Lack of details about a magnet program at Hall High, the potential lack of racial diversity at the new Southwest High and the prospect of splitting the Hillcrest neighborhood between two high schools were concerns raised Monday by Little Rock School District residents over options for altering school attendance zones.
Little Rock Superintendent Mike Poore presented options for reconfiguring school attendance zones -- prompted in part by the planned opening next August of the new high school -- at the first of two evening forums at Parkview Magnet High School this week. The next forum will be from 6-7:30 p.m. Wednesday in the school auditorium, 2501 John Barrow Road.
The concerns caused several of the approximately 75 people at the Monday session to ask that more time be given to fleshing out details of academic programs and/or exploring alternatives to zone boundary changes -- some or all of which could go into effect in the 2020-21 school year.
This week's forums are intended to get public input on the options or generate alternative ideas to be presented to the district's Community Advisory Board for possible decisions at a special meeting at 5:30 p.m. Thursday at the district's headquarters, 810 W. Markham St. District leaders are also inviting members of the public to comment on the district's website on the attendance zone plan changes. The link to the questionnaire page is https://bit.ly/37ZKAUQ.
Ultimately, advisory board decisions on any zone changes and the timing of the changes will go to Arkansas Education Commissioner Johnny Key for final action. Key acts as the school board in the 23,000-student district that is under state control without an elected school board.
"The timing is extraordinarily problematic," parent Megan Eves told Poore on Monday about a task that is emotional and challenging under the best of conditions. "We are in the worst of conditions," she said about altering school zones and programs at a time when the trust in the school system "has cratered."
Eves said the district has had an approved Blueprint Facilities plan for closing and/or consolidating schools for almost a year without providing additional information in the intervening months.
"Now all of a sudden there is urgency to act in a matter of weeks on items that need to be thought out in great detail and would probably require more than a couple of weeks to work through," she said.
Poore and his staff in November presented to the Arkansas Board of Education and to the Community Advisory Board one plan for altering some elementary attendance zones and another plan for reconfiguring the middle school zones, as well as three options for modifying the high school attendance zones.
The proposed changes are largely in response to the opening of Southwest High and the closing of McClellan and J.A. Fair high schools, as well as an effort to right-size the number of schools to the declining enrollment -- the district has lost about 750 students in just the past two years alone -- and to provide more academic program options to families.
The proposed elementary and middle school plans center in large part around closing Henderson Middle School and David O. Dodd and Romine elementaries, and making J.A. Fair High School a kindergarten through eighth grade campus. The plans also call for repurposing Rockefeller and Romine elementaries into pre-kindergarten centers and expanding the Dunbar Middle School zone to take in the eastern section of the Pulaski Heights Middle School zone.
THREE ZONE OPTIONS
Poore has in the past two weeks proposed delaying the elementary and middle school rezoning plans by at least a year because preparations for all the attendance zone changes got sidelined by all the ongoing planning and disputes over the terms in which the state is to return local control to the district.
But Poore said Monday that high school attendance zone changes are necessary for the coming year and that there cannot be much delay because the open-enrollment period for magnet and specialty schools opened Monday. That open-enrollment period is being extended into January but decisions have to be made so families will know what their school choices are and so student scheduling into courses can occur in February.
He and his staff have proposed three options for altering the high school attendance zones.
In each of the three high school attendance zone options Fair and McClellan attendance zones would be assigned to Southwest High, and Parkview Arts and Science Magnet High would remain a magnet school without a student attendance zone. In two of the three options, Hall High would become a special-program magnet school without an attendance zone, enabling the school to attract students districtwide with a program possibly in the STEAM subjects of science, technology, engineering, art and math.
In the third option, however, Hall would offer a special academic magnet program but it also would have an enlarged attendance zone that would extend into parts of the Central High zone, including a portion of the Central zone that is south of Lee Avenue in the Hillcrest neighborhood.
Eves, the parent speaker Monday, said that Central High is already over capacity and that two of the high school options could result in more students -- "hundreds" -- at the campus.
"I know the intent is to make Hall so attractive ... but the fact is there's no information at all available about what would make Hall a great option," she said. "There are no details. We don't know which teachers would be assigned to Hall. We don't know what the curriculum would be." She added that while some STEM programs are good, others are not.
Sen. Joyce Elliott, D-Little Rock, questioned Poore and central office administrators Randy Rutherford and Frederick Fields about the possibility of a magnet program being added to the new Southwest -- the only high school that doesn't have a magnet program planned.
She also said she expects Southwest, located at Mabelvale Pike and Richsmith Lane, to serve an overwhelmingly black and Hispanic student body next fall even though one of the district goals in altering the attendance zones is to create race-neutral high school attendance zones as pledged in a September 2017 settlement to a federal lawsuit.
"I don't think we have a school in the district at all as segregated as Southwest is going to be," Elliott said. "Are there no white families who want their children to attend Southwest High School?" She added that hyper-segregated schools are the result of "segregating ourselves."
PARENTS SPEAK OUT
Other speakers had concerns Monday about the timing of the changes, and on the impact new attendance zone lines would have on current high school students and on public support for the city's public schools.
Britt Runion, a parent of a high school junior, asked for assurances that students who will be seniors next year at Central be allowed to complete their high school career at Central.
"You can't ask a [Central] Tiger to become a [Hall] Warrior," she said in an interview about a senior-year change of schools.
Paul Charton, another parent, told Poore that parents at the Monday session had by a show of hands opposed the Option 3 proposal that would extend the Hall attendance zone into Central's existing zone.
Claudia Utley told Poore that the Hillcrest neighborhood is known for its support of the district.
"We do everything you ask of us to make sure we have thriving public schools," she said, but warned that cleaving the neighborhood would violate that partnership.
Michele Ballentine-Linch praised the career programs that are being planned for Southwest High, using the Ford Next Generation Learning model of creating career academies in fields such as computer science and health sciences in cooperation with local businesses and industry.
"We can make it a hub to where students will flock," she said.
Metro on 12/03/2019
Print Headline: Residents of Little Rock School District raise zone concerns