Schools headed back to zones

Published 12:00 am Friday, April 23, 2004

[4/23/04]After another year of choice, Vicksburg Warren School District elementaries will change to zones for the 2005-2006 school year, according to a unanimous vote of school trustees Thursday.

“I’m very excited that the board supports this, and we look forward to August 2005,” said District 4 Trustee Jan Daigre, board president.

The plan, which differs from the proposal first brought to light in December, includes:

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Returning all elementaries in the 9,000-student public school district to K-6, and

Requiring that students attend schools closest to his/her homes. If a parent wishes to send a child to a school outside their residential zone, the parent must provide transportation.

Trustees met Wednesday for a work session on the plan. There was no comment or discussion when the vote was taken at the board’s meeting Thursday.

The plan must have approval of the U.S. Justice Department, but Superintendent James Price said he expects no opposition.

The original proposal, submitted by Price, called for building a school inside city limits, reopening Bovina Elementary, ensuring a racial balance and returning all elementary schools to K-6.

The modified proposal uses existing schools and does not reopen Bovina.

Attendance zones for neighborhood or community schools were established when the countywide school district was created in 1986. In 1999, the districts were abolished in favor of a choice-based plan with north and south zones. K-4 students could attend one of three elementaries in their zone, with Bowmar Avenue, a magnet school, accepting students from both zones.

All fifth- and sixth-graders have been attending either Dana Road in the south zone or Sherman Avenue in the north zone, “megaschools” built to replace several elementaries that were closed.

Under the new plan, Bowmar will remain a magnet school and continue to accept students countywide.

Price, who became the fifth superintendent of the district 10 months ago, said the district will be able to cut transportation costs by using 21 fewer buses. But he also said cost is not what drove him to suggest the change, explaining that residents need a stronger sense of identity with nearby schools.

In meetings with faculties at all the district’s schools and public appearances, Price explained that some parents had never been to the schools their children were attending.

Price’s first proposal was scaled back, citing a lack of support from some elected officials and federal restraints and after a meeting with U.S. Justice Department officials.

Before his proposal was brought before the board and the Justice Department, Price asked for votes from teachers, principals and the community.

About 90 percent of 4,000 input forms from the community were in favor of the change, and nearly 80 percent of teachers voted for the plan. The board had been split 3-2 on the change, with District 2 Trustee Zelmarine Murphy and District 1 Trustee Betty Tolliver voting against the plan.

The board’s attorney, Jim Chaney, is preparing the motion to be filed in coming weeks with the Jackson Division of the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Mississippi.

The change does not alter junior high and high school operations. The district operates two junior highs, both on Baldwin Ferry Road, as feeders to the two high schools, Vicksburg High on Lee Street at City Park and Warren Central on Mississippi 27.