Superintendent proposes more neighborhood schools

Published 12:00 am Friday, December 19, 2003

[12/19/03]Elementary students may be attending schools closer to their homes if the community supports a proposal from Superintendent James Price.

“I look forward to putting this before the community so we can gain their input and insight into what’s best for the community, for the children of our community,” Price said Thursday night when asking Vicksburg Warren School District trustees for a go-ahead to continue researching a return to neighborhood-oriented schools. He won on a 3-2 split vote.

Price said principals have voted unanimously in support of the idea, but the next step is finding out if parents are behind the idea.

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“Just because we believe this is the way it should be doesn’t make it so,” Price said at the board meeting Thursday night.

The change would be a major reversal from an approach started about six years ago. Then, a decision was made to spend $32 million on building two mega-elementaries Dana Road and Sherman Avenue and closing elementaries at Bovina, Culkin, Cedars, Grove and Halls Ferry.

The idea has some community support.

“I don’t think people should have to go way out of their way for school,” said Tarsha Warfield, who has two sons in elementary schools in the district. Warfield lives on Crawford Street and said four buses drive past her house each day to ferry students to and from four separate schools.

And Sharon DuBois, whose granddaughter is a fifth-grader at Vicksburg Intermediate in the Dana Road complex, said the distance from schools was of no matter to her. But she said students of fifth- and sixth-grade age should stay in environments geared more toward children before moving to junior high. All fifth- and sixth-graders attend either Dana or Sherman.

Price’s plan granted approval from the community, faculty, staff and the board of trustees would involve:

Making each existing elementary a K-6 school.

Reopening Bovina as a neighborhood school. The building now houses the Center for Alternative Programs, which would be moved to the former Grove Street Elementary.

Creating neighborhood zone lines to achieve racial balance.

Building a new school within the city limits to reduce the number of students bused from the city to the county. Bowmar is now the only elementary inside Vicksburg.

The board voted 3-2 for Price, who has been superintendent since July, to continue exploring the idea. Trustees Zelmarine Murphy and Betty Tolliver dissented.

According to Price, it is the community’s decision.

If the community says no, Price said, “It’s back to the drawing board.”

The two mega-schools opened for the 1999 school year under a modified school choice plan. Existing elementary district lines were resulting in too little racial mixing by federal standards, and the choice plan was designed to (1) do away with districts, (2) spur competition for students among elementaries and (3) administratively control racial balances.

Under the plan, parents may select any K-4 school in North or South zones and have their child or children sent to that school in most cases. North schools are Sherman, Beechwood and Redwood. South schools are Dana, South Park and Warrenton. Bowmar is a districtwide magnet school with a separate application process.

The program was approved by the U.S. Justice Department in 1997. Any change in how students are assigned would also require federal approval.