was very hard," said Robyn Adams.

While most residents ask not to be moved as part of redistricting, two residents of the Royal Lakes Golf and Country Club off Winder Highway near Martin Road said they wanted their development to be part of the redistricting effort.

A few years ago, the school board moved Royal Lakes out of the Martin Elementary School district to the newly created Chicopee Woods Elementary School.

Residents opposed the move then because a few years earlier they had been moved from the Chestnut Mountain Elementary district to the newly created Martin district.

Unhappy with test scores at Chicopee Woods, parents "have taken their children to other schools, some private," said Susan Wentz, a Royal Lakes resident for three years. "Well, we don’t really like that."

She added, "There are two things we don’t think you can separate — quality of education and the effect on property values in our neighborhood."

Schofield told the audience of about 60 people at the end of the hearing that the school district is "going to work until our fingers bleed over the next decade to try to offer more and more choices for families."

He pointed out that the World Languages Academy won’t have district lines, enabling anyone in the county to enroll their child there.

"That will be a school of choice, whereas every school mentioned tonight will have a certain number of slots," Schofield said.

"I actually live 20 miles from there, but my wife and I are trying to figure out how we can get our youngest to a school where she ... can become bilingual."

After the hearing, Schofield said that school officials would digest all comments from the hearing and "pull up our maps again."

He said he did like a suggestion from one audience member to try to keep redistricted children in the same groups as they get used to a new school.

"I thought that was an excellent idea," Schofield said.



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