Opinion

Schools need balance

We applaud the Rock Hill school board for its willingness to listen to members of the community and to take another look at its proposed reassignment plan. Nonetheless, residents in the district still are going to have to adapt to the changes necessitated by growth and a shifting population.

Board members opted last week not to vote on proposed maps outlining attendance zones for children in the district. Instead, the board will give residents more time to review the reassignment proposals and comment on them.

The reassignment is expected to affect more than 3,000 elementary, middle and high school students. The board had planned to vote on the overall plan Monday, but after hearing complaints from parents, members decided to delay the vote and tweak the attendance zones.

The changes are designed to alleviate crowding at Rock Hill High and Old Pointe Elementary schools, while shifting students to fill the new Mount Holly Elementary and Dutchman Creek Middle schools. After some parents voiced their concerns about the plan, the board decided to amend the proposed elementary school map so several neighborhoods south of Rock Hill near Neelys Creek Road could stay in their current schools.

The new proposed maps have been posted online, and the board plans to discuss them again at its Nov. 12 work session. The first vote on the new assignment zones is expected sometime later next month.

No reassignment plan will please everyone. To keep students from the neighborhoods near Neelys Creek in schools nearer to their homes, the board might have to shift students now at Oakdale Elementary School to Belleview Elementary. That move would affect fewer students overall.

But, as board chairman Bob Norwood noted, "It doesn't take a rocket scientist to look at this and know where the next push will come from."

Residents must face up to the reality that not every student in the district will be able to attend a school close to his or her home. That concept of a "neighborhood" school no longer is practical in every case. Instead, students might have to accept that attending school with other students in the neighborhood -- even if the school is several miles away -- is the best alternative.

We sympathize, as do school board members, with families that are uprooted from schools they have come to love. Many parents have invested time and effort in PTO, fund-raising efforts and other school functions. Sending their children to a different school seems like a betrayal.

Nonetheless, with more than 400 students entering the district each year, alleviating crowding and equalizing the distribution of students among the schools makes some disruption necessary. We also fully agree with school board members that balance within the schools is important to ensuring that all schools have roughly the same advantages and the same opportunity to achieve excellence.

That entails balancing the number of economically disadvantaged students at each of the schools where possible. Experience has shown that schools with large numbers of students from low-income families, including students who qualify for the free-lunch program, often lack the strong parental support of schools with larger percentages of higher-income families.

Schools are more likely to thrive when parents are involved in their children's education, when they set high standards, are active in school functions, talk to their children about school and make sure they do their assigned work. Conversely, in schools where parents don't play an active role, teachers have to work harder, spending more time with individual students, and students often don't experience the advantage of learning from their peers.

We agree with the school board that the effort to balance the playing field for all schools in the district is crucial. We don't want a school system of "haves" and "have nots." That also gives parents the comfort of knowing that their children can get a good education no matter which school they might attend.

Some discomfort from the reassignment process is inevitable. We hope, however, that the majority of parents in the district will support the school board in its efforts to balance schools and work toward equal opportunities for all students.

IN SUMMARY

All Rock Hill schools should have elements that help students achieve excellence.

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