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Parents sound off on Jefferson's redistricting plan

March 14, 2003|by DAVE McMILLION

charlestown@herald-mail.com

CHARLES TOWN, W.Va. - Parent after parent criticized a proposed school redistricting plan Thursday night, saying it would disrupt families, childrens' education and be nothing more than a "Band-Aid" in a county that is seeing significant growth.

One woman, speaking at the public hearing attended by about 100 people at Blue Ridge Elementary School, said she feared being "bounced back and fourth across the Shenandoah (River) like a tennis ball."

School officials responded by saying they are sympathetic to parents' concerns but that they are in a difficult situation, trying to provide school space for children in the county.

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Superintendent of Schools R. Steven Nichols said the state of West Virginia has been "very difficult" to work with in getting more money for school construction and estimated Jefferson County is about 10 years behind in building the schools it needs.

Some of the speakers wanted to know about how to appear before the Jefferson County Planning Commission to demand answers on how to deal with the situation. Others talked about calling state lawmakers and putting pressure on the Jefferson County Commission to deal with the situation.

Mike Mood said housing developers need to give "at least land, if not land and a (school) building" when they want to build a subdivision.

School officials say overcrowding exists in many county schools and they want to change the attendance zones for Page Jackson, T.A. Lowery, C.W. Shipley and Wright Denny elementary schools to even out the student population and create more space in classrooms.

Although students would not be taken out of Shepherdstown, South Jefferson, Blue Ridge and Ranson elementary schools, students would be added to those schools, according to the plan.

School officials said Blue Ridge Elementary has a lot of space and 124 students would be added to the school under the redistricting plan. That would bring the school's population to 464, under its capacity of 500 students, Jefferson County Board of Education members said. Blue Ridge parents expressed concern about the impact on the school.

There were many Bakerton, W.Va.-area parents who were upset about having their children moved from C.W. Shipley Elementary to Shepherdstown Elementary.

Lisa Gunter cried at the podium as she told the board of education about her daughter, who suffers from dyslexia. Gunter said her daughter attends C.W. Shipley and she has made great progress there, due in part by help from Principal Mark Osbourn.

Gunter said she worries about sending her daughter to Shepherdstown Elementary because she is concerned they will not know her background.

"I don't think she's going to be able to cope," Gunter said.

Bakerton-area residents told board of education members there is a strong feeling of community in Bakerton and parents said they wanted their kids to go to school where they did.

Nichols said the redistricting plan is meant to free up space for expected new students, but Kimberly Hamilton does not think that is fair.

"Our kids are very real. Potential kids are not," Hamilton said.

Hamilton emphasized the importance of the community feeling in Bakerton.

"You move to Bakerton and you die there," she said.

"Please help us keep our children home," said another Bakerton resident, who added the redistricting would put stress on his family.

School board members said they would consider all public comments on the plan and make changes if they feel they are necessary.

"We know the plan isn't perfect. None are," Nichols said.

The next public hearing on the plan will be Thursday at 7:30 p.m. at T.A. Lowery Elementary School.

The board of education is expected to vote on the plan April 1, Nichols said.

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