Many bothered by school boundaries

After eight months of board meetings, public hearings and bickering over plans, students caught in the middle of a fight over attendance boundaries finally know what school colors they will wear next year.

Last week, by a 5-2 vote, the Cabarrus County Board of Education passed a plan that will move about 150 students from Jay M. Robinson High School to Northwest Cabarrus High School.

The area affected is bounded by Weddington Road on the south and Poplar Tent Road on the north, both sides of George Liles Boulevard on the west and connecting streets down to, but not including, Rock Hill Church Road and Allen Drive, down to Travis Lane, on the east.

Rising juniors and seniors and their siblings currently attending Robinson will be grandfathered and can attend either school.

The motion was moved by board member Holly Blackwelder, who said the plan passed at the meeting was better than the staff's recommended proposal, which moved students from Concord High School to fill Northwest Cabarrus High School, which is under capacity.

At 1,539 students, Robinson is 29 students over capacity.

The staff proposed moving students from Concord High School to make room for an international baccalaureate program that is being considered for the future. Concord High has 1,209 students, 286 under capacity.

Blackwelder disagreed with that plan.

"We were moving kids out of Concord due to a program we may or may not support in the future," she said.

Winning candidates in the Nov. 2 school board election will join the board in January. Lynn Shue and Blake Kiger unseated incumbent Andrea Palo and Chair Wayne Williams.

Taking students from a school that is over capacity and giving to a school under capacity makes the best sense, said Blackwelder.

"We have Northwest Cabarrus that has 300-plus open seats. We are now under-utilizing their resources. We have Jay M. Robinson that is over capacity, with 5-7 mobile units, stretched to the max with their resources."

Surveys at Robinson during the last few years indicate teachers were happier when student enrollment was lower. Surveys taken in 2008 and 2010 showed a drop in the percentage of teachers who feel Robinson is a good place to work and learn, from 85 percent to 74 percent.

"I think a lot of that has to do with overcapacity and situations that they have," said Blackwelder.

Palo, from the beginning a staunch opponent the plan to move students from Robinson, said it will not fix the problem of keeping more advanced placement classes at Northwest, a main driving force behind the proposal. AP classes might be cut because of the school's declining student population.

"Once again we asked the staff today if this would help Northwest, and the answer was no," said Palo. "It will not help keep those classes."

Palo said the school district should not have made a change, but should look at neighborhoods in the Northwest area that will most likely experience growth again. Nearby Kellswater Bridge, a large subdivision near Northwest Cabarrus where construction has nearly stopped because of the ailing economy, is likely to begin growing again in the future and add more students to Northwest.

"We are where we're at right now at Northwest, with 1,003 kids because of bad decisions in the past.

"To do that again, to make a decision knowing the staff is saying we're not going to keep those classes, I'm just afraid you're all going to be disappointed."

Cindy Fertenbaugh, vice chair of the board said those numbers will matter, though.

"The more students you have, the more teachers you're allocated for electives," she said. Advanced placement classes are considered elective classes.

The new attendance boundaries, which includes the Laurel Park subdivision, first stirred controversy in April, when a proposal was initially introduced - too late, according to many Robinson students, who had tried out for teams and selected classes for the next year.

The issue led to heated debates, public hearings and more than one proposal. At October's board meeting, Robinson parents thanked board members for not taking action on any of the plans.

At November's meeting, it was the parents of Northwest students who thanked the board. "

We're in this game to do what is right for 28,000 children, not for just a select cluster of kids," said Debbi Crisp, a parent from Northwest. "Their social life is important, but it's not as important as their education."

Robinson parents have argued all along that pulling their small number of children away from classmates they've gone to school with for years would be stressful and could lead to bullying and other problems.

"I think you ask any of your counselors, a child that is unhappy or bullied is not going to do well academically," said Stephanie Fiedler, a Robinson parent.

Board member Carolyn Carpenter, who voted against the plan with Palo, said the climate created between parents and students of the two schools has created a potentially dangerous environment.

"I'm really concerned all that has taken place the last couple of months with the students that would be going over to Northwest. I am really afraid what some of them would experience. I would not be comfortable with sending some of them."

Before the vote took place Blackwelder asked the staff to provide for the December work session the numbers of what it would look like if those students affected were allowed to remain at Northwest Middle School instead of attending the new Harold Winkler Middle School next year. Northwest Middle School is a feeder into Northwest High.