By Katie Fallon
Round one of the elementary school redistricting meetings is now over and the coming rounds promise to be increasingly contentious as parents across Sandy Springs vie for the most convenient attendance zones for their children and neighbors.
On Oct. 23, the Fulton County School System held the first of three redistricting meetings designed to gather the public’s input on where attendance zones should be redrawn in order to accommodate two new elementary schools being built in the city. Although just the first round, which does not yet include tentative new boundaries, the meeting drew an estimated 200 parents to the cafeteria of North Springs High School
The first of the two new schools, which is not yet named, is scheduled to open in August of next year at the corner of Lake Forrest Drive and Cliftwood Drive in the Forest Valley neighborhood. The second school, while still in the planning and design phase, is scheduled to open in August of 2009 near the intersection of Ison and Roswell roads.
Both schools are designed for a core capacity of 850 students, but are being designed to accommodate a maximum capacity of between 1,100 and 1,200 students.
The school system’s Planning Director Patrick Burke explained that since 2001, the county’s Board of Education has used a specific set of criteria to configure new attendance zones. Primary criteria include geographic proximity, capacity and projected enrollment. Secondary criteria include traffic patterns, previous rezonings, special programs and school feeder alignment.
During the redistricting process, Burke said the school system will be asking the following four questions to determine where the new attendance lines will be drawn:
1). In terms of factors such as natural geographic barriers, homeowner associations and shared amenities such as common areas, youth teams or events, what neighborhood areas should remain together and why?
2). What traffic concerns are there that might impact the safe and timely transportation of students to and from schools?
3). Are there residential development trends that may impact future school enrollment?
4). Have there been issues regarding multiple rezonings in certain areas?
Area Superintendent Leonard Box said it has taken a long time to get schools in Sandy Springs where they are now.
“This has been a journey,” Box said. “This brings tears to my eyes that we’ve finally gotten to a point where we have two plots of land and two elementary schools for Sandy Springs. I’m extremely pleased and proud to say that as we move forward, we’ll have ample space in Sandy Springs for our children”
Burke did not discount the importance of parents’ input on geographic boundaries and shared neighborhood amenities in considering the new attendance zones.
“We want more puzzle pieces, but quite frankly, we recognize certain things belong together as a social unit,” he said. “The more puzzle pieces we have, the better and richer the alternatives will be in Round 2.”
In the second round of redistricting meetings, school system representatives will introduce proposed attendance zone plans, offer more chances for group discussions and gather more input to revise the proposed plans into a draft.
Similarly, the planning director said future development plans are a similarly important factor, although not as easy to forecast.
“The Fulton County School System prides itself on tracking residential development,” Burke said. “We have a very comprehensive database that does that.”
High Point Elementary School had a large contingency of parents at the Oct. 23 meeting and the High Point Civic Association (HPCA) made known its six major concerns of how its children will be redistricted.
Due to traffic concerns and safety issues, the HPCA wants to avoid east-west traffic across Roswell Road. The organization also wants the core capacities of High Point, Heards Ferry and Forest Valley Elementary Schools to determine the long-term school populations. Similarly, the groups wants to see all portable classrooms removed from High Point as soon as the school on Lake Forrest Drive opens and for the school’s maximum enrollment not to exceed 500 students.
Based on a smaller enrollment, the organization also wants to see the lunch schedule reduced from 10:35 a.m. through 1:05 p.m. to 11:15 a.m. through 12:30 p.m.
Most importantly, the group wants to see the attendance boundaries for High Point to include the Sandy Springs-Atlanta city boundary to the south, The Fulton-DeKalb county line to the east, the east side of Roswell Road to the west and Hammond Drive to the north.
Many other neighborhoods expressed concerns about having to traverse Roswell Road to get their children to and from schools as well as the splitting apart of nearby subdivisions that share youth sports activities like a swim team.
One comment from Box that made the crowd cheer was his declaration the school system expects all elementary school portable classrooms to disappear once both new schools have opened.
The Fulton County School Board is scheduled to vote on the new attendance zones in February. The changes related to each new school will take effect when the school opens, but will be approved at the same time to avoid another redistricting process Once the new schools open, Sandy Springs will have seven elementary schools. The attendance zones for area middle and high schools will not change.
The final two rounds of redistricting meetings will be held on Nov.13 and Dec. 10. For more information, visit www.fultonschools.org/redistricting.