School board stands behind reassignment philosophy

Duncan Puckett is concerned that his kindergarten-age daughter will have to get up by 6 a.m. to catch the school bus under a proposed Rock Hill school district reassignment plan.

Puckett's daughter currently attends Independence Elementary School, which is less than 2 miles from his home. She would be moved about 8 miles to Belleview Elementary under one proposal.

"It seems like if a school is in your neighborhood, that should be the school you go to," Duncan said. "I don't even know where Belleview is, but there's no way it's going to be any closer to where (our school) is now."

Puckett's daughter is among about 80 students in neighborhoods near Neelys Creek Road south of Rock Hill who would be affected by a proposed rezoning to Belleview. It's part of an effort to ensure that each school has a similar percentage of low-income students and those with low test scores.

As the Rock Hill district approaches the end of another daunting reassignment process, school board members and district officials are standing by their philosophy of balanced schools.

The board is scheduled to vote on proposed reassignment maps Monday. In all, more than 3,000 elementary, middle and high school students are expected to be affected.

The reassignment is needed to fill up the new Mount Holly Elementary and Dutchman Creek Middle schools, which will be opening next fall, and to alleviate overcrowding at Old Pointe Elementary School and Rock Hill High School.

Reassignment committees worked hours to ensure that the percentage of low-income students and those with low state test scores was balanced at schools throughout the district, while also avoiding overcrowding.

But that balance in the student population sometimes comes at the expense of convenience to parents such as Puckett and others, who must switch schools or transport their children farther away from their homes.

"Parents have one goal, and that is what's best for my child," school board Chairman Bob Norwood said. "Our approach must be what's best for every child."

A healthy balance

The philosophy of balance began with reassignment in 2002.

Before that, school attendance zones were drawn primarily based on the distance to schools. The result was schools with richer and poorer populations, Norwood said.

One of the main problems with schools that had unequal socioeconomic populations was keeping good teachers at the schools with more low-income students.

"If you have to struggle every day in your profession, you're going to burn out quicker," Norwood said.

There is a high correlation between poverty and low academic achievement.

Norwood also cited the need for parental involvement in all schools. Schools that have a higher percentage of low-income families have fewer parents who have the time and resources to volunteer, he said.

Parents in the community have mixed opinions about whether balance is necessary.

At a public hearing on the reassignment maps earlier this month, many parents said they don't understand the importance of spreading out the students who receive government-subsidized lunch, a measure of poverty. They said they just want their children to go to school closer to home.

But district officials maintain that neighborhood schools won't solve anything.

"They'd still fill up," said Luanne Kokolois, associate superintendent for planning and program support. "The district is growing by four-to-500 students a year. Schools are going to fill up."

'Scooped out'

One example of the conflict between distance to school and socioeconomic balance is the proposed attendance zone for Belle- view Elementary.

As it stands, families in the Village Green/Wellsbrook area along Neelys Creek Road would drive about 8 miles to Belleview, where their children would be rezoned.

However, three other elementary schools -- Lesslie, Independence and Mount Holly -- are all much closer to their homes, within about 3 miles.

The proposed attendance zones would affect about 80 students in the area, said Susan York, director of school climate.

If those students were not moved to Belleview as proposed, the percentage of those who receive subsidized lunch and have low test scores would shoot up into the 60s. Under the current proposal to move them to Belleview, those percentages would be lower, in the mid 50s.

Parents in the areas proposed to be rezoned pleaded their case to school board members and district officials.

"I would like to be left within the community," said Kim Neely, whose son attends kindergarten at Independence. "It is a very difficult job because the district is trying to ... make all of the schools very balanced. I understand that; however, it is not fair.

"If you look at the map, we have been scooped out and sent into town."

Alternate solution

The board will consider an alternative solution Monday that would allow the areas proposed to move to Belleview to stay at their current schools.

"I think it's got potential," said board member Mikki Rentschler, who participated in the reassignment committees. "But right now, I can't say that we have the primo situation for any of our maps."

Norwood said that if changes to the proposed school zoning maps are made, the board will notify parents of the changes before voting on them.

What: School board meeting and possible vote on reassignment

When: 6 p.m. Monday

Where: District office board room on Anderson Road