Gainesville may limit school choice in effort to balance attendance, provide more pre-K

Gainesville school leaders are proposing to limit school choice in an effort to balance attendance at the city school system’s six elementary schools as well as provide pre-K at each school.

Parents now can choose which elementary school their child attends, with the exception of the new Mundy Mill Academy. Under the proposal revealed Wednesday at a Board of Education meeting, Gainesville’s elementary schools would be divided into two clusters, with parents choosing their child’s school within that cluster. One cluster would include Centennial, Fair Street, New Holland and Enota elementaries. The other would include Mundy Mill and Gainesville Exploration.

Two public input meetings will be held to prior to a formal vote scheduled for February. Those meeting dates haven’t been announced yet.

If parents choose to send their child to a school outside of their cluster, they will be required to provide their own transportation.

To make this work, school officials are also redrawing attendance zones for each individual school to level enrollment.

Superintendent Jeremy Williams said this was the “biggest challenge we faced.”  

Currently, for example, 53.5 percent of students attending Centennial Arts Academy live in the school’s zoned district. Meanwhile, 58.9 percent of students at New Holland come from outside the school’s zoning. And Fair Street has just 42.7 percent of its students residing within its zone.

This has created a disparity at elementary schools, with 885 students zoned for Gainesville Exploration Academy and just 273 students zoned for Fair Street; meanwhile 736 attend Gainesville Exploration while 464 attend Fair Street.

“So our attempt was to go in and get the attendance zones a little bit more equitable,” Williams said, adding that the plan would leave each school at just 70 to 80 percent of capacity.

About 12 percent of students will not attend their current school under these changes.

Attendance zone changes include adding residents of Swan Drive and the Harrison Square public housing complex to the Fair Street zoning.

Centennial will see the addition of students from north and northwest of Dawsonville Highway and McEver Road, which in turn decreases the zoned attendance numbers for Gainesville Exploration. View the proposed zones; note dots represent students’ homes. Also, view the current attendance zones.

Mundy Mill will also see additions that decrease the Gainesville Exploration zoned attendance numbers.

Finally, pre-K would come to all elementary schools. It’s currently only held at New Holland Knowledge Academy and Mundy Mill. These young students must attend the school to which they are zoned.

“The only way we’re really going to impact our future is making sure kids have access to quality education,” Williams said.

Williams said limiting pre-K enrollment to zones will shorten bus rides where disciplinary issues can arise.

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